When Danny Williams famously blurted “We got it!” to adoring fans at St. John’s airport in 2005, it appeared to be the culmination of a hard-fought battle.
The former premier had returned from Ottawa with a revised Atlantic Accord and a $2-billion cheque.
“It” wasn’t exactly what he had originally demanded, but few other federal administrations would have capitulated to the extent that Paul Martin’s Liberals had. Only days before, then federal finance minister Ralph Goodale had complained that other premiers would have been satisfied with far less.
It was a defining moment in the career of Danny the Fighting Newfoundlander.
Throughout his tenure, Williams railed against Stephen Harper, Quebec and any other “enemy” that threatened his proud vision for the province.
In reality, however, the new Atlantic Accord was not won by hard-nosed determination alone. It was achieved in large part because Martin’s Liberals led a minority government.
The best legislation — or, at least, the best for those it benefits — comes from vulnerable governments. When governments get comfortable, the close-mindedness sets in. When they’re in trouble, they start listening.
Right now, the government of interim premier Tom Marshall is vulnerable. They still don’t have a permanent leader, their poll numbers are still down and they’re facing a general election next year.
It is this, more than anything, that explains the sudden reversal in policies that’s occurred since Kathy Dunderdale stepped down in January.
Voters may be tempted to think Marshall is a refreshing new visionary. Out of the blue, the PCs now want more oversight on Muskrat Falls. They want to rethink their precious secrecy law, Bill 29. Most astoundingly, they are promising the same long-awaited whistleblower legislation they soundly dismissed as unnecessary a year ago.
Have Dunderdale and Marshall always harboured such opposing views? Was the former premier a sort of Iron Lady, quashing dissent inside and outside of caucus?
This is a government that, after years of self-assured defiance, has found itself on the ropes. Dunderdale no doubt saw the writing on the wall long before she stepped down. Her resignation provided a dignified exit. The Tory mantra had to be recanted, and she could hardly do it herself and salvage any degree of credibility.
There are those who will see nothing but hypocrisy in all these changes, and those who suspect it’s all a ruse. There’s an element of both.
But this is the nature of politics. Whether or not they deserve to take the reins again in 2015, this is a government desperate to please. And as long as they don’t break the bank trying to buy their way back into power, that can only be a good thing.
Enjoy it while it lasts.