UPDATE: The Telegram has posted the clip of this mornings exchange between Williams and Simms. To hear the full audio, go here. It's even more powerful than the transcript below.
If there was ever any doubt what its like to work within yelling distance of Danny Williams, we found out today.
In this mornings preamble on VOCM Open Line, host Randy Simms acknowledged the Hibernia South announcement scant minutes earlier at a NOIA conference. Simms then posed a provocative question, one he has heard many times from callers, about whether this government focuses on oil and gas to the detriment of other industries.
One of Simms first calls was from Premier Danny Williams, who was absolutely livid. The conversation lasted just four minutes, during which Williams grew progressively more upset, finally telling Simms off and hanging up in his ear.
Even Simms, who is accustomed to wacky, off-the-wall calls, was speechless. He asked to go to break so he could collect his thoughts, after Williams hung up.
I recorded the interview, and am pleased to present the entire exchange here, minus a few opening words which I did not record:
Williams: I cant understand for the life of me why, when weve now negotiated another deal here this morning that is going to put twice as much money in royalties in the provinces hands as weve collected in 12 years on all three projects, and youve got to find something wrong with it.
Simms: I wasnt finding something wrong with it. (There is some talking over each other.) I think its a good deal but the question I was posing to the audience, Premier, and Ill pose it to you, because I know you didnt hear it at the time Would the focus of government be more on things like the fishery, the forestry, and areas where we are now having trouble or are we so caught up in the oil that we are now losing sight of that. That was the question to the audience, and now its question to you too.
Premier: You miss the point. The reason were caught up in the oil, its not the oil, its the black gold thats out there, its not the petroleum, its not the oil and gas, its the revenue that it brings to us, so that we can deal with problems in the fishery, so that we can take care of the Abitibi workers, so that we can build new hospitals and new long terms care facilities, so that we can build new schools, so that we can lead the country in poverty reduction, and it goes on and on and on. Surely you presumably run a municipality. You must know the importance of revenue, and where that revenue comes from if it comes from business, whatever form of business it is, or if it comes from residential real estate, it goes into your coffers now so you can do all the wonderful things that need to be done. When people look around this province now and were building roads and doing all the things I just listed. Were leading the country in infrastructure, were getting our money out on a per capita basis, were miles ahead of everybody else, weve got the province booming, we are building sustainable infrastructure for generations to come, so when the oil is gone there will be lots of legacy left of hardcore infrastructure that will be there and will be in place for our children and grandchildren. So to make a blas statement like oh, its all about oil is irresponsible and reckless.
Simms: Well its not a blas statement and I am not being reckless and irresponsible.
Williams: Not much.
Simms: Not much, no. The question that anybody would ask, and its a legitimate question premier, is the question, as you termed it then, the question of legacy. The issue that one day there will be a generation that wont have oil, and what are the downstream benefits for those generations. And its fair to talk about
[There is more talking over each other, but this time Williams wins the face-off.]
Williams: They will have new schools
Simms: All thats good.
Williams: facilities to take care of their aging parents. They will have new roads, they will have broadband and communications infrastructure. The money that were taking, were not just blowing it away, were putting it back into the province in hardcore infrastructure. Those monies are going back to the people of this province and thats why were doing it in the first place.
Simms: But who said you were blowing it away?
Williams: No, but its just like When the oils gone, what about our children and our grandchildren? Well Ill guarantee you, I will certainly attest to that, and you and I can have a conversation 20 or 25 years from now, and you will see what is left for our children and our grandchildren. And as well, by then we will have wind on, we will have gas on, we will have the Churchill on, we will have repatriated the Upper Churchill. A lot of wonderful things happening in Newfoundland and Labrador and we dont need that kind of pessimism and crap coming out of your mouth in the mornings, I can tell you right now.
Simms: Do you think that was pessimism?
Williams: Pessimism, negativity. Youre the reason that I keep going in this job because its the skeptics and the negative people in this province that have kept those lobsters clawed back into the pot, year after year after year. But I refuse to listen to pessimists like you, and were going to move forward, and were going to do it despite you. Now you have a nice day. Thank you very much.
Simms: What was that all about?
Williams: Goodbye. (hangs up)
Simms: Wow. Wow! All right goodbye!
VOCM regularly plucks material from Open Line to use in their newscast. However, to my disappointment, they ignored Williamss remarks in subsequent newscasts. I would think its news when the premier of our province loses his temper on live radio, refuses to engage in polite debate and behaves like an ignoramus.
The implications of the premiers outburst should be clear: this is not a man willing to discuss or debate ideas. This is a man with a short fuse who has no tolerance for questions.
I wonder who Williams is talking about when he lashes out at negative people. This is an important question.
Is he talking about all those people who criticized him for making a mess of the MUN Presidential search, attacking the Cameron inquiry, accusing private citizens of betraying their province, refusing to participate in important EU trade talks, denying adequate funding for the Liberal opposition, and generally treating with contempt those who disagree with him?
If so, thats a frightening situation indeed. There is, after all, that small matter of free speech.
Or is Williams complaining about those who have questioned him specifically on oil and gas policy? Because there are fair and valid questions to be asked about that, especially regarding equity.
Are we to take everything the premier says at face value, and not ask questions? If so, that would be unacceptable to all but the most mutton-headed and gullible residents of this province.
In my journalism days, I learned that whenever a politician attacks someone in the media for being negative, it means one thing: the reporters are doing their job, and doing it well. There are absolutely no exceptions to this rule.
The premiers diatribe dominated the agenda for the remainder of the show, and the majority of calls supported Simms (the exceptions included Marjory and Tony the Tory, both so predictable in their comments that Simms unwisely cut them off). One caller was a polite-sounding woman who said, Now we know how it feels to be in Cabinet.
Even some self-confessed supporters of the premier said he went too far, and at least one was appalled by the premiers behavior.
But the final word goes to Simms himself.
This was not a rigorous and vigorous debate, he said, later in the show. This was a tongue-lashing.
UPDATE: Later today, VOCM decided this was a story, after realizing what a buzz it was creating. Heres a link to their brief story and complete audio file.