‘I’d like to understand what Harper’s term “nation within a nation” means. If that fits Quebec, maybe it fits Newfoundland.’
DANNY WILLIAMS TALKS TO KATE FILLION ABOUT THE PM’S ‘UNFAIR’ TACTICS, EXXON MOBIL AND WHY A RICH MAN GOT INTO POLITICS
Q Your argument around equalization seems to be that a promise is a promise—because Stephen Harper said there would be no clawbacks due to resource revenues, he can’t now even give you the option of sticking with the old deal or accepting a new one that includes a cap on equalization payments if a province’s per capita revenues surpass Ontario’s. You have a lot more faith in politicians than the average Canadian if you believe they don’t break promises.
A: I’m not naive. Politicians do break promises from time to time, but often the promises are of a minor nature. This is not something that was said lightly on the campaign trail. This is something that was put in writing on six separate occasions. It’s very, very significant, it’s a carrot that was held out prior to an election in order to get votes, and it did achieve that. When a promise is made, the promise should be kept.
Q: How is it fair for Newfoundland and Labrador to receive equalization payments even though the province will have greater fiscal resources than Ontario?
A: We’re now being faced with a very simplistic argument that because Newfoundland and Labrador’s revenues on a fiscal capacity basis will be higher than Ontario’s, we shouldn’t be allowed to keep our [equalization] payments. The problem is, that doesn’t take into consideration the debt and the expenditure side of the equation. I’m quite certain there
is not one person in Ontario who for one minute believes they’re worse off than Newfoundland and Labrador. We have the highest per capita debt in the entire country.
Q: What is it?
A: About $23,000 per person.
Q: And for 2007-08, Newfoundland’s per capita revenues, equalization included, total $7,094. Ontario’s are $6,631.
A: But you have to look at the density of Ontario, which is about eight times that of Newfoundland and Labrador. I have to provide services to half a million people over this huge coastline, spread out over 700 communities. There are economies of scale that occur in Ontario that do not occur here. And we have people leaving on a daily basis, they [settle and wind up] paying taxes in other provinces, and still we have responsibility for the debt that’s accumulated over 55 years. We’re just saying, “Give us a chance, give us this small window when we still have these non-renewable resources to keep the benefit of these revenues in order to grow the economy and stabilize.” This is our one shot, and we have shown that if we’re given these monies, we will act responsibly. We will invest in social programs, in infrastructure, we will lower our debt, we’ll be in a better position to sustain ourselves on a go-forward basis, which is good news for everyone in this country. When we talk about equalization in Quebec, it’s referred to as strategic investment in the economy; in Atlantic Canada, it’s termed welfare payments. Well, we resent that.
Q: Exxon’s walked away from the Hebron oil project because of your demand that they give the province a 4-9 per cent equity stake. Are you worried that your offshore oil moves make your province look like a banana republic and will hurt development?
A: This is part of the image the PMO has tried to portray, they’ve termed me “Danny Chavez,” I think the Prime Minister’s actually used that term himself. It’s unfair to try to tag me with the same name as a leader in South America who’s decided to take over television stations. The truth of the matter is that right now we are actually in discussions, not negotiations but formal discussions, with Exxon Mobil and the consortium they represent. We’ve had at this point about a 14-month delay, which is a very short delay in the lifetime of an oil field. Over the course of the last decade, Newfoundland and Labrador has only taken a couple billion dollars out of its oil fields, whereas the federal government has taken over five and the industry has taken 10. We feel we’re entitled to a greater return and this is the time to take a stand. There are lots of jurisdictions all around the world that are in the process of taking much greater shares of equity in their natural resources. There also is the country named Norway, which for years has been taking 60 to 70 per cent return on its natural resources.
Q: You talk a lot about historical injustices perpetrated by the federal government. Do you think it was a mistake in 1949 to join Confederation?
1 watch reality TV. I started out with “Fear Factor,” but “The Bachelor” or “Amazing Race,” I watch them all.1
A: A tough question. They’ve grossly mismanaged the fisheries—here we are now with a Newfoundland and Labrador [federal] fisheries minister and they still don’t do anything about custodial management of foreign overfishing, which continues to keep our decimated stocks at unheard-of levels, like around four per cent of what they were in the ’80s. What happened with the Upper Churchill [hydroelectric project] was we had a federal government at the time that advised our premier not to transmit power through Quebec because it would create civil unrest, and in the interest of national unity our province took that one on the chin, and is paying dearly, to the tune of $1 billion a year. That’s why we’re so angered when the federal government has the chance to right that injustice by merely living up to the promise they’ve made to the people of this province and they fail to do so, for political opportunism.
