The man, who was born the year we joined Confederation, talks battles, victories and his passion for the province he calls home
Danny Williams was born back in ’49, the year we joined Confederation. Had he had an opportunity to vote for or against Confederation, what would he have done?
Control our own destiny
“I would have voted against Confederation, absolutely. I just felt we should have stayed our own country. I think it would have made a huge difference in regard to our offshore for one thing.” Williams says the fact that we are not able to make a bunch of decisions regarding our resources hurts. “We are not controlling our own destiny,” he says with passion.
Like many of our premiers, Williams always spoke his mind, however he always seemed to garner not only provincial but national attention. When he took on ex-Beatle Paul McCartney and his wife Linda over the seal hunt, the world watched. On CNN’s Larry King Live Williams said, “I have to set the record straight. I live here and I actually know.” When challenged on his point of view on the matter he countered, “This is about propaganda. This is about using superstars like your husband.”
‘Have’ & elected high
But for a reflective Williams, none of that mattered. His own proudest moment as premier? “Coming back from Ottawa with the Atlantic Accord was certainly right up there but just being elected as premier was the proudest moment. You don’t realize at the start how important that is. When you actually go out and encounter people, you are no longer Danny, you are the premier, and that’s a special role in this province, and it’s a position that each and every person involved here have had the honour of holding.” Were there lows as well?
“As I was getting into politics, someone said; you are about to experience the highest highs and the lowest lows of your life and there’s so much truth to that.”
A low moment was when he felt his government had to take down the Canada flag. “We just got shut down, and I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders, and that’s when we took the flags down; talk about a low. But being a ‘Have’ province was a high, and just getting elected was a high.”
Any regrets? “I wish I had been around for the very end of Muskrat Falls. I said I would spend 10 years in politics and then I’d move on. And I did.”
Reflecting on who benefited more; Canada or Newfoundland, Williams doesn’t hesitate. “In a lot of ways it was good for Newfoundland to join Canada, but Newfoundland and Labrador have been very good to Canada in the biggest kind of way and I don’t think Canada has ever really added up the benefits that we brought to the country. I think Canada is way ahead on who got the better of the deal because we brought a lot more to the table, and still do.”
Williams was always known for passionate speeches. From his 2007 Speech from the Throne he said; “My Government will affirm Newfoundland and Labrador’s status as a distinct people… Our people are proud nationalists who believe it is only by affirming our identity as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians that we will realize our goal of economic equality within the federation… our province will achieve self-reliance by becoming masters of our own house.”
Speaking of being masters of our own house, seeing Williams reflect on the Atlantic Accord victory on the eve of Confederation’s 70th is interesting.
“It was a struggle, but I knew we were in the right,” he says. From his speech made on January 31, 2005, Williams said, “The effort to secure a better deal on the Atlantic Accord was about more than money for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. It was about integrity and dignity and honour, and it was about pride! And those things cannot be bought. I can tell you that I have never been more proud to call myself a Newfoundlander and Labradorian!
“Almost 14 months ago, I went to Ottawa for my very first meeting with Prime Minister Paul Martin. The very first issue that I raised with the Prime Minister was our offshore revenues and the inequitable arrangement that existed between the federal and provincial governments. I pointed out that we were NOT principle beneficiaries, as was intended under the original Accord.
“That day was the beginning of a long, hard, intense and difficult road. After that meeting, I decided that my main focus had to be convincing the Prime Minister that our province deserved a more just and equitable arrangement. We not only deserved it, but we needed it, if we were to have any hope of turning our terrible fiscal situation around. The hopes and dreams of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians were about to be fulfilled. Finally, there was recognition that we have not been principal beneficiaries. We have not received a fair and just return on these great resources, which we brought with us into Confederation.”
The Midas Touch
When Williams stepped down in 2010, his speech was like almost everything he ever touched; pure gold.
“It was in November of 2000 when I decided to run, and a decade is a long time. At that time, I reflected upon the words of John F. Kennedy, who said, and I quote: ‘Anyone can make a difference, and everyone should try.’ And I’m darn glad that I did.”
Williams addressed those who were often critical of his fighting, fists up ways. “You know, I laugh when critics and some reporters say that I’m nothing more than a fighter – someone always looking for a racket – never happy unless I’m taking someone on. Well folks, I am here to tell you today that those people are right,” he said.
He added there had never been “one battle too great or too small” for his team if it thought it would lead to a better life for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.
“We fought the federal government for equity under the Atlantic Accord, and won. We fought the big oil companies for more benefits, and we won and today we actually share a tremendous partnership and a mutual respect with them,” he said that day.
When asked about the other premiers and their role in this province’s place in Canada, he paused. “Every one of these people earned a place in history. Being premier of this province is an honour,” he said sincerely.
Now that’s he’s no longer in politics, Williams hasn’t softened when it comes to his passion for this place and its people. “I always felt Newfoundlanders and Labradorians deserved to be treated with respect, and I fought for that.”