Frankly, I don’t know what it takes. I’ve been trying to piss Premier Danny Williams off for years, but I just can’t get the hang of it.
Other reporters and commentators make it seem easy. I keep hearing about Williams losing his temper after someone contradicts his reasoning or criticizes the direction he’s taken government policy.
Sometimes he’s devoted speeches to attack news outlets as anti-Newfoundland conspirators for what he sees as ignorant, biased and unjustified commentary. Williams has even used press conferences to single out some local journalist or another for publishing or broadcasting a fact or opinion he considers not only wrong, but injurious to the province.
Sometimes there’s no “seems” about it; the premier has even come out to call someone a traitor. However, I only know this from hearsay. I’ve never witnessed it myself, and I’ve never been the target of any of the vitriol — any of his, at least.
Over the years, I’ve been yelled at, insulted or assaulted by citizens, company presidents, criminals, police officers, aboriginal leaders and members of their families, town and city mayors, whole municipal councils, a respectable number of sitting MPs and MHAs, and at least one federal cabinet minister, but never yet by a premier or a prime minister — at least, none that I know of.
With his reputation, Williams looked like my best chance to leap this career hurdle, to complete this coming-of-age rite. Once it’s done, I can accept my greying hairs with grace.
Somehow, my goal has always eluded me, but not for want of trying. I’ve denigrated the premier’s political experience, criticized the policies he sets for government, questioned his motives and his judgment, and declared that his favourite super-duper megaproject is a colossal waste of time and money and will be the worst environmental disaster inflicted on Labrador since the original Churchill Falls development.
Just lately I made fun of him in joke after joke that had him cuckolding one cabinet minister and getting shot by another — all to say we’re allowed to laugh at premiers even if the jokes aren’t funny.
But what’s a writer gotta do? Nothing has worked. I thought maybe it’s because I’m far away in Labrador, out of sight and out of mind.
My chance finally came when Williams spent two days celebrating the signing of a preliminary agreement with Nova Scotia that almost secures partial financing for about one-and-a-half transmission lines that may eventually carry electricity south from what is now Muskrat Falls. When the party came to Labrador, the premier even invited the media.
The big room in the Happy Valley-Goose Bay hotel was packed with food, non-alcoholic beverages and dozens and dozens of spectators who paid for their attendance by listening to several speeches about how good it will be when more dams are built on the Churchill River.
Throughout it all, I was off to the side trying not to hide behind a small video camera. I fully expected just to be ignored — if I was noticed at all. However, at the end, Williams came straight for me — hardly even giving me time to brace for a blow. It never came — not even a good crosscheck.
Instead, he cut my legs out from underneath me — if not crippling me, then stalling my career in the mud. He said he thought my column with the jokes was brilliant. He used that very word.
What could I do but meekly thank him and say I was glad he has a sense of humour? Then, fearing to appear too chummy, I rallied myself and launched into an explanation about why I wrote the piece — it being a challenge to those who limit freedom of speech. My tactic worked. Williams grew bored and wandered away. If I’d thought quicker I might have come up with something that would have angered him, but clearly I couldn’t match his skills.
As a journalist I’m supposed to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable — giving the comfortable a good chuckle doesn’t achieve either goal.
Still, it’s nice to get a laugh.
Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.