Q: You’ve used a lot of Quebec’s traditional separatist language lately. Do you think Newfoundland and Labrador ever will or should be a separate country?
A: There are lots of people here who feel we should be a separate country. That has never been my position. I would like to understand from Stephen Harper what the term “nation within a nation” means; if that fits Quebec, maybe it fits Newfoundland and Labrador. But our intention is to work within the country.
Q: Storming out of a first ministers meeting. Pulling down the Canadian flag. Calli?ig Stephen Harper aliar. Do you have a bad temper or just a flair for the dramatic?
or just a AI would say neither. The truth is, I didn’t storm out of a first ministers meeting because I never stormed in to that meeting. I just did not go, and the reason was that I’d just been presented with a complete change of position by the Liberal government [of the day]. And I didn’t pull down the Canadian flag. We very symbolically lowered that flag, and were very careful in any statements we made that this was no attempt to disparage the flag under any circumstances. What’s going on here is an attempt by the Prime Minister’s Office to position me as a hothead. His ministers have termed me a “bigmouth,” and that’s a way of trying to portray me as somebody who’s prone to the dramatic and uses sensation in order to achieve his ends.
Q: You were a Rhodes Scholar, a successful lawyer, and you built and sold a quarter-billiondollar business. How does it feel to have lifelong politicos treat you like a hotheaded hick?
A: [laughs] Good question. You know, that’s just part of politics, and politics is
what I’ve chosen later in life in order to give something back to a province that’s been so good to me.
Q: You’re the first premier to urge Canadians to vote for any other party but your own in the next federal election.
A: I think Canadians need to see what I’m seeing: a Prime Minister who can’t be trusted, a Prime Minister who has broken a major promise and commitment. If he’s done it to me, he can do it to you. And of course this is also evidenced by the fact that he’s taken funding away from women’s groups, literacy groups, volunteers and students, minority legal challenges, and as well has not lived up to the Aboriginal commitments that were made in Kelowna.
Q: So will you vote Liberal orNDP?
A: I haven’t made my mind up yet. It depends on what offers are made. But this is not about me aligning with one particular party. I’m saying a Conservative majority would be dangerous for this country.
Q: You’re the oldest of four childre?î, and your family, especially your mother, was very active in the Progressive Conservative party. Were you always ambitious?
A: Yes, I guess ambitious would probably be a reasonable term. I was driven, to be quite honest with you. I believe in putting the time in and working very, very hard. I grew up as a Progressive Conservative since I could barely walk. I remember as a young child campaigning for John Diefenbaker. But one of my lifelong ambitions was not to become premier.
Q: It’s still a little unclear to me why you would want the job, given the fact that you’re insanely wealthy and could be kicking back on one of the golf courses you own.
A: It’s still a little unclear to me as well! Every morning I get up and wonder, what am I doing? But the comfort and satisfaction I get is that this province is really advancing, we are positioned for growth and development, and we are positioned to take our place on the national stage. We have the human resources, we have the natural resources, and now we’re in a fiscal position to really turn the corner, become self-sufficient, become masters of our own destiny, and hold our heads high in this Canadian federation. So that’s what keeps me going.
Q: What do you do for fun?
A: I’m seen as a very serious guy politically, but anybody who knew me before I got into politics would tell you the exact opposite. I love humour, I love sports, I play golf, hockey and tennis, I watch reality TV.
Q: Really? What do you watch?
A: I started out years ago with the Fear Factor kind of shows, but whether it’s The Bachelor or Amazing Race—l watch all of them, quite frankly.
Q: So everything, even the TV you watch, has a competitive element?
A: Anyone who knows me well will tell you I’ve been extremely competitive all my life.
Q: Why, do you think?
A: Well, my father was competitive—in a really nice way, he probably wasn’t as dogged as I am—but he was very, very competitive, he was a champion tennis player in Newfoundland and Labrador, he’s in the provincial hall of fame. He played to win—not at all costs, but because he was talented enough to feel he could win.
Q: Was he the kind of dad who came to your hockey games and screamed from the sidelines?
A: No, my mom was, actually. When I was playing hockey and the going got rough, he was the type who left the arena and my mom would stand up on her seat.
Q: She was a hockey mom.
A: She was a hockey supporter. You know in those days there wasn’t as much parenting going on at the rink as there is these days, but she was very, very supportive of me in sports. She was the one who had the grit, and my father had the talent and competitive nature, so I was fortunate enough to have gotten the benefit of the best of both of them. M
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