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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Williams Extends Olive Branch to Harper

The Question of who is the bigger person in the ongoing equalization battle, between Ottawa and Newfoundland and Labrador, has finally been answered. Here's a hint. He doesn't live on Sussex Drive.

With the tabling of the March budget the Conservative government saw three provincial premiers accuse the PM of walking away from his election promises on equalization and doing an end run around signed Atlantic Accord agreements.

The budget sparked off a war of words between the leaders and none were louder than Newfoundland and Labrador Premier, Danny Williams. Even today there appears to be very little communication between St. John’s and Ottawa, at least at the highest levels.

There are those who believe Harper did the right thing for Canada and that Premiers Williams, MacDonald and Calvert are looking for too much. Others, mainly in the provinces affected, honestly believe the Prime Minister turned his back on them for purely political reasons by favoring the wishes of vote rich Ontario and Quebec and circumvented a legally binding contract.

No matter which side of the debate they support many observers have been wondering if or when someone will make the first move to re-open the lines of communication and find a way forward on an issue that has divided a Country. They have been wondering which one of these political leaders is the bigger man and which one will finally extend an olive branch.

With summer vacations in full swing some of you may have missed it but over the past several days that question has been answered on more than one occasion.

Recently Premier Danny Williams has not only extended an olive branch to Stephen Harper he’s essentially extended the entire tree. The problem now is that the Prime Minister doesn’t seem willing to accept these offerings. Instead his strategy for resolving the problem amounts to simply ignoring the people of Atlantic Canada and Saskatchewan.

The first move by Premier Williams came on the morning of the big Hebron oil project announcement in the province. Even after Stephen Harper had slighted the provincial leader by sneaking into and then out of the province, in the wake of major floods in the area a few weeks earlier, Williams decided to do something the Prime Minister refused to do. He made a courtesy call to the PM’s office.

Prior to making a public announcement of the multi-billion dollar oil deal Williams phoned the Prime Ministers office as a courtesy. According to the Premier, his intent was to inform the PM of what was about to take place. A reasonable thing to do considering that the project has the potential to pump billions of dollars directly into federal coffers and since Ottawa and the province both manage the resource jointly.

Harper did not take the Premier’s call. Instead one of his staff informed Williams that the PM was busy and would try to call him back. To date, no reports of any direct communication between the two have surfaced.

The second peace offering took place later the same day during an interview on CTV News.

When asked about the ongoing feud Williams indicated that he was standing by his position on the issue but that he could not understand why the PM has never offered to sit down and talk about what options might exist to satisfy both sides in the disagreement.

Clearly this was an attempt by Williams to open up communications and perhaps find some sort of resolution. Just a few months ago this was not something Williams was willing to consider and at that time Harper simply denied any wrong doing and even challenged the provinces to take him to court if they wanted. Now that things have quieted down Williams appears willing to talk even if Harper isn't.

Once again, no movement has been reported from the PMO’s office.

A third, and perhaps most telling sign that Williams is willing to discuss the impasse, happened during the recent Liberal caucus meetings in the province.

On arriving in St. John's Liberal leader Stephane Dion made a point of visiting the Premier’s office and spending some time meeting with him. The Liberal leader clearly intended to use the visit as a photo op in an attempt to brand himself as a supporter of Atlantic Canada’s interests and an alternative to Harper’s apparently anti-Atlantic mindset. Unfortunately for Mr. Dion, Premier Williams refused to go before the cameras with him or even discuss the visit publicly. He essentially left Mr. Dion to his own devices and in doing so left the door open to Stephen Harper.

It's clear that Williams is, after many months, willing to work with Ottawa to fix a situation that has divided the Country and impacted Atlantic Canada’s financial future.

These recent gestures by Williams are obviously intended to let the Prime Minister know that there is still time to find a solution before the next federal election. Still time before the voters in Atlantic Canada go to the polls with the slogan, “ABC – Anyone but Conservatives” ringing in their ears. And, perhaps more importantly for Stephen Harper, still time to win back some limited level of support in the region. Something he may very well need to secure a majority win.

