Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Williams post-mortem

So we've had a day or so to digest Premier Danny Williams resigning. I wanted to hold off a bit just to try and let the decision process. There was a lot of rush to judgment on Thursday and because of that I think there was a lot was a lot of odd reaction. The Globe and Mail cranked out an editorial less than two hours after Williams made his formal announcement. I know in this day and age of instant and constant media you have to react quickly, but my god that's a bit much.
(Danny Williams on the night former Premier Roger Grimes called the election in 2003)

Most of the commentary has a kind of "Greatest Hits" feel about it. "He did this and this and this that was good, he did that and that which was bad" and then a summing up paragraph of what kind of premier he was, depending on what side of the political spectrum the writer fell.

Mainland writers seem impressed with the changes he's made to Newfoundland, but they certainly haven't forgiven him for taking down the Canadian flag during his spat with Paul Martin. I was there the day he ordered that, in the Confederation Building media room. And then I rushed outside to get pictures of the flag being lowered. My small part in Canadian history.
(The removing of the Canadian flag on that very day)

The reaction in Newfoundland has, as expected, been one of massive morning filled with small bursts of joy. I'm surprised there weren't flags being flown at half mast and people weren't wearing armbands. I've had my problems with him as premier, no doubt about that. Despite the list of accomplishments people rattle off, I never thought he lived up to his potential. His government wasn't as open as I had hoped. He had a bit too much of a vicious streak, even for a provincial politician. There's a fine line between being an aggressive negotiator and a bully, and he crossed that line too often for my liking. He honestly could have been a much better premier.

But there is no denying this, he was beloved. Ed Hollett and others can argue about the accuracy of provincial polling, and they might have a point,but there have been few provincial politicians who have been this beloved for this long. Smallwood, perhaps, but he didn't exactly go out on a grace note, what with his desperate, clawing attempts at keeping power.
(Me and Danny, January 2005. Photo copyright Greg Locke)

This is a key thing to Williams. He didn't overstay his welcome. Very few premiers can say that. Lord knows Smallwood couldn't, nor could Peckford. Wells, managed to see the writing on the wall and get out while he could. I'm convinced if Williams had stayed for a third term it would have gotten ugly at some point. People would start grumbling and muttering about over staying his welcome.

Instead, people are actually upset about a politician quitting. That's a rare sight to see.

As for his legacy, that's honestly almost impossible to tell. History needs some time to work on these things. A few hours, a few days after leaving office is no time to judge legacy. On the surface it looks good, but we're going to need a few years to see how things sort themselves out. Will the Lower Churchill deal be a good one or bad? Will the years he spent fighting Ottawa, which boosted his popularity at home, prove damaging in the long run?
(Danny at a press scrum of some kind. You go to enough of these you get desperate for a different photo. This was my attempt.)

In terms of the low bar set by previous premier (Newfoundland has a long and unfortunate history of electing some real idiots to power), Williams would obvious have to be one of the best one's in the province's history, even as we wait to see how this all shakes out.

Next up....what's next?

Last Five
1. Rocket - Goldfrapp
2. Band on the run - Paul McCartney and Wings
3. A rainy night in Soho - The Pogues
4. Bear & the barbed wire - Mark Bragg
5. I'm gone - Lloyd Cole


Alan W. Davidson said...

You're right, there were a lot of 'knee-jerk' reactions on Thursday. You've set out a pretty fair assessment there. Pretty cool...Johnny-on-the-spot for the bringing down of the Canadian flag.

Megan said...

Was he standing next to Ed Byrne in that first photo, by any chance? It totally reminds me of the shot of Byrne you posted a few months ago.

towniebastard said...

Same stage, a few feet apart. Good eye. Danny wasn't sweating as bad because he was smart enough to get out of the lights which were broiling everyone else.

WJM said...

Will the Lower Churchill deal be a good one or bad?

Or is it even a deal?

Clare said...

When the flag kerfuffle happened I sent Williams an email. Basically saying that whatever his disagreement with the government, the flag didn't represent the government, but is representative of all of the citizens of Canada. And that he was showing disrespect to all of Canada's people, not the politicians in Ottawa.

I didn't get a reply or an acknowledgement. That spoke more to me about the man than the stunt.

towniebastard said...

Yeah, I disagreed with that decision at the time and I still do. It remains one of the most aggravating incidents of his premiership.

Although the really annoying thing is the number of misguided Newfoundland patriots who supported the move and still cheer it on.

Edward Hollett said...

A couple of points, Craig:

1. It is not merely a question of the accuracy of the polling - it is about an active campaign to manipulate both the poll and opinion or the perception of the opinion. A paper published oddly enough the day Williams announced he was leaving documents, in detail, the efforts. Give it a read and then give that aspect of your view a rethink and you might take a different view.

2. There's no question Williams is the subject of a huge personality cult. How far it permeates the society in the province remains open to question. no doubt he is hugely popular among a certain segment, but the average townie, conservative nationalist isn't the voter in Forteau.