Mixed Messages

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Two different TV news stories on the same subject, but with different messages.

That’s what happened yesterday, when media questioned former Premier Daniel Williams, on why he wouldn’t be attending the tribute dinner being held in his honour. Media were at the airport for a federal funding announcement, Williams was there to catch a flight, so reporters from CBC and NTV asked him the same question: Why wasn’t he going to the PC Party tribute?

The interviews were one-on-one, not a scrum, and the answers Williams gave to one were markedly different from the other.

Here is what Williams told NTV, when asked why he wasn’t attending the dinner:

“It’s not a good time, basically. The timing is not right. There will be a tribute at some point down the road. I’ve asked the party for an alternate date or dates that they can suggest… because it is important to me that I do a proper farewell to all the people in the party who supported me and my government, my ministers and caucus members over the years. So, you know, there will be a tribute dinner and it will be at a later date, as soon as the party decides what it is…”

Sounds straightforward. A scheduling conflict. However, it doesn’t align with what he told CBC, just a few minutes earlier. And it does not follow the story that aired the night before (Tuesday), on Here & Now. Here is what Williams said yesterday, to CBC’s Glenn Deir:

“I’ve said before, I have no comment on that, and I really still have no comment on it. It’s not something I’m interested in commenting on. I’m sort of out of public life now and I’m on the way out now for a brief holiday, so I’d prefer not to have any comment on it.”

“You do see how awkward it looks, though, do you?” Deir asked.

“Well, there will be a tribute and it will be at another date.”

“Someone suggested that there has been some sort of falling out, between yourself and the Dunderdale administration,” Deir replied.

“I’m not interested in getting into that. Ask the premier.”

Whoa.

Williams knows how to talk to media. If there was no rift between Williams and the current premier, he most assuredly would have said so. It’s a fundamental rule of media interviews: when presented with a notion that is wrong, you shut it down immediately with a strong denial.

And if there was some truth to it, one might have expected the premier to deny anyway, in the interests of party unity. Backroom squabbles are, after all, best left in the back room – especially in an election year.

However, by saying he is “not interested in getting into that,” Williams is openly acknowledging something. He is aware that “no comment” is evasive, and will be perceived as such. And his flippant re-direct to “Ask the premier” is surprisingly saucy.

So what’s really going on? As noted, CBC Here & Now carried a story about this the night before. It was a stand-up with David Cochrane, and here is a transcript of what he said:

“When I tried to contact Danny Williams yesterday for an explanation I got a very simple ‘no comment’ in reply, but in speaking to a significant number of Tory sources, it appears there is evidence of friction in the relationship between Williams and the PC Party right now, and it all starts with that controversial appointment of Elizabeth Matthews to the Offshore Petroleum Board. This became a real flash point in provincial politics and the controversy eventually forced Matthews to walk way from the job. Well, sources tell me that Williams is annoyed that the party, the caucus and the Cabinet didn’t do more to publicly support Matthews throughout that controversy, and that, in his view, not enough MHAs or Cabinet ministers expressed public support by doing things such as phoning open line shows to back up Matthews.  Now, late yesterday, I also heard from some other Williams loyalists that there may be a growing issue between Williams and the current Dunderdale administration, and in the view of people close to Williams, the new premier’s office has been too quick and too eager to cut ties with the former premier and distance themselves from Danny Williams and some of his key supporters. Now, most recently, they point to yesterday’s throne speech. This was a high profile, invitation-only affair. Danny Williams wasn’t there. That’s because Danny Williams wasn’t invited. Now, party insiders tell me they think all of this will eventually blow over. But right now, it’s the chief reason why Danny Williams will not be attending a tribute dinner in his honour, on the very weekend when Kathy Dunderdale is officially sworn in as the party leader.”

I had a brief email exchange with Cochrane about this yesterday, in which he stressed the accuracy of his information. “I’m right,” he wrote. “Dead right.” And I have no doubt of that.

And why should we care? Why is this worthy of a media blog item? Because it is a media story that will bear close monitoring, with a provincial general election looming.

If this sore point can be healed, and the rift closed, it will be a non-issue. However, they’d better get moving on that – the election is just seven months away.

If the division keeps growing and becomes an abyss, this could do serious harm to the PC Party. For the last seven years, they’ve been describing themselves as “Williams Government.” And it’s no secret that the majority of MHAs are considered by many as “coattail clingers”, swept in on the popularity of Williams.

