The Kingmaker

Pam Frampton pframpton@thetelegram.com
Published on February 15, 2014
Businessman and former premier Danny Williams. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

“If God created us in his own image, we have more than reciprocated.”
— Voltaire

Hands up: who believed Danny Williams, when he said as he stepped down as premier in 2010, that he wouldn’t become one of those past-premiers who has to keep wading into the affairs of the province?

“I think there’s a point in time when politicians should move on. ...,” he said in 2007, taking a swipe at Brian Peckford.

“Hopefully, I can live up to what I’ve said, and when I get out of politics, then I’ll shut up and go away.”

He may have meant it at the time, but I knew he couldn’t hold out forever. And now that Kathy Dunderdale, his handpicked successor, is no longer running things, I guess he figures there’s no longer any reason to restrain himself.

Williams was back in fine form this week, dismissing Conference Board of Canada analysis as “bullshit” (who cares about pesky facts and demographic trends, eh?) and saying basically that he wouldn’t endorse Bill Barry for the Progressive Conservative party leadership supposing the choice was Bill Barry or a pair of wool socks.

Clearly, he has forgotten what “shut up and go away” entails.

Frankly, I’ve always found it interesting to hear former politicians comment on current events or take the measure of their would-be successors. Got an opinion? Let’s hear it. Open, honest and transparent — that’s the way we like things.

The trick is not to be too unduly influenced by someone else’s opinions — to keep an open mind, weigh all potential candidates on their merits and policies and then decide which way you’re inclined to lean.

Well, that’s sage advice as long as you’re not talking about Danny Williams, because when it comes to Danny Williams, there are plenty of people in this province — of various political stripes — who put a great deal of stock in what he has to say.

In fact, while Danny Williams might think his greatest political legacy is the revisited Atlantic Accord or Muskrat Falls or leading the province in prosperous times or engendering a new spirit of pride and independence, I would warrant the biggest influence he has had is something different altogether. And that is, as a down-to-earth savvy businessman so wildly successful he didn’t even need to draw a salary, and who was always willing to take on Big Bad Ottawa, for some people he raised the bar so high on the premiership that he can still turn the political tide here just by opening his mouth.

And he knows it.

So, when Danny Williams says Bill Barry “doesn’t stand for anything that I support,” you can be guaranteed he knows how much clout that statement carries and how much damage it could do to Barry’s candidacy. (Though I think it would be foolhardy to write Bill Barry off just yet.)

Yes, love him or hate him, Williams is politically astute. And it’s hard not to even grudgingly admire someone who got people pumped about this province after years of rough times, for all his thin skin and penchant for jingoistic hyberbole.

Danny Williams may have been thwarted in his attempt to cherry-pick a president for Memorial University, but I bet he’d have a hell of a lot of sway if he was to endorse a candidate for the PC leadership.

He might even be able to buoy a party that’s trailing badly in the polls to the point that it could become a force to be reckoned with again. Because Williams’ influence crosses party lines.  

And chalk it up to political immaturity or the desire for a messiah or blind idolatry or whatever you want, but people listen when he speaks.  Heck, he’s one of those wildly popular people who can get by on one name, like Elton and Beyoncé.

It will be fascinating to watch as other Tory leadership hopefuls step forward. My prediction is that the eventual chosen one will not come from within the caucus, but from without, free of the baggage the others are dragging behind them.

And if the right candidate should catch Danny’s eye and receive that much-coveted sanction, they could conceivably find themselves vaulting competitors from inside the party — and perhaps rivals from other parties, too, all the way to the eighth floor of Confederation Building.

All hail the new leader.

And Danny will ride off again on his majestic white steed, green feather in his cap, twinkle in his eye, humming a rollicking Irish ditty.

Never to be heard from in political spheres again.

Not bloody likely.

Pam Frampton is a columnist and The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email pframpton@thetelegram.com.

Twitter: pam_frampton