Thursday, March 29, 2007

Danny Williams and Weighing the Cost of Lost Opportunities

I don't like to repost from another but I just couldn't take the chance this might be yanked down.

For the second time in as many months, a prominent NL journalist has expressed the thought that perhaps our emperor has no clothes.

Whether you agree or not, and polls indicate only about 20-25% might, there's no doubt that this presentation will cause more that a few ripples.

Frustration builds when independent-minded people see that there is no public debate on fundamental issues facing the province. Debate is cannot be restricted to the process of issuing pronouncements followed by a wave of scripted agreement and adulation; an echo chamber is no forum for open discussion.

I would expect more of this over the next few months as frustration continues to build; we need more ripples.

Weighing the Cost of Lost Opportunities
Luncheon Address by Craig Westcott to the Newfoundland Ocean Industries Ocean
March 29, St. John's

Thank you to the NOIA committee for inviting me here today.

When Harry Pride and the other NOIA committee members asked for a title to today's speech, I blurted out the first thing that came to mind: Weighing the cost of lost opportunities.

I could have subtitled it: 'Stuck in the middle with you.'

As Jeff noted in his introduction, I publish a business newspaper called The Business Post.

I started this venture last June. On the very day in fact, when Premier Danny Williams said he was feeling "annoy-yed" by NOIA.

You'll remember he uttered those remarkable words right in the middle of the annual offshore petroleum conference.

During that same conference, the premier chose to go on province wide television to announce he was firing his minister of Natural Resources, Ed Byrne.

He actually scheduled his press conference so that it would be carried live on the supper hour news.

Given the circumstances of Byrne's constituency allowances, we all know now that he had to step aside.

But you've got to wonder about the timing.

During that same convention last year, it seemed to me, in covering it, that Williams did his best to avoid attending any of the functions.

I think he actually showed up at one.

Here was the world's oil industry in town to talk about our oil and gas prospects, the very resources that are driving the economy and giving our government the kind of revenues and balanced budgets we haven't seen in years, and the premier stayed home.

Well actually it was worse than that.

He didn't just snub the industry.

He insulted the people in it, particularly the members of NOIA.

Just before that, at the OTC, Williams had done the same thing.

This was just after the breakdown in talks over Hebron.

If there was ever a time when we needed our top guy at the world's biggest oil show working the rooms and making our case, that was it.

But Williams stayed home.

Even during some of the lowest years for the oil industry in Newfoundland, the premier of the day usually went to Houston for the OTC. Because that's where relationships are made and business gets done.

We're getting ready now for NOIA's 2007 offshore conference here in St. John's.

And we already know that this coming one is going to be missing a major element.

Earlier this week, DMG Media announced it was pulling the plug on the annual international trade show that accompanies the offshore conference.

For the first time in nearly two decades, there will be no trade show during the conference.

I'm told that many companies, from the operators down to many of the local suppliers, didn't think it was worth their while to allocate money and staff to a booth.

The work just isn't here to justify it.

How's that for illustrating the title of today's talk. Weighing the cost of lost opportunities.

Like many of you in this room, I too am dependent on the local oil industry for my living.

I've published 14 issues so far of The Business Post.

One of the very best ones, revenue wise, was number eight, which was distributed to every business in this region just before Christmas.

It was our first Top 50 issue.

A look at the Top 50 players in our oil patch.

People who have invested their money, and their time and their energy, their precious life energy, into building a new industry for Newfoundland.

An industry that pays better than average salaries.

An industry that provides government with better than average revenues to pave roads, and fix schools and buy equipment for hospitals.

An industry that means a bright future for thousands of young Newfoundlanders who want the choice of staying at home for work instead of having to leave their parents and friends to move away.

And not just young Newfoundlanders. But people my age and older too, who find themselves commuting to Alberta, or moving North for work in increasing numbers, now that Danny Williams has all but killed the near and medium term prospects of this industry.

Where did it all go wrong?

Before I try to answer that, let me make one thing clear.

I am not aligned with any particular party.

Over the years, I've voted for all of them at one time or another.

I even published a short-lived, official PC Party newspaper when Loyola Sullivan was leader.

So what I'm about to say is not partisan and it's not meant to be personal or negative towards Danny Williams.

But it's impossible to avoid being negative about a leader who is so negative himself, especially about his critics and some of the people who try to do business in this province.

Getting back to where things went wrong, I would argue that it all started nearly four years ago with the election of a new government.

Those of us who live here will remember that four years ago, the consortium of oil companies that have the development rights to Hebron were just getting ready to tee-up Newfoundland's fourth big oil project.

This was two years after 9-11 in the 'States.

