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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Danny Williams, Newsmaker of the Year

Not to blow Danny Williams' horn, God knows he doesn't need my help, but it's interesting how quickly times change in politics. Just a few short months ago the newspapers "upalong" were calling for Danny to be tarred and feathered. He was called everything from a little Hitler to Danny Chavez. Oh, how times have changed. I present a couple of examples simply as a reminder that nothing ever stays the same and we should never forget that.

As the year draws to a close at least two of the naysayers have done a complete 180 on the Premier and are suddenly his biggest fans. Case in point is a recent article in the Globe and Mail that lists this years "Hits" and "Misses". Williams of course, now that he's proven the pundits wrong, has moved from a miss to a big hit.

Globe and Mail - December 21, 2007

Hit: Danny Williams

In April, 2006, Danny Williams, the cable TV multimillionaire-turned-populist Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, had the gall to say no to Exxon Mobil Corp. over the proposed multibillion-dollar development of the offshore Hebron oil field.

With oil then at $70 (U.S.) a barrel, Mr. Williams wanted a much better deal for his poor province than the ones previous administrations had managed to wrench from Big Oil. He wanted equity, he wanted super-royalties at high oil prices. Exxon, with its hard-rock fighting fists, took the tack it takes when it's unhappy, loudly stomping away from the bargaining table, never to return (in theory).

As potential piles of new dollars vanished, Danny Boy was ridiculed by the capitalist press, derisively dubbed “Danny Chavez,” as though there was any real similarity between Mr. Williams, a hard-bargaining capitalist, and Hugo Chavez, the Bolivar socialist in Venezuela.
How dare Mr. Williams, the armchair quarterbacks chimed, scrap with Exxon? A pipsqueak premier simply doesn't get the economics of international oil, and taking on the CEO of the biggest public company on Earth was just dumb. Newfoundland, the consensus suggested, would pay the price for years.

Well, well, a year later, look who comes slinking back (with oil nearing $100 a barrel). Exxon, after seeing its assets basically seized by the state in Venezuela, figured that the Rock ain't such a bad place to play, and generally agreed to all the terms that Mr. Williams demanded in 2006.
Now, instead of the predicted poverty, there's the “Danny Williams effect” as the local economy surges. “Oh Danny Boy,” Newfoundlanders sang as they bestowed a massive fresh majority on the man in the fall, “we love you so.”

Another very outspoken and misguided commentator, Jim Meek, a man I personally brought to task over his comments about the province (more so than Williams himself), now clearly sees how idiotic his earlier comments were. It looks good on him.

Danny Williams, newsmaker of the year
Thu. Dec 27 - 7:14 AM
Halifax Chronicle Herald

SORRY, but Danny Williams is the guy.

With apologies to the Pink Shirt boys and Bill Casey, the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador is Atlantic Canada’s newsmaker of the year.

On the Rock, he’s a rock star – a celebrity who, like Madonna or Sting or Pele, is known by a single name.

Sure, "Danny" is two parts bully, three parts bombast, and all parts brilliant. And he’s hard to figure out from day to day.

But he’s proved that he knows not only how to fight, but how to win.

That’s the big change.

Former premier Brian Peckford fought Ottawa for control of offshore resources – and lost in the Supreme Court of Canada.

Former premier Brian Tobin fought foreign fleets to protect fish stocks, but it just didn’t work out.

Former premier Joey Smallwood thought he was fighting for a fair share of revenues from the Churchill Falls power project. And 40 years later, Quebec is still making off with a lion’s share of the revenues.

Like these predecessors, Danny Williams took on formidable enemies – first Ottawa, and then powerful international oil companies.

His critics (including this one) said that he too was sure to lose.

And that he couldn’t have been serious when he stormed away from talks with Chevron Canada Resources over development of the Hebron oil field.

After all, Chevron could spend its billions elsewhere.

And the big multinational would never come back as long as Williams drew breath in the premier’s office in St. John’s.

As for the province taking an ownership position in the Hebron project, that would simply never happen.

Except it did.

In August, Chevron let the province buy a small equity position in the offshore oil project.
And the precedent was set.

Last week, the province again did the thing that couldn’t be done.

It purchased a share of another offshore oil project, taking a smallish equity position in the new phase of PetroCanada’s White Rose development.

Was this a surprise?

Two years ago, it would have been a shock. The oil industry – just like Margaret Thatcher – was "not for turning."

Then Danny stripped the oil execs of their camouflage gear.

Who says the ExxonMobils of the world won’t work with government partners?

Gee, they already do so in Libya and Saudi Arabia and quiet, staid, democratic Norway.

Danny figured this out, but that’s only half the point.

What’s remarkable about the Williams story is not the transformation – much less the conquest – of big oil.

