So much for slipping quietly out the door, as the CBC put it Friday, on Daniel Williams’s last day in office.
Turns out, he just can’t go without causing a ruckus. The former premier is drawing criticism for his Christmas card, which features his smiling mug shot and the words ‘LEST WE FORGET’ as a backdrop.
Williams is standing in front of the war memorial in the lobby of Confederation Building. Behind him, just out of view, is the official copy of the Book of Remembrance, for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who died in two world wars. Inside the card, the premier says “I will miss you all and will never forget you,” so the play on words is obvious.
Only problem is, he is playing with – some have said trivializing and disrespecting – the war memorial, and the memories of those who died in service to their country.
The card is signed by “Danny Williams, Q.C., Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador,” which is odd, since he is no longer premier. And the photo was taken on the day he resigned, so the premier KNEW he was no longer premier.
So, now, we have the odd spectacle of citizens receiving a Christmas card from two premiers, if Dunderdale posts a card of her own.
It would seem the premier is having a difficult time letting go.
And he is not the only one.
The province has gone into a fit of mourning, since the premier announced his resignation on November 25. This was not surprising, given the premier’s enormous popularity.
However, the praise and adulation went way over the top. I nearly lost my breakfast several times, when people, who sounded otherwise normal and articulate, called Open Line to gush about everything the premier had done for the province.
“With the premier going, it feels like we’ve lost our training wheels,” said one man. Presumably, then, we’ve learned to stand on our own. Whatever.
“The premier is like a good parent, who has brought their children to a point where they can fly on their own,” said a lady.
Spare me, please.
Then there have been the inaccuracies: caller after caller on talk radio, hundreds of comments on web sites, and numerous letters to the editor, all gushing about the transformational effect the premier allegedly had.
One citizen, writing in The Telegram, said Williams was “a modern day Moses” who appeared “to lead us to the promised land.”
“What a blessing it has been that Danny Williams was there to lead us so we could take our rightful place in history,” the person wrote.
Even journalists of national stature tripped in a thicket of their own mistakes, in the rush to celebrate Williams’s accomplishments. John Ibbitson of the Globe and Mail said Williams was the province’s 13th premier (he was ninth) and that he signed the deal that led to the Voisey’s Bay development (he didn’t).
Even highly-educated teachers have taken leave of their senses, caught up in the euphoria to the point of indulging in propaganda. My son brought home a high school assignment, from his NL Studies class, that made the following dubious claim:
“During his time as the leader of our great province Mr. Williams has brought prosperity and hope back to our island.”
This teacher needs a crash course in both history and geography. First, the province is more than an island. Second, the premier did not deliver all this prosperity – despite attempts to take credit for same, in his boastful farewell speech.
Our province has arrived at prosperity, and so-called “have not” status, as a result of the Hibernia, Terra Nova and White Rose oil projects, and the Voisey’s Bay development. We are able to realize substantial benefits from offshore oil due to the Atlantic Accord, signed by Premier Brian Peckford. (The $2 billion that Williams won with the 2007 side deal was significant, but still just a blip compared to the original Accord.)
Yes, Williams signed the Hebron agreement, which appears to be a good deal on the face of it (though we, the owners of the resource, are not allowed to actually read the fine print). He has signed decent side deals on White Rose and Hibernia extensions. However, we won’t see the fruits of those developments for some time yet.
The truth is, Williams cannot take credit for the prosperity we now enjoy. Clyde Wells signed the original Hibernia deal, with a royalty rate of 30 percent after development costs are recovered – that’s not bad for 1990, and certainly not a giveaway. After that, Brian Tobin signed the Terra Nova deal, and Roger Grimes signed the White Rose and Voisey’s Bay deals. Each deal improved on the one that came before.
Yes, Williams did make further gains with Hebron and the extensions to other fields. But our current prosperity is due to high oil prices, and deals reached by his predecessors. To say that Williams single-handedly delivered us to the promised land is a lie.
And to revere him as some kind of god is ridiculous beyond belief. Williams made some mistakes and did some stupid things during his tenure as premier. He promised a new era of openness and transparency, then delivered the exact opposite, running a government that was secretive, paranoid and obsessive about its own popularity. We saw the closure of paper mills in Stephenville and Grand Falls-Windsor, which the premier helped expedite by saying he’d just as soon “see the back of” Abitibi’s head. We saw the removal of the air ambulance from St. Anthony, as apparent punishment for voting Liberal in a by-election. There was the bungled expropriation of a paper mill, and the multi-million dollar bill associated with that. There was the dissolution of FPI and, most importantly, the loss of its valuable marketing arm. There remains the slow bleeding of residents from rural areas, in the wake of a failing fishery. There was the ABC campaign, which looks dumber and dumber, the further it slips into history. There was the ham-fisted handling of NLMA negotiations, causing a crisis that Williams’s successor is still scrambling to fix. And Williams resigned soon after announcing terms of a Lower Churchill development agreement, one that, without his stewardship, is likely to founder and sink on the shoals of the 2011 election.
Williams and his government frequently made political points with the fact that he didn’t collect a salary. Thousands of gullible souls fell for this one. Just do the math. Assuming a return of three percent, Williams earns $6 million per year in interest alone from his $200 million fortune. Poor Danny!
This is off the top of my head. Feel free to add to the list by commenting below.
Most upsetting to me was the ignorant way Williams comported himself. He responded to criticism, and even reasonable questions, with name-calling and vitriol. He rarely – if ever – paused to calmly explain a policy position or government decision. Instead, he insulted people personally, and even questioned the patriotism of private citizens. Apparently, a lot of people can forgive him that.
I am not one of the premier’s strongest supporters, but I remained respectfully quiet, allowing him to ride into the sunset. That is, until now.
Williams’s latest stunt with the Christmas card is pure bad taste. It prompted me to speak up and dispel some of the mythology that has been gathering, like a noxious cloud, since November 5.
And it has inspired me to indulge in a bit of satire.