It seems that instead of reaching out to accept these peace offerings Harper has chosen to do something he often does when faced with someone who refuses to follow his commands or challenges him on an issue. He has gone into hiding, is refusing to talk and is taking an adversarial and potentially aggressive stand against his perceived enemy.

This is the sort of tactic often employed by an angry, frustrated and spoiled five year old but it isn't one that should ever be used by a sitting Prime Minister.


Ussr said...

OH God Patriot ,pardon me for jumping all over this One.

Isn't it kind of foolish to think that canada or its Governement are going to think anything differant about Newfoundland and Labrador ,and its people.

We hold how much of the House of Commons,2.2%.Thats a joke.We have no representation,we are viewed as being insignifagant,and they dismiss us for the simple sake of a joke.Why one might ask.We simply do not matter to Canada its governement or its people.

The only thing that "Steve" is doing is reaffirming thease feelings.

As long as Canada has access to our natural resources and they create jobs in Ontario or Quebec then hey we are great guys and fellow canadains.As soon as we wish to look after our own house then we become insignifagant because we cannot keep their economic machine going.

Harper is hoping that as long as he ingnors us that we wil throw a tantrum and jump up and down for attention.Doesnt look like its working so far.Or,maybe he has discovered that it is just smarter to Let Lleeping Dogs lie

Anyhow,I hope the strategy he has set out for his party starts to work out.Federally ,the New Conservative Party in Newfoundland and Labrador is dead done and gone.

Someone should Phone the PM and ask if the crying has stopped yet,but i doubt that he would pick up the phone if the area code calling was "709"

Anonymous said...

It looks like Harper is hiding away again.

CTV is saying he decided to delay the opening of parliament for a month, until after the elections in NL and ON. I guess he's afraid somemone will have something to say about him if he pokes his head out of his little cave.

EM said...

Another fine post, patriot!

Well said and well done!

Anonymous said...

Either you have mistaken a club for an olive branch or you're just spreading fertilizer. It was just a month ago Williams was urging CAW delegates "ABC". If it's politically advantageous for Williams to be cozying up to the feds he might actually try that - given that it's not necessary he's not. To borrow a phrase from one of Williams candidates, NL is and will continue to "pay the price" for being on the "wrong" side of the federal government.

Patriot said...

Anon said: "Either you have mistaken a club for an olive branch or you're just spreading fertilizer"

Thanks for your opinion. Like mine, it's just that, an opinion.

If you've ever played chess you know that sometimes a move is done for a reason and often you have to think several moves ahead. Think about that and you might see where I arrived at my opinion that Williams is trying to re-open the dialogue.

Patriot said...

Perhaps I should elaborate by using another chess analogy. Sometimes you sacrifice one piece on the board if it will improve your chances of winning the game.

Anonymous said...

Williams may be playing chess but I don’t believe that he’s thinking three moves ahead. His tactics thus far in his term have been reactionary and predictably populist in nature. If Williams strategy has changed to brokering deals with Ottawa it's only because that he has realized that he has no other options. With Conservative support shored up in Quebec and Ontario, and other provinces questioning why they should contribute to his province's future, he has no choice but to put away the club and attempt diplomacy. This has not been Williams traditional comfort zone. When the $2 Billion was secured from Ottawa the circumstances were much different and a window was exploited. That window does not exist today. It is imperative to our province's future that he pulls in the horns and systematically approaches both federal and provincial leaders with an aim to reach a positive resolution to the current impasse. Let’s hope for our sakes that he can rise above ego and get this right. If that involves consuming a meal of crow, so be it. It will ultimately result in fewer meals of bologna for the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

When did New Brunswick and PEI cease to be part of Atlantic Canada?

Removing non-renewables from the Equalization calculation would punish them severely, given their relatively meagre production of such...

Anonymous said...

Why would removing non-renewables from equalization hurt NB? Get a grip. The federal government has been running surplus budgets in the billions for years. NB would still get the same as they always did or as much as they should.

You are so far off base as to be laughable.