For those members of the Williams posse who sincerely believed Marshal Dan would ride gracefully into the sunset a la Gary Cooper, it must be a High Noon let-down to witness their hero, in a petty and unseemly manner, return to town with six-shooters ablazin’, his jealous and egotistical sights set firmly on the former deputy now in the saddle of power.
However, those of us not indoctrinated in the Williams dogma over the past decade or so felt little need of a double-take of shock as we observed Marshal Dan seething over the fact that his once dedicated homesteaders on the Newfoundland Ponderosa could actually get on with their lives without Pa commanding the open range.
After all, the province’s own “Pale Rider,” Danny Williams, had galloped virtually alone and dominated the political landscape of Newfoundland, heeding little advice, taking no prisoners (especially the traitorous types), and doing whatever he — and he alone — felt was in the best interests of the flock.
There was little protest. Danny boy played the autocratic role well. And, it has to be said, he accomplished much.
But when you’re unconditionally adored — as he was by so many — when you’re viewed as a papal-like figure with pure, unadulterated infallibility, crowned as the “most popular premier” in Canada, it’s hard to let go.
And that’s what seems to be happening in this soap opera called “The Rift” (a delightfully entertaining reality show for those of us who enjoy political cannibalism).
I can’t help but think that Williams got so caught up in his own success, the unprecedented adulation, that he actually came to believe that he was some sort of saviour, that the advances made in Newfoundland were due exclusively to his inspired philosophy, and that there would be instability if “his people” did not have the benefit of his guidance, even in retirement.
And you have to surmise, as well, that he felt it was an insult to his legacy and his reputation that Kathy Dunderdale would actually have the gall, the arrogance, to presume she and her administration could get along without his help, and could bar him from the corridors of power.
This House Divided racket had its genesis, in all likelihood, with
the misguided attempt to have Williams’ former flack, Elizabeth Matthews, become vice-chair of
the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, a proposed patronage appointment that outraged much of the province, and a job that was, at least in my humble estimation, spinelessly rubber-stamped by Dunderdale. But, to her credit, the new premier did not cry foul too loudly or complain too strenuously when Matthews reluctantly pulled her head from the trough.
I can’t swear to it, but I’d be willing to bet Williams was absolutely fuming that Dunderdale hadn’t worked overtime to convince Matthews to see it through, to plow ahead, and that other ministers, as well, didn’t come to the aid of his former public relations director.
Then, the snowball started to grow, and it became perfectly and maddeningly clear to Williams (in my speculative world) that Dunderdale actually wanted to make her own mark on Newfoundland life.
That was too much for our man Dan.
Stomping his feet, he even complained (in an admission that unwittingly portrayed him as an eight-year-old) about not being given the cellphone numbers of cabinet ministers.
“Mommy, Mommy, Kathy won’t let me talk to my friends,” we can imagine him crying. “And, just for that, I’m not going to her party. So there!”
(Why does Williams think he’s entitled to access to cabinet ministers anyway? He’s a private citizen; there’s an unsavoury whiff in the air when an ex-premier apparently believes he should be permitted to directly influence policy.)
And for those snobs who believe the story wasn’t worthy of coverage, even deeming “Radio Noon Crosstalk” on the subject beneath the CBC, I would suggest they read up on the very basic fundamentals of journalism; to examine a dispute that might affect the way a government runs its affairs is fair game, to say the least, especially when its main participants are the two highest-profiled people in the province.
Besides, it’s just so much damn fun.
How often do we get a chance to envision Marshal Williams and Deputy Dunderdale in a stare-down on a dusty pathway near Confederation Building?
“Dan, my old pard, this town ain’t big enough for the two of us,” warns the new top gun.
“And I’m a’tellin’ ya, Dandy Dan, that you best skedaddle.”
Bob Wakeham has spent more than 30 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.