Even the handful of people in this province daring to suggest during the reign of Emperor Danny Williams that he was far from perfect, that his thin skin could not abide the slightest of opposition, that he could actually be caught wearing no clothes, had to admit the premier was no wimp.
The odd pundit (myself included) had difficulty swallowing whole the gospel according to St. Daniel, and found disturbing his penchant for equating legitimate critiques to the work of blasphemous traitors to the near-spiritual Newfoundland cause.
But I, for one, never questioned the size of his gonads in dealing with Stephen Harper, big oil, and any other mainland interests attempting to turn the calendar back to the days when it seemed disgustingly easy to exploit Newfoundland.
And, at the risk of emulating the shtick of Donald Doofus Cheery, whose self-adulation manifests itself in endless replays of past comments he feels reflect his genius, I mentioned in this space a couple of months back that Kathy Dunderdale would be well advised to mirror her predecessor when dealing with those federal politicians and bureaucrats who seem to take great delight in thumbing their noses at this province (the anti-confederation warning, “Come near at your peril, Canadian wolf,” should remain forever a mantra for those elected to watch over the affairs of Newfoundland).
Now, the newly crowned premier has had her first real test against her pal Stephen Harper and has emerged looking wishy-washy (at best) or a subservient suck (at worst), characterizations her supporters may view as unkind and which I make with some reluctance (after all, we’d all like to give her a honest shot at strutting her stuff).
But it’s the only conclusion to draw after observing the embarrassing fashion in which Dunderdale handled that shocking decision by Harper and company (including one Peter Penashue) to transfer marine communications responsibilities from St. John’s to Halifax.
No one with an ounce of sense expects (nor wants) Dunderdale to be Danny the Second; she should carve out her own leadership identity, and let the chips fall where they may.
But a taste of the Williams truculence would have served her and the province well here.
This was a decision that begged for a reaction of outrage, not the tepid response that she was upset and had sent her minister of fisheries to Ottawa to complain.
And when asked whether her alignment with Harper during the recent election had compromised her ability to pick up for Newfoundland, the irony was heavy in the air when the premier implied that the “lines of communication” between her and the prime minister were wide open because the acrimonious relationship that had existed between Ottawa and Newfoundland was a thing of the past.
You could hear a collective shuffling of the feet in the province as people wondered why those so-called lines of communication had not included at least a heads-up about the movement of the marine personnel to Halifax, to say nothing of even a token request for feedback.
What should Dunderdale have done?
Well, for starters, she should have launched into an immediate and vociferous condemnation of Harper, charging, as others have, that he was putting at risk thousands of Newfoundlanders operating in the fishing and oil industries.
And there was certainly no need for her to sound like an apologist for the feds, offering up the excuse that perhaps they didn’t have all the necessary information they required.
Duh! A Grade 8 student could have supplied the Ottawa bean-counters and their political bosses with everything they had to know.
This was all about pure arrogance, a move a majority government not facing accountability for several years could make with impunity (get used to it), especially when those who should be standing on guard are blissfully asleep, content like the “Newfies” of old with a pat on the head and a few goodies delivered every couple of months by Fabian Manning.
Dunderdale’s lifeless response had the flavour of the cap-in-hand mentality, so prevalent in the decades following Confederation, but given a heavy kick in the arse during the cultural renaissance of the ’70s, and booted further into the sea by the likes of Peckford and Wells and Williams.
Just to cover my tracks here: even if, by some miracle, there’s a change of heart in Ottawa (made after this Weekend offering has been submitted to Mr. Editor), it still won’t alter the fact that this was not a time for diplomacy.
A decision with the most serious of ramifications had been made without a minute of consultation with Newfoundland, a disquieting approach that begged for a loud and angry answer, right from the gut.
Danny Williams had flaws in his modus operandi, unacknowledged by his adoring public, exemplified in his demand inside the Newfoundland borders for unconditional love.
But he wouldn’t have tolerated this kind of garbage from Stephen Harper.
That was to his credit.
Bob Wakeham has spent more than 30 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.