Instead, it is the sea change in Newfoundland itself.

Pre-Danny, this was the place that could always whine but never win.

"Outside" interests – "fish lords" from England, power utilities from Quebec, mining companies from Ontario – always managed to strip the province of its resources and its dignity.

That’s the myth, anyway – the founding faith of the old fishing colony in the northwest Atlantic.
With the "win" over Hebron, and the earlier victory over Ottawa on the issue of offshore resource revenues, all that has changed.

So Danny’s the man.

I’d say he walks on water, but that’s a foolish notion to anyone born and raised in a seafaring – and sea-fearing – place.

But when real estate prices soared in St. John’s in the last quarter of this year, the Toronto newspapers did call it the "Danny Williams effect."

For most voters, Williams has entered a blessed "zone" – a sweet spot in which all that’s good attaches itself to him and all that’s bad gets blamed on someone else.

This gives him plenty of room to change things.

And he’s done so in telling ways.

For instance, Williams has lowered tuition fees in a drive to educate more people.

This is a better long-term strategy for building an economic and population base than putting up a donair advertisement in downtown Toronto. (Are you listening, Rodney?)

Williams has even made sense of the fishing industry, by allowing some assets to be sold to foreign or out-of-province companies.

This was done – by the way – in the face of four centuries of an entrenched fishing culture. In short, it’s not small stuff.

And I’m left to conclude that Danny – for all his blarney and spoiled-kid tantrums – is the rarest of God’s creatures, the right leader for his time and place.

With the new year upon us it pays to remember that no matter how we are perceived or how bad things may seem, things can turn on a dime.


time for a change said...

"He was called everything from a little Hitler to Danny Chavez."

Actually, the national media have always been quite kind to him. He gets more air time than most, and on top of that they ran several of his own columns over the past 18 months.

It's too bad you wingnuts fall for the "oh my god the mainlanders are out to get us" rallying cry everytime someone writes anything critical.

Do all you ranters have such thin, thin skins?

Where's your pride? Your strength? Your Determination?

Real Newfoundlanders wear sealskins.

Your crowd wears thin skins.

Must be the water in town I suppose.

mollie said...

Which upalong papers called Danny "little Hitler"?

Anonymous said...

Yes indeed Premeir Danny stripped the oil execs of their camouflage gear.

Obviously the oil execs were thinking that they were dealing with a people, whom they thought would believe every word that they were saying and demand that the Premier sign anything to get a deal. They believed that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians were as naive as they were in the past. But Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are more worldly and less trustful and as a result they have thrown of the yoke of naivety. Newfoundlanders and Labradorians were quite aware of of the unsavoury plaes where Big Oil Corps were operating, places such as the Stans of Central Asia, where the War Lords reign supreme, without any government standards; and dictatorial Africa where corruption is the rule of law. I doubt in such places that either signed oil contracts or the company employees have any great deal of security?

Big Oil knows how to decipher what is a good deal and what isn't, and that is the reason they came back within a 15 month period to sign on the dotted line the contract extended to them by Premier Williams. Even though the fundamentals look like there will most likely be a slowdown in the economies of the world for a while, and the oil resource won't be in as great a demand.

Big Oil bluffed and Premier Danny called Big Oil's bluff and won for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. Congratulations Premier!

Calvin said...

December 27, 2007 12:55 PM

Patriot.What can anyone say here.If we are so, Canadain ,why does this fellow Canadain not know the history of his own country.

I think people that take this attuide should listen to John Crosbys explanation of things ,when he did that interview for the Current.

Anybody that has any knowledge of this place knows of the sacrifices made by this province .And,if they do not ,maybe ,they shouldn't be making such comments.

To answer the question from mollie,I believe that was the Toronto Star.

Anonymous said...

I was just listening to Jay Taylor of Jay Taylor Financial Newsletters on BNN and he said that there is not enough Oil discovered in the world today and that is the reason Oil is going up in price while the world economy is spinning towards recession.

Not enough oil being discovered in a much slower economy and the price of a barrel of oil is at an all time high price of near $100.00U.S.

So one of the principles of Supply and Demand rules. When a commodity is in low supply and the demand is lower, and yet the cost of the commodity remains high, doesn't that speak volumes as to why Big Oil came back to Premier Williams Oil table of Newfoundland and Labrador. It means that Oil is a commodity which is valuable whether or not the economy is booming. Oil, is a finite natural resource which has a short shelf life, so our Premier recognized that we had to make hay while the sun shines. Let us never repeat our past and give away our resources and remain poor in this beautiful province of Newfoundland and Labrador ever again. I hope the rest of Canada has gotten the message. We will be masters in our own house. Nous serons des maƮtres dans notre propre maison.