Friday, May 04, 2007

Public policy, partisan and personal

Premier Williams' latest foray onto the national stage provides some insight into the mind of the Premier and some light on his strategy in dealing with the rest of Canada.

You could read the full text of his speech to the Economic Club of Toronto but it's more interesting to check this link to about 7 minutes of the presentation.

Before you listen, ensure you are in a good mood to start and with ready access immediately afterwards to sunny children, cute furry pets, a loving spouse or a fine sweet chocolate dessert.

With the exception of one brief and bizarre moment, this clip is unrelentingly grim, dark, venomous, depressing, negative and spitefully sarcastic.

The one single moment of any levity is a weak-hearted joke about ending his life with a bullet. It's hard to tell whether he means a shot by a detractor or by his own gun but with his stratospheric approval ratings, it's hard to believe that there are any substantial detractors left to take the shot.

In the dull, flat and affectless tone of his voice, you hear the same kind of driving will to live that you hear in men who have come home after being fired just to find out that their wife has cleared out the bank accounts and have run away with your best friend in your carefully restored antique auto.

While he claims a message of hope, his tone has a bleakness that belies his words.

And just as unnerving as his tone is the content: it is extreme and simplistic. He trots out a series of unconnected and unrepresentative examples to prove his "case" that everything anyone has ever said about him or his government is wrong.

For example, he uses a kind and face-saving quote from Husky president John Lau to shield himself from the charge that he is unreasonable in oil negotiations.

But the best example is his "proof" that the latest provincial budget was the best ever because long-time provincial bureaucrats said so. But the irony never occurs to him that it's that kind of political frankness that has ensured they are long-serving bureaucrats.

It's hard to escape the impression of a well-developed kind of political paranoia combined with a persecution complex. To refer to Canada's attitude towards this province with a term as strident as "xenophobic" is, frankly, a gross misinterpretation of reality usually associated with the ingestion of small mushrooms after a spring rain.

Stranger still is his confusion of provincial respect with provincial self-respect. While he argues that we as a province deserve respect from the nation, he can't help but trip over the term "self-respect" instead.

While respect comes from others, self-respect has to come from within.

It's not unusual for governments in this country to have policy differences with each other. In fact, it would be remarkable if provinces didn't have policy difference with each other or with the federal government. It is the tension of these differences that has led to creative ties between and among levels of governments.

It's not unusual to see political or partisan differences between first ministers. But these kinds of differences are left to the backrooms, rarely leaking out. The goal among professional politicians is to put their personal and political differences aside in order to promote the common good.

So even when politicians go on national speaking tours to slag one another, it is cloaked in policy differences with the personal antagonisms relegated to the back burner. Not this time. This time the personal and political antagonisms are front and center.

Before, it was personal between Premier Williams and Liberal Prime Minister Martin. It was personal between Premier Williams and then-regional minister John Efford who was called a sell-out, a traitor and a quisling by this government.

And this time it's personal between Premier Williams and Conservative Prime Minister Harper. It's so personal that Williams will go out of his way to disrespect and denigrate the nation's First Minister just because he can.

Clearly the needs of the personal trumps the partisan and the public policy. This is amateur politics.

There's an old saying that when elephants fight, grass gets trampled. While these fights go on, the blades of grass are hightailing it westward in search of more fertile ground to take root.

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