What will become of them, if Williams abandons the party? Some terribly unremarkable MHAs will be left to fend for themselves. Imagine, a campaign where Williams doesn’t show up on the hustings to sprinkle pixie dust on the local candidate (as he did in the Humber West by-election).

Then there is Muskrat Falls. Tough, unrelenting questions will be asked about this deal, and, when the truth sinks in – that power rates are going to double, and possibly triple – the public will start agitating. If MHAs feel the heat from constituents and polls show flagging support, the deal will be in trouble. Without Williams’s vocal support, MHAs will cave to public pressure and abandon the deal, like rats from a sinking ship.

And there’s the possibility that Williams will go public, and openly criticize the party. This would be fatal to the party’s interests, as the saying goes. It’s an unlikely, though not impossible, scenario.

After all, Williams already acknowledges something is up, by saying “I’m not interested in getting into that.”

Can you imagine him saying something like, “Oh, that? Yeah, they took their eye off the ball, and that’s too bad. But, you know, I did what I could and left the party in strong shape. But they insisted on cutting all ties, and, you know, I think they lost their way.”

Yes, a long shot. But stranger things have happened.

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Recent comments

  • Scott Free
    March 28, 2011 - 13:36

    Sad reality is this...if King Dan decided to gather together a bunch of kool-aid slurping bobblehead followers and field a slate of candidates under the banner of the Kingdom of Dan Party, he'd likely get elected with a majority. Scary, isn't it? And, I can't wait to see those dyed in the wool Tories get out and support and vote for Federal Conservative hopefuls this time around; they'll suprisingly grow spheres and carry on as they did for generations until King Dan put the boots to them and ordered them all to stay away and deliver his ABC goose-egg. I think its time for a real ABC campaign; both Federally and Provincially; how 'bout we elect ABC...Anybody But Current members!

  • Geoff Meeker
    Geoff Meeker
    March 25, 2011 - 10:36

    Hey folks, sorry for the double updates. I posted the first one Thursday around 4:45 pm, while it was still hot. When it hadn't appeared by Friday morning, I posted another. Sorry for repeating myself! Sam, you're an anonymous troll. Sign your name, and I'll debate you.

    • sam
      March 25, 2011 - 17:25

      I guess the truth hurts Geoff!! I am expressing my opinion like any other citizen...it is a free country!! Doesn't bother me if you want to debate or not.

  • Mark
    March 25, 2011 - 09:49

    ''...Williams is annoyed that the party, the caucus and the Cabinet didn’t do more ... not enough MHAs or Cabinet ministers expressed public support by doing things such as phoning open line shows...'' Sounds like the public service is free to go back to their jobs instead of spending their days stacking call-in shows. That annoys our former premier.

  • Sam
    March 25, 2011 - 06:51

    I can see Geoff is so happy to be able to report on Danny Williams again...you can almost read the excitement in the blog! I guess that is part of being a retired politician, it takes awhile to ween yourself from the process. The real question here is should Premier Dunderdale do things her way, while continuing on the path of the previous Premier, or should she consult Williams on all issues?? Personally i see no issue here, a couple of people disagreeing on something!! Let the chips fall where they may. The people will decide in October...do they want to continue on the path that Premier Dunderdale will take them or go back to the Liberal days with Yvonne at the helm?? What is your opinion on that Geoff...leaving Danny out of the equation! Oh yeah...go consult with Westcott first, he seems to write or edit alot of your blogs!!

  • Geoff Meeker
    March 25, 2011 - 05:13

    UPDATE: Since this was posted, of course, Premier Dunderdale has confirmed that there has been a falling out, between her and Williams. She said that Williams had been involved for months in the planning for the tribute dinner, and was shocked and disappointed when Williams announced last week that he was pulling out. She said she has had no communication with Williams since then, and has not been made aware of any issues he may have. After that, it was "no further comment." Truly, a dicey situation. The question is, will bridges get mended, or will this rift widen into an abyss?

  • Geoff Meeker
    March 24, 2011 - 15:33

    UPDATE: CBC Radio On The Go just aired tape from a Thursday afternoon (March 24/11) scrum with Premier Dunderdale. The Premier said Williams was involved in the planning for this tribute event up to last week and was "shocking and disappointing" for her to learn that he was backing out. She has not been talking to him since, she said - which is a surprise in itself - adding that he hasn't identified any issues with her. "It's disappointing and I really don't have any further comment beyond that," she said. There is definitely a rift between the former and current premier. The question is, will they mend it, or will it get worse?