As the elevator in the lobby of Confederation Building opened just after 11:30 Thursday morning a capacity crowd stood and cheered.
The applause lasted for almost two minutes before Premier Danny Williams asked the crowd to take their seats so he could announce, after seven years, he was resigning from politics.
“In every person’s life, there comes a time when the tough decisions have to be faced head on no matter how difficult they may be,” said Williams. “(Filmmaker) Orson Welles once said that ‘if you want a happy ending you need to know when to end your story.’ And so I’ve ... called you here today to announce the end of my story as the ninth premier of Newfoundland and Labrador.”
Flanked by his caucus, many sporting long faces or wiping away tears, Williams announced deputy premier Kathy Dunderdale would take over as premier once his resignation takes effect Dec. 3.
“With the completion of the Lower Churchill deal, it is time for new leadership and new ideas within the PC Party of Newfoundland and Lab-rador,” Williams said.
He said walking away as premier of “this bloody awesome province” didn’t come easily.
“How does one walk away from the best job on Earth?” Williams asked rhetorically.
He praised the province for everything from its rugged beauty to its vibrant arts community.
Williams said he will miss the strategizing and the camaraderie of politics, and he thanked his constituents in Humber West, his staff, cabinet and caucus.
“Without their hard work, their efforts and their undying love for this place, we could never, ever have achieved what we have in just seven short years in government,” said the premier.
Williams is no doubt aggressive and addressed that quality in his farewell speech.
“I laugh when critics and some reporters say that I’m nothing more than a fighter. Someone always looking for a racket, never happy unless I’ve taken someone on,” said Williams. “Well folks I’m here to tell you today that those people are right.”
He said there has been no battle too big or small that he wouldn’t fight on the province’s behalf “even if it meant taking on my idol, Paul McCartney, on international TV.”
Williams and McCartney had a spirited bout on CNN’s “Larry King Live” over the seal hunt a few years back.
The premier also reminded the crowd of some of the battles won such as a more equitable Atlantic Accord from Ottawa, a better deal from the big oil companies on the Hebron development and last week’s announcement a term sheet had been signed with Nova Scotia to develop the Lower Churchill while avoiding using a transmission route through Quebec.
Williams said the agreements for equity stakes in the province’s oil field, the Accord and the Lower Churchill alone will bring an estimated $70 billion to the province and thousands upon thousands of jobs.
The province also achieved have status under Williams.
“I am most proud of our renewed pride as a people,” he added.
Though he said there are still challenges ahead for the province, and always would be, Williams said he’s leaving the province in good shape to take on those challenges.
The premier also suggested people haven’t heard the last of him.
“I promise you, even after I’m gone from the premier’s chair, I will always fight for our province,” he said.
Talking to reporters after his speech, Williams said his health was good, but he’s not getting any younger.
“The Churchill has always been a major goal for me,” he gave as his reason for taking his bow now. “Getting the Lower Churchill done, and getting an alternative to Quebec is very, very important,”
Williams downplayed a run at federal politics and suggested he’s looking forward to getting back to business in the private sector.
He joked he was anxious to get control of his own money again as it’s been sitting in a blind trust since he entered politics.
“So I don’t have a handle on my own (personal) finances at all. I wouldn’t mind getting back in charge of that and finding out if I’ve got anything left,” he said to a round of laughs.
Williams also said he wasn’t worried about the possibility of the Lower Churchill deal falling apart in his absence.
During his speech, Williams managed to keep his emotions in check until near the end when he said he couldn’t look at his mother, who was sitting in the front row, or he was “going to lose it.”
Throughout, Williams peppered his speech with lines from the “Ode to Newfoundland” and it was while reciting part of the closing verse when Williams’ voice finally broke.
“The rays of sun have crowned our pine clad hills. I will miss you and I love you all. God guard thee Newfoundland and Labrador,” Williams concluded with a tear in his eye and an audible lump in his throat.