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Bob Wakeham: In this ring, Danny Williams…

['Danny Williams']
Galway developer Danny Williams.

Not caring who wins or loses is one of the guilty pleasures to be derived — if you’re so inclined, which I am — from having observer tickets to the ongoing bout of words between Danny Williams and Basil Dobbin.

 

Bob Wakeham
Bob Wakeham

 

In the schoolyard, it would go something like this:

 

I wants what you got, shouts Danny, red as a beet.

I didn’t get what you says I got, barks Bas, spittle appearing on his lip.

Yes you did, shouts Danny.

Got ya last, say the two.

They’d then pelt each other with balls made from hundred dollar bills.

The bottom line: two developers with thick wallets are trying to win the public relations war as they exchange arguing points with the St. John’s City Fathers (and now Mothers, as a result of the latest trek to the polls by the Townies).

And guess what, b’ys? The vast majority of the public couldn’t care less which one of you emerges with a technical knockout; after all, choosing sides when two rich guys are trying to get richer is a hard sell in a place like Newfoundland, where thousands are fighting like dogs to just get by, and there are even some unfortunates deciding whether to pay their electrical bill or buy groceries.

Closer to home, having ringside seats to the Williams/Dobbin Racket is akin to watching Greenpeace and the International Fund for Animal Welfare duke it out…

It reminds me of the late great Johnny Carson musing one night during one of his famous monologues, at a time when Iran and Iraq were at each other’s throats: “Isn’t it great to just sit back and watch a war and not care who wins or loses?” (An aside here: can you imagine the field day Carson would have had with Donald Trump, a comedian’s delight?)

Closer to home, having ringside seats to the Williams/Dobbin Racket is akin to watching Greenpeace and the International Fund for Animal Welfare duke it out: it’s just so much fun not giving a you-know-what about the outcome, and just hoping to be entertained by a knock-down, drag ’em out, Pier 8 brawl.

But there’s an important caveat here, at least for me, and it developed outside the war of letters and documents between Dobbin and Williams, and had more to do with the suit launched by the ex-premier against the city.

Now, Williams, in my estimation, was one of the most hypersensitive politicians I’ve ever come across in my time in the journalistic trenches. If you weren’t for him, you were against him. There was no in between. If you didn’t cheer him on, you were a Benedict Arnold (or a Newfoundland historical equivalent). Any sort of criticism was met with over-the-top hyperbolic reaction.

He could be spiteful, and anybody taking him on was aware that the threat, or the actual launch, of a lawsuit was always part of his arsenal.

And it should be noted that this Galway development didn’t come about because of some sort of magnanimity or altruism on Williams’ part or a deep concern for the economic welfare of his fellow Newfoundlanders. He’s a businessman. He’s a capitalist. He lives and loves to make money. Period.

But here’s the thing: I found it unfathomable that St. John’s bureaucrats would demand, as part of its deliberations with Williams, a commitment that he never sue the city over any matters that might arise in the future regarding the Galway development.

There’s been a fair amount revealed about the negotiations between the two sides that have caused my eyes to glaze over. I know little, for instance, about those infamous roundabouts, other than the fact that they scared the bejeezus out of me while driving in France with family members a number of years ago.

But what I do care about, what every soul with even half a heartbeat should care about, is any deliberate compromising of freedom of speech, including the freedom to use the courts when one feels legally abused.

I’m sure the city will argue this is standard procedure, the notion of demanding from a developer that he not be permitted to initiate court action.

And perhaps there are legal nuances that are over my ignorant head.

But guess what? It matters little to me what lawyers, politicians, the hired staff of a city, or anybody else has to say about legal niceties. To force someone to relinquish their given democratic right to go to the courts is absolutely atrocious, an affront to everything a free society should hold dear (as highfalutin as that might sound).

It doesn’t matter whether it’s Danny Williams or Tommy Toe.

If I had Williams’ money and expertise, I’d do exactly what he’s doing and fight this shocking demand with everything in my power.

And, yes, there might be some entertainment value here, as well.

 

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

 

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