The Americans were at war.

Oil prices were inflating as a result of all the growing risk in the world.

The United States government itself was looking for more secure energy supplies.

The time was never better to start a new oil project offshore Newfoundland.

Then Danny Williams came to office.

He was full of dreams to make Newfoundland prosperous and to, as he put it, "end the giveaways."

Laudable goals.

Then last spring, after months of negotiation, Williams called reporters together to say there would be no deal on Hebron.

Only one side was negotiating in good faith, said the premier.

And that was the government.

For their part, the consortium maintained that never before had a group of oil companies offered as valuable a package of revenues and benefits to Newfoundland for the privilege of developing one of its oil fields.

Clearly, there was a communication breakdown between the two parties.

They couldn't even agree on what they had disagreed about.

Stuck in the middle were the rest of us. Many of whom had spent thousands and in some cases millions of dollars and precious time getting ready to bid for work on Hebron.

To this day, neither the premier, nor the oil companies, have revealed exactly what happened during those talks.

But what happened afterwards is plain to see.

The premier has made a campaign of attacking what he calls, "Big Oil."

Big Oil is out to get us, if you believe Danny Williams. To take advantage of us, to put one over on us like Hydro Quebec did at Churchill Falls.

If you believe Danny Williams, Big Oil is the Bogeyman hiding under our beds, waiting for us to fall asleep, so that it can sneak out on the Grand Banks and rob all the oil.

Now I'm no expert on high stakes negotiations.

But it seems to me, a common principle of business, whether you're selling hot dogs out of a cart on George Street or trying to get a major oil company to develop your resources, is that you treat your prospective partners and customers with respect.

It's not uncommon for negotiations to fail.

Negotiations often fail.

A good deal, as we all know, should be a win-win situation for everybody.

Sometimes that's not always possible.

But when you don't reach a deal, how wise it is to publicly vilify the people you were negotiating with?

It would be like me going into Hickman Motors or Penny Mazda and after looking at all the cars and haggling over the prices, deciding not to buy. For the moment.

I say for the moment, because at some point, I'm going to have to get a new car.

So how sensible would it be for Bert Hickman or Dan Penney to call a news conference and say, 'We couldn't reach a deal with that guy Westcott. He was negotiating in bad faith. He didn't want to pay a fair price for our car. But we decided there would be no more giveaways."

What are the chances of me returning to either one of those car lots if something like that happened? Is that the way to do business?

We all know what's happened since then.

Chevron, the lead operator on Hebron, has all but pulled out of Newfoundland.

ExxonMobil, one of the other partners, has shuffled its checklist of projects, tucking Hebron/Ben Nevis back to 2010 or 2011 before it gets another look.

Hibernia South is on hold.

Even worse, grassroots exploration is at a near standstill.

We need millions of dollars worth of seismic work and exploration drilling every year to find the next big oil field, but we're getting diddly.

It looks like Big Oil has given up on Newfoundland, at least for the time

It appears the oil companies, which have projects all around the world they can chase and advance, are content to wait Williams out.

And if you look at our recent past history, that may seem like it makes sense.

Most premiers don't last all that long.

Brian Tobin lasted four years. Roger Grimes two. Even Clyde Wells, the man of iron will who stared down the country over Meech Lake lasted just over six years.

Most premiers don't last very long. The job burns you out.

But Danny Williams isn't like most premiers.

I've covered politics in this province for 20 years.

I was in the boardroom on the eighth floor of Confederation Building when an exhausted and frazzled Brian Peckford was on the verge of getting out.

I covered Clyde Wells during the hydro debate and the fight over Meech Lake.

I had the pleasure of watching Brian Tobin run to a waiting car to get away from me so that he couldn't face any more questions.

All those guys liked power, but power wore them out.

Danny Williams is a different kettle of fish.

Danny Williams loves power.

He lives for it. He revels in it. He likes to show everyone he's the boss.

All those other premiers I mentioned had their brown nosers and their sycophants.

It was comical after Clyde Wells came to power, how many of his cabinet members waltzed around using the word unconscionable, which was Clyde's favourite phase.

When Tobin was in office, his people were always busy "ramping up" for great things that were going to happen "at the end of the day."

The brown nosers have a way of taking on their leader's mannerisms and pet phrases.

And so it is with this crowd.

Everybody in the PC Party today is "drilling down."

I don't know where they are drilling towards exactly, but I think a lot of the time it's towards the latest phone to call VOCM Open Line.

The Minister of Business, Kevin O'Brien, and the Member for Terra Nova, Paul Oram, seem to have been assigned to monitor the open line shows religiously and to call up whenever anyone utters a bad word about the premier.

