07 December 2020

The Good Old Days #nlpoli

Danny Williams made the news last week.

Williams was locked in a battle with St. John’s city hall over whether or not Williams could put a big Christmas tree in a round-about in his development at Galway.

No one in the local news media noticed, though, that Thursday was the 10th anniversary of Williams departure from the Premier’s Office.

Back then, they couldn’t say enough good about him. 

The Telegram praised Williams as “The Fighter” – the title of the paper’s editorial the day after he announced he’d be leaving office – “a man of the people” whose popularity rating “hovered around 80%.”

That was true. 

Williams *was* an incredibly popular politician.

No question.

After the 2007 general election, Williams told Rex Murphy – then working for CBC – that he believed that “I believe in my heart and soul that I embody the heart and soul of Newfoundland and Labrador.”  That's less absurd that it sounds, even if one can shake off the egomania that underpins it.  

Craig Welsh best summed up the relationship between Williams and the public, including the news media, during the controversy over his trip to the United States for heart surgery in early 2010.

The “optics are terrible, however Williams is wealthy enough and beloved enough in the province that he can get away with doing it,” Welsh wrote on his blog, townie bastard.  In the comments, he added this explanation:

what I mean by "he can get away with doing it" is that the premier's popularity is such that he could strangle a baby in the middle of the Avalon Mall parking lot with the assembled provincial media in attendance and there would be people that would say the baby had it coming.

Williams worked hard for his popularity and every sector of society was willing to lend a hand. The news media co-operated from the outset to shape and sustain the manufactured image of Williams created by his publicity machine.  Reporters and editors presented Williams’ view of the world on any issue, without questioning it. 

The public enthusiastically lapped it up.  The more ardent believers, that is, the members of Williams’ personality cult - some of whom worked in local newsrooms - attacked those who dared question Williams’ view. Their message was simple:  He’s right because he’s popular and popular because he is right” and for most in the province that was good enough.

No sector of society, even the opposition political parties dared to question anything Williams and the Conservatives did or said while he was in office. They applauded the overspending and they supported Muskrat Falls a decade ago.  

As SRBP noted a decade ago, Williams’ political genius was in creating and sustaining a level of sycophancy across the population that still chills to the core those handful of us who were not willing participants in it. That Williams was able to spread a cult of absurdity not only within Newfoundland and Labrador but across Canada amongst business, academic, editorial and political leaders at the start of the 21st century is truly astounding.  Donald Trump could only dream of such a thing.

A decade later, what we should remember in Newfoundland and Labrador is not that our current financial problems in the province are the result of decisions taken while Danny Williams was Premier. 

It wasn’t Danny’s fault. Williams did not do anything by himself.  He had supporters, helpers, and enablers who supported the program of overspending and the pursuit of insane megaprojects while he was in office and who have continued it since he left. 

Remember *that*.