Pop quiz, people. In this picture from last week's Independent (Photo Credit Paul Daly), Premier Danny Williams…
1. Is having some fun with his Irish heritage.
2. Already had a bit too much fun regarding his Irish heritage, if you know what I mean.
3. Has clearly lost his mind.
You know there was a point when I would have went with A, but now I think that it might be C. It happens, of course. I can't speak for pan-Canadian politicians, but Newfoundland politics clearly drives those involved with it mad after awhile. The higher you go in power, the quicker you're likely to go mad.
I can say many things about Clyde Wells, but I always gave him credit for getting out when he did. Seven years and done. About the smartest thing he ever did. He could have stuck around. Possibly could have even won a third term. But he saw the writing on the wall, saw that he was possible already beginning to lose it and got out before the drooling became noticeable.
Smallwood was, of course, barking mad by the time the late 60s came around. Moores probably wasn't far off it either by the time he got out. Peckford was as mad a hatter when he left, riding his mutant, Sprung-grown cucumber off into the sunset.
Hell, Tobin was certifiable before he ever took the job. Going to Ottawa will make the best of them loonies. Spending time in cabinet for three years and having unsubtle aspirations on becoming prime minister and figuring a stint as Newfoundland's premier is just the ticket to make you more palatable, is pretty clearly a sign that you're mental.
Tulk wasn't there long enough to go mad, although arguments could be made regarding his sanity. And Grimes wasn't so much insane as just fucked. Grimes was fucked from the instant he won the leadership by 14 votes under dubious circumstances. If he had been reelected, maybe he would have been fucking nuts, but as it stands, he was just fucked.
Which brings us to Williams. I'm not saying he had a shot at beating the curse, but there were promising signs. He landed the Atlantic Accord, seemed reasonably bright and was pretty much promising two elections and then he was done. All good signs.
Sadly, it seems Danny's mental dissolution is progressing ahead of schedule for the average Newfoundland premier. I can't really say why. Perhaps a large, heavy binder filled with opinion polls fell on his head. But he's showing all the signs. Exhibit #1, that picture. Did he learn nothing from Leo Puddister, who did a similar cover several years ago to much mocking.
The next is all this proud Newfoundlander crap. Even by previous Newfoundland premier standards, which are quite high in abusing patriotism, Danny is setting new levels. "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel" Samuel Johnson is reported to have said. They'll likely do case studies on Williams once this is over. Liam also does a nice job attacking Newfoundland patriotism as a smokescreen for rogues up to no good, so go there and read that wisdom.
Please tell me this isn't all there is, Danny. I've interview you before and chatted with you informally. You struck me then as a smart man with a decent vision for Newfoundland and Labrador. Tell me this isn't it. Tell me it's not 18 months of half decent progress with the rest of your premiership doing nothing but kicking up noise and hoping that no one notices what's (not) happening. That businesses are grumbling about too much government interference. That mainland investment is becoming increasingly skeptical about doing business up here. That you stalled two major oil projects with seemingly no rational reason. That Churchill Falls will likely be just as big a mess when you leave as when you arrived. That you've so alienated the Prime Minister's Office that they've come to the conclusion that the best strategy in dealing with Newfoundland is to just ignore you, even if that means sacrificing three sitting MPs. That rural Newfoundland is devastated with no sign of a game plan. That your cabinet is an empty shell and the smartest person in your caucus sits in exile in the backbenches wondering if she should run for federal politics.
The thing of it is, I still believe somewhere in there, Williams could actually figure this mess out and come up with a decent plan. If he were in opposition he certainly wouldn't tolerate a premier acting this way. But early onset political madness is apparently taking its toll on him. He's going to get reelected, but that says more about the quality of opposition (which is, let's face it, is as weak as anything in the annals of Newfoundland's post-Confederation history) than the quality of his government's recent decisions. I think I'm about ready to close the book on him actually solving anything.
I can't find the exact quote, but someone once said of Bill Clinton that the tragedy of his presidency could be found in the gulf between his potential and the reality. I suspect when they write the books on Williams they might be saying similar things.