The Johnny and Danny Show: a postmortem

Bob Wakeham bwakeham@nl.rogers.com
Published on June 14, 2014

Having unavoidably missed last week’s routine of heaping scorn on politicians (and other worthy subjects), I lost a chance to deliver a timely review of the juicy Johnny and Danny Show as it played out recently in front of an enthusiastic audience of thousands.

Nevertheless, a late arrival to the performance of the Clash of the Tory Titans is no good reason not to pass a comment or two, albeit tardily, on the The Bellicose B’ys.

First of all, of course, it goes almost without saying that it was refreshing to see John Crosbie finally able to remove the muzzle he voluntarily and knowingly placed over his gob when he took the job as Elizabeth’s boy in Newfoundland, a rare time during his nearly half-century of politicking when he was forced to watch his tongue — a case of politicus interruptus, as it were.  

This time around, he tackled a subject that was guaranteed to create a stir: the strange and troubled community that is Toryville, Newfoundland, a town headed inexorably for resettlement across the floor of the legislature and, specifically, a question buzzing around kitchens, bars and cabstands for months — is Danny Williams, ex-premier, now private citizen, pulling strings behind the scenes of the local PCs and, by natural extension, having a significant say in the future governing of the province?

Crosbie decided to answer the question at an affair, appropriately enough, honouring Ray Guy, a man who knew a hell of a lot about frankness and insight.  

And my departed friend Ray probably wouldn’t mind that Crosbie stole some of his thunder, that the former lieutenant-governor garnered just about all the media coverage, at least the journalism I happened to come across, from the afternoon of Guy readings and stories; in fact, Ray would have gotten a kick out of the fact that Crosbie managed in just a few minutes to inflame Danny Boy. Mr. Guy was always in ecstasy when politicians were incensed, especially when he was connected in some way (I’m sure he had Crosbie himself cursing a blue streak on occasion way back when).

And Crosbie certainly had Delicate Dan crying foul, or just plain crying, when he suggested the ex-premier’s present-day influence extends beyond the IceCaps and gigantic development projects into the backrooms of the Tory party, where he is calling the shots, according to J.C.’s version of political events these days in Newfoundland.     

There was the inherent entertainment value, of course, in seeing two old warhorses going at it, but the racket also provided another glimpse of the thin skin of the former premier and additional perspective (to use one of Williams’ favourite self-

serving words) on the black and white fashion in which he views the world of loyalty.

Sure, it was predictable that Williams would dismiss any claims that he’s still the main gambler in Casino Newfoundland, that he’s distributing only the cards he feels should be played, and telling Tories everywhere when to hold ’em, when to fold ’em; you wouldn’t expect him to admit to such shenanigans.  

But, in typical Williams style, he went further.

He got nasty.

And kinda bizarre, if you ask me, especially in putting the oddest kind of spin on, of all things, having given the OK for Crosbie to put an elevator in Government House, a request made by the then lieutenant-governor because “he didn’t want to walk up the stairs to the second floor,” as Williams mockingly put it, an implication that it was laziness that prompted the request in the first place.

And Williams made it obvious he figures that favours of that sort should be rewarded with unconditional loyalty. My interpretation is that he believes such magnanimous gestures (as he apparently sees the case of the elevator) — along with his generosity towards Crosbie’s cause in promoting the memorial to the Newfoundland sealing disaster of 1914 — should prompt an unofficial oath to never bite the hand that feeds you. In blood, if possible.    

“I can’t understand why John Crosbie is coming at me. … He’s come to me on the sealers’ fund and other funds, and I’ve contributed, personally and otherwise, so I don’t understand the reason for what he’s doing here.”

Well, boohoo hoo.

In other words, loyalty has a dollar sign. You can buy loyalty; you can close mouths with private and public money.

Williams was an immensely popular premier. No doubt about that. But even many of his most fervent followers would have to agree that he was largely a one-man band, that it was his way or the highway. And if you dared to question him or his policies, you were forever persona non grata in his books.

It appears he hasn’t changed.     

Also, it’s one thing for columnists and pundits and others to suggest Frank Coleman is Danny’s Boy, but it’s quite another for Crosbie, the veteran politician who’s been around the block endless times, who’s still (supposedly) in the PC loop, to talk openly and publicly about what he obviously sees as Tory bandleader Williams orchestrating the way he’d like to see Newfoundland governed.

Not only does Crosbie give the scenario some credibility, it also says so much about the desperation of Williams and the Tory party to remain in power.    

They’re in trouble, and they know it.

It’s the kind of desperation that sometimes brings out the very worst in people.     

Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwakeham@nl.rogers.com.