Maybe that's what drilling down means.

But you know, most good leaders are sensible enough to know that along with the flatterers and opportunists who inevitably jump onto their coat-tails, they need other leaders with them to share the load.

People who are not afraid to argue a point, or tell them things they don't want to hear.

Frank Moores had John Crosbie.

Brian Peckford had Bill Marshall.

Clyde Wells went and recruited Ed Roberts back from private life and drafted him into his cabinet as an un-elected minister, because he knew the value of wise counsel.

What has Danny Williams done?

He's done just the opposite.

Anyone who is as strong or as smart as he is has been isolated, or forced out.

He expelled Elizabeth Marshall from his cabinet three years ago because she had the audacity to object when he interfered in her department without telling her.

The woman had been Auditor General of this province for 10 years.

She was a deputy minister before that. And a chartered accountant. Nobody in his caucus is more respected, or knows government better.

But none of that matters, because she stood up to Danny Williams and now he won't have anything to do with her.

It's been three years since their spat and she is still on the backbenches.

Most of us know that Loyola Sullivan was a pretty bright fellow.

If you believe the inside accounts of what happened during the Atlantic Accord negotiations, it's clear it was Sullivan who presented the key arguments and had all his facts and numbers in line.

Yet, when Sullivan resigned as finance minister at the end of last year he got absolutely no credit for it from Danny Williams.

'Loyola was a good minister,' Williams told reporters. 'When I was negotiating the Atlantic Accord, he always did what I told him.'

Folks, Danny Williams loves power.

He feeds on it.

He's addicted to it.

And like most people who love power that much, he'll do anything to keep it.

And do you know what the really scary thing is?

He has a lot of people fooled.

He loves their adulation, whether it's deserved or not.

The fishery is dying.

The forestry industry is struggling.

Rural Newfoundland is shrinking by the day.

And he's all but killed the economy's real breadwinner, the oil industry.

And what is Danny Williams doing this week?

He's campaigning against the Prime Minister in a federal election that hasn't even been called yet.

And why?

Because he's got people fooled into thinking that he is fighting for them.

He lives to hear himself praised.

I suspect he listens to the open line as much as Kevin O'Brien does.

I know he follows what people are saying about him on the blogs. He has even threatened to sue some of them!

He's making time for that apparently, during his busy day.

Danny Williams is another Joey Smallwood.

Whenever things were going terrible for Joey on the home front, when the factories he imported weren't working, or some minister was involved in a scandal, Joey would look for an enemy from the outside.

Like island populations everywhere, Newfoundlanders rally when they perceive a threat from the outside.

For Joey it was John Diefenbaker or H. Landon Ladd of the I-W-A.

For Danny it's Big Oil and Abitibi and Stephen Harper and whoever else happens to stand up to him.

Nothing is being done at home to develop this economy, because Danny has all guns now trained on Ottawa.

I'm too young to have been in business when Joey Smallwood was premier.

But I am told by people who know and whom I respect, that Joey was a vindictive man.

That you had to be a friend of Joey to get a contract with government, or even to get a job in the civil service.

You had to be Joey approved.

Well, it's been 36 years since Joey left office.

We've had reforms such as the Public Tendering Act, implemented, directly as an effort to rectify those kind of abuses.

But if you ask me, Joey is back in power.

I happen to coach two minor hockey teams.

So I spend a lot of time in hockey rinks throughout this region.

I spoke with a man one day, a consultant, I won't say who, because I don't want the wrath of the premier coming down on him.

But he said to me that that people in his business are growing increasingly nervous about bidding on government work.

There is a real fear that things might reach the point where you could spend thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours preparing a bid on a government job that might all be in vain if you are deemed unfriendly to Danny.

People are afraid that the quality of their work, or the price they submit may not count when they look for business with government.

Some people are genuinely afraid that the real deciding factor might soon be whether they are seen to be a friend or foe of Danny.

You see, with politicians like Danny Williams, you're one of two things: You are a friend, or you are an enemy.

He doesn't allow you the luxury of being independent or unaligned.

I know this from personal experience.

As I've said, I've been covering politics in Newfoundland for 20 years.

I've covered seven premiers.

I've written things about Roger Grimes, for instance, that were truly hurtful.

No doubt I made him angry.

No doubt, like other pundits, I wounded his pride.

But he was always professional.

Danny Williams isn't.

Danny Williams can't take criticism.

A week after I wrote a column about his handling of the F-P-I debate in the provincial legislature, his press secretary informed me that I was being cut off from all future interviews with the premier.

She said I was unfairly critical. That I should have checked with the premier before running my column.

