This piece is my opinion, but may be shared by many.
It's been four and a half years since I returned to my ancestral home in Newfoundland and Labrador. A stranger in a strange land to be sure. The haunting, almost pre-historic beauty of the land and sea spoke directly to my soul: "this is where you're meant to be-this is home". However, as I was to find out, not all was well in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Awash in oil revenue, the likes of which it had never seen, and led by a "messiah"-like figure in Danny Williams, the Province was in full blown party mode. Drunk on promises of never ending fortune and neo-nationalist calls by Williams to be "Masters in our own House" people were unwilling or unable to see, or didn't want to hear, that Williams was leading them into financial ruin. For those that don't know, this place has always looked to a "strong man" for leadership - likely dating to its Irish roots. Williams fit the bill. Local son done well, with gold in his pocket and a silver tongue firmly placed in cheek. "Danny" could do no wrong.
Williams cherished the role. Known for having an ego a mile wide and a mile long, Williams stoked the people's passion for a better place. A place where they were in absolute control of their destiny. The oil revenues that never existed before 2003 became 33% of a provincial budget suddenly and massively expanded. The economy roared to life and Newfoundlanders and Labradorians jumped on for the ride. New homes sprang up like grass in the spring. Every imaginable man-toy you can imagine popped up in every yard and driveway through the land. Businesses became enriched by government and personal debt-driven spending, and as long as that money kept coming from the provincial government the party would go on.
Unfortunately, Newfoundland and Labrador had never experienced a boom, and therefore never experienced a bust. It's the inevitable result of a resource dependent economy that exports to far away lands. Like any business, the far away lands are the customers, and when things go bad for the customers things also go bad for the suppliers - us. That was already happening back in 2010 when I first came home. China and Russia were pushing for a new world currency at the Davos International Forum on economy. They were already engaged in a financial, low-grade economic war with the US. Along with them were the BRIC countries - most notably India, Iran and Brazil. Also back in 2010 the US was massively expanding fracking to release natural gas and oil reserves which would put them in a position of energy independence. All these major, and very obvious foreign forces were already at play then, the result of which is starting to be seriously felt now. Yet, nobody in the government of Newfoundland and Labrador twigged on?
Despite all the external factors, Williams continued to sell people that somehow this Province could be "Masters of our own House". He knew better. In the world of global economies, no country is a master of itself. Not the United States, not Europe, not Asia - nobody. Williams knew this all too well being a businessman with international holdings. Yet, like the Pied Piper of Newfoundland, he led the people in a trance down a very murky road. One that was to his liking and his benefit.
He bragged of the investments in healthcare, but chose to have his heart-saving surgery done in the US. He railed against giveaways of provincial resources, but happily bought Crown Land (enough to build a small city) at a well under man-dated price of just over $300 an acre. He sold his offshore oil service companies to Quebec firm SNC Lavalin while they did work for the government on the Lower Churchill development - despite chastising the previous Liberal government for conflicts of interest. He appointed his former employees, supporters and friends to places throughout the hierarchy of the government, despite lambasting the Liberals for doing the same. In short, Williams behaved as Premier as if the rules of modern politics and economy did not apply to him. Unfortunately, it was ours, not his, money and destiny at stake. That was apparently lost on him.
And if you dared to stand up against him, well, there was a special place in hell for you. The best way I can describe this treatment for dissenters of Williams' will are the words now Finance Minister Ross Wiseman's Executive Assistant, Chick Cholock, leveled at me, in my home, and in front of my wife, with the kids playing upstairs. I had announced that I was considering running for the leadership of the Party, suddenly available after Williams' quick exit. The words were this:
" If you try and run for the leadership we will destroy you. We will destroy you financially. We will destroy you personally. We will destroy your name."
Then, just as he left my home, he turned at the door, and said:
" I am with the backroom, and we hope you make the right decision."
It's a personal story for me, but it's useful. In the Williams' era to dissent or deviate from the "backroom" was to invite ruin upon yourself any your family. Newfoundlanders of course already knew this. The idea that opposing meant losing everything did not appeal to many. In the nut shell, this was how Williams enforced his will. Reward is great, but so is punishment.
Four years later things have changed. The people are changing. Their expectations are changing. They are seeking answers to the questions that are now becoming obvious to them. Why are the roads still so bad after $16 billion in oil revenue has come into the coffers? Why are people still leaving? Why are the much vaulted iron ore projects in Labrador evaporating? Why are civil service jobs being cut? Is Muskrat Falls really the project we've been sold? What will happen to us as oil prices continue to fall? Why can't I sell my home?
Williams and, most recently new premier Paul Davis, continue to try and suppress dissent by filing lawsuits like confetti at dissenters. A desperate bid to keep control in a place spinning out of their control. Dissent is now loud. Dissent is unstoppable. Not just for the government in place now, but for the one to come next year. The political culture in Newfoundland and Labrador has under gone a massive and sudden change brought about by a sense of betrayal. A realization that somehow the all knowing Williams has lead them afar. Reality is crushing fantasy, and people are beginning to realize the cost to them personally may well be enormous. A moment in history, of a place 500 years old, has been squandered. That one of their own, a man they trusted and revered, may have betrayed them. Danny Williams often referred to people who refused to see the value of his actions as "traitors". Now, the same words may well be used against him. Such is the Newfoundland and Labrador revolution well under way.
A Greek Tragedy #nlpoli
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