And the worms ate into his brain

Peter
Peter Jackson
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It appears, in recent days, that Premier Danny Williams is finally starting to succumb to the madness.

Madness, you ask? I refer to that niggling infestation of muck-wallowing worms that inevitably drive all premiers to distraction in this province.

More than most others, we Newfoundlanders truly love to devour our own.

Hold on, you say. Am I actually indulging the good premier's lament about a land awash with pessimism and negativity? Or, more specifically, pessimism, negativity and "crap" (heretofore abbreviated as PNC)?

It appears, in recent days, that Premier Danny Williams is finally starting to succumb to the madness.

Madness, you ask? I refer to that niggling infestation of muck-wallowing worms that inevitably drive all premiers to distraction in this province.

More than most others, we Newfoundlanders truly love to devour our own.

Hold on, you say. Am I actually indulging the good premier's lament about a land awash with pessimism and negativity? Or, more specifically, pessimism, negativity and "crap" (heretofore abbreviated as PNC)?

Yes. To some extent, I am.

It was a bit of PNC rolling off the tongue of a popular radio host that put the premier over the brink last week. Granted, Randy Simms' little parade-douser - on the day of a major oil announcement - might have led any premier to punch the wall or drop-kick some furniture. But Williams is not any premier. Before he could assume the lotus position and take a deep breath, he had Randy Simms on Line 1 and was letting him have it with both barrels. I can only hope stay-at-home parents had the presence of mind to cover their children's ears.

Shooting from the mouth

This impetuousness may well be Williams' undoing. His blustery personality has no doubt won him votes in the past, and played an important part in dealings with prime ministers and oil executives (though not always to the best effect). Lately, however, Williams has been on an off-mouth shooting spree, picking off PNC wherever he finds it.

I can think of other premiers who found themselves struggling with composure - and popularity - as the worms dug in. Brian Tobin's initial charm decayed quickly, but he, at least, had a federal portfolio he could escape to. Clyde Wells could hardly let his frustrations bubble through that philosopher-king veneer, but Lynn Verge could always make him see - and turn - red at the drop of a hat. Joey Smallwood was boisterous and larger than life, but he channelled his anger much more creatively - all his ministers had pre-written letters of resignation for just such an occasion.

Williams is occasionally likened to Brian Peckford, but Peckford's impetuousness was of a different nature. Politics was a passion Peckford wore on his sleeve, and he could be just as animated in joyful debate as he could be in anger. Few can forget his famous outburst, "They sold the shop!" (uttered, if memory serves, upon learning that Ottawa had allotted a generous quota of fish to France).

New standard

Peckford's tenure also saw the birth of The Sunday Express, which introduced a brand of journalism not much in evidence here at the time. Peckford had had his battles with the media before - notably the CBC - but the Express really got under his skin.

Not all of its reporting was fair - the front page of the first few editions were littered with worm-like niggling - but the Express did usher in a new standard of journalism that future premiers would learn to respect. Overall, we're better off for it - penetrating questions being well worth the bit of PNC that goes along with it.

As for Williams, he's clearly in a league of his own. He can neither control his emotions nor his urge to call the media together for any number of impromptu rants. Given that the worms will continue their slow and steady feast, things are not likely to get any better.

Personal calls

On a side note, however, Williams' penchant for calling up any John-Doe critic out of the blue and arguing over the phone is not such a bad thing. Some call it bullying. I call it moving among the masses. He may have a bit of an unfair advantage, but surely he has as much of a right to engage his detractors in person as anyone else. I've never been party to one of these direct-from-Dan calls (guess I'm not enough of a negative Nellie), but I urge those who do get them to give as good as they get.

Williams could use a good verbal swat or two himself.

Peter Jackson is The Telegram's editorial page editor. He can be reached at pjackson@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: PNC, CBC, The Telegram

Geographic location: Ottawa, France

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