She has since phoned a number of the publications I write for to tell them the premier's office has nothing to do with me.

Telling them, in other words, you shouldn't do business with this guy, if you want to continue to have access to the premier.

Likewise, the business I started last June.

The Business Post is mailed to every business on the Northeast Avalon.

Every issue, I pay Canada Post to mail a copy of the paper to every business in St. John's, Mount Pearl, Conception Bay South, Paradise, Torbay, Portugal Cove-St. Philips and the Goulds.

The paper is distributed at most major business events in the city as well as at trade shows in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and this coming May in Houston.

In other words, The Business Post is hitting the target audience of anyone who wants to reach a business clientele.

And yet, the paper has not received one ad, not one ad, from the provincial Department of Business, or the Department of Innovation, Trade and Rural Development.

And it's not from lack of asking.

These two departments advertise their business funding and assistance programs all the time in other publications.

But they won't advertise with me.


Because I have dared to criticize the Great Leader.

Under the regime of Danny Williams, you pay a price for being independent.

And it doesn't matter if you're as big as ExxonMobil or Bell Aliant, or as
small as the local media outlet.

You've got to watch your Ps and Qs, stroke his ego, be careful that you don't go afoul of the premier.

Folks, that's not democracy. That's dictatorship.

Why would anyone, whether it's an oil company or anyone else want to invest in this province if the ground rules are everything has to please Danny Williams?

That you've got to do everything his way.

Where anyone who holds a different view is deemed to be unpatriotic or out to get Newfoundland?

How can you do business fairly and safely in a place like that?

And so I ask you, what is the cost of all this fighting with Ottawa and big business?

What is the cost to Newfoundland?

To the people who need a prosperous economy to pay for their roads, and schools and hospitals?

Who need productive companies and employers, so that their children can find work at home?

What is the cost to you, the business leaders of this province, who watch as the oil companies close their offices and pull out of town leaving you behind with all your investments and hard work going down the drain?

What is that cost?

It is the cost of lost opportunity.

It is the cost of a resource-rich province that will forever be dependent upon hand-outs from Ottawa, because the man who leads us is unable to negotiate, or take sensible advice.

It is the cost of lost hope, cast in the eyes of every father who kisses his little boy goodbye at St. John's Airport as he boards the plane for Alberta.

That is the cost.

What we have to ask ourselves is, is that a cost worth paying?

I say it is not.

And if it is not, what do we do about it?

Well, the first thing we have to do is try putting this guy in his place.

Because Danny Williams is not going away.

Trying to wait him out is not an option.

Not when he is at 74 per cent in the polls and is addicted to power.

Even when the public does wake up years from now and realizes what he has done to them, he still won't go easily.

He pretends now and then that he's fed up and ready to leave.

But that's just to get people's pity.

No, like Joey Smallwood, Danny Williams is going to have to be dragged kicking and screaming from office.

He'll be digging his fingernails into the desk trying to hold on.

For a man like that, power is everything.

So it falls to us to somehow circumscribe that power.

To limit it, to blunt it, to lessen the damage of his reign.

I'm not telling you to vote or campaign against him, or to fund other political parties.

But I think you shouldn't be afraid of telling Williams how you feel about the job he is doing so far.

Neither should you hold back from letting the clique of yes men around him know how you feel.

Most of all though, you have to educate your friends and neighbours. The people who think Danny can do no wrong.

Let them know what he is doing to your business and your industry.

Tell him how their future is threatened, because of this guy's inability to put his province ahead of his own ego.

And let me add one thing.

You also have a duty to talk to Big Oil.

To let the leaders of the oil companies know that you care about this industry.

And that they should care about it too.

That Newfoundland is a good place to do business.

That their future prosperity depends in part on developing high class fields like Hibernia and Terra Nova and White Rose, in what is perhaps the safest place in the world.

Unfortunately, Big Oil often makes it really hard for people to like them.

Because when they put projects like Hibernia South on hold, and do things like challenging the Supreme Court ruling on how much they should spend here on R & D, they're not punishing Danny Williams.

They're punishing the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

And it's the people of Newfoundland and Labrador who give Danny Williams his power.

So what Big Oil should be doing is making its case directly to them.

Telling its side of things.

Showing Newfoundlanders that they value our resources.

And if Big Oil does that. And if you do your part to educate your fellow Newfoundlanders, maybe we can get things back on track.

Maybe Newfoundlanders will look twice at Danny Williams.

And nothing is scarier to a man who is obsessed with power than an electorate that thinks for itself.

And that, my friends, is an opportunity that is too good to pass up.

Thank you.

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