A tough act to follow

Russell
Russell Wangersky
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I voted for him, and, truth be told, I would have voted for him again. Premier Danny Williams, that is.

I didn’t vote for him in the last election, because Lorraine Michael was the candidate in my district, and I believe any government is better when it has opposition.

In fact, I think governments improve substantially when they have well-financed, thoughtful, capable people on the other side of the House. Knowing the other side of an argument keeps you from being blindsided by it later.

That being said, for the last seven years, Danny Williams has been the right choice to run this province, and, regardless of any number of complaints, he’s done it well.

No one else

There has been no one in the opposition — or, for that matter, in the Liberal party that Williams defeated back in 2003 — who was better suited for the job, or is better suited for it now. Danny Williams at three-quarter speed — at two-thirds speed — is better than his competition.

That doesn’t mean, as an editor and columnist, I necessarily saw eye to eye with him — or him with me.

Because being the best person for the job doesn’t necessarily mean the Williams government was perfection incarnate. It wasn’t — and whether Williams or anyone else liked it or not, it will always be someone’s job to point that out.

To put it in his own terms, if we’re all going to “be pulling on the same oar in the same direction,” well, then there’s no one left looking around for the shoals. That’s why our open democratic system is so successful: because everyone in government makes mistakes, and there are always things that can be done better.

Simple blind support doesn’t actually help a government — it hardens a government’s arteries, and lately, arteries at Confederation Building have been getting downright crusty.

Strangely, Williams’ resignation has gone a long way towards halting that hardening.

For years, detractors have compared Williams to Joey Smallwood, but there is a critical difference: Williams, by getting out now, proves what he’s always said — that he’s in the job because things needed to be done. If he was in love with his political image, he’d be staying on — and on and on and on — until all lustre would be gone from his tenure.

Now, rebuilding

Instead, we get to see the renewal problems that will face a party so predicated on its leader that it even identifies itself with that persona: this is not a Conservative government or a Tory government. It calls itself in its own documents and news releases as “the Williams government” and, in the absence of Williams, some serious redrafting is going to have to be done.

You could make the argument that the Williams government has the support of more than 70 per cent of the province, but the Conservative government that remains will, in some ways, be starting from scratch.

It will be the party in power, and it does have a large supporting cast of ministers; what it doesn’t have, at this point, is a clear contender for Williams’ job.

That’s because, with a really strong leader, it makes more sense to try and be part of the choir.

What happens now is a difficult thing: who, if anyone, can step forward and sell themselves as a lead singer?

If you think that’s easy, think about what happened the last time a successful Liberal premier — Brian Tobin — stepped down. What followed was messy, internecine, and eventually, unsuccessful all around. People who made the grade as cabinet colleagues looked uncomfortable and out of place in the top job.

The last time a Tory premier stepped down, and it was Brian Peckford, confusion reigned through a number of attempts by former cabinet colleagues to fill the spot, until eventually, someone entirely different came in to take over.

That person was Danny Williams.

At the time, Williams — a successful lawyer and cable television owner — asked me, then a CBC reporter there to interview him about a court case, if I thought he should take on the leadership of the provincial Conservatives. He was almost certainly asking all sorts of people the exact same question.

My response?

“Why would you want to?”

The party was in disarray, and the job — along with putting himself and his family under the microscope that came with it — seemed like the strangest thing Williams would ever want to pick to do.

“I just think I have something to offer,” I remember him saying.

He didn’t take my advice then, either.

I’m glad he didn’t.

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s

editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at rwanger@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Confederation Building, CBC, Conservatives

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  • Brad Cabana
    November 27, 2010 - 08:19

    Excellent article. Nice personal touch and very informative.