A companion piece to these profiles is an overview of all four Atlantic premiers previously published in ABM.
Today, Danny Williams of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Danny Williams is one of the most complex and contradictory figures in Newfoundland and Labrador’s political history.
Lawyer, Rhodes scholar and communications magnate, this highly-successful son of a prominent St John’s family consistently defines himself as an outsider, battling oppressors of every kind. Long active in the political backrooms, he did not run for office until 2001, when almost 50.
A lifelong Conservative, since becoming premier in 2003 Williams has dramatically expanded the role of government in the province’s key industries, energy and communications. Fiercely proud and protective of Newfoundland and Labrador’s culture and history, he nonetheless feels that its people have not, until his administration took office, been able to control their own destiny.
Perhaps it is this sense of historic grievance that fuels his ambitious plans for Newfoundland and Labrador. Williams is dedicated to re-engineering his province’s rural regions on a sustainable hub-and-spoke model: “The goal,” says Williams, “is that each region will have its own cluster of industries, businesses, and health, education and government services. As a result, people living in outlying communities will have access to education, training, health care and employment within reasonable commuting times.”
His stepped economic initiatives - the near-term Regional Sectoral Diversification Program, medium-term Innovation Strategy and a Skills Task Force with a longer-term focus – are intended to create jobs and slow outmigration: “We know that we have a preferred lifestyle in Newfoundland and Labrador and given the opportunity, our young people will stay at home.”
Williams wants to create that opportunity by leveraging his province’s abundant natural resources – petroleum, hydropower, wind, minerals and fish – but is in no hurry, believing “it is better to wait for a good deal, than to take short terms gains to the detriment of long term benefits”.
Patience and planning are the hallmarks of Williams’ administration. He has even tried to bring order and accountability to Newfoundland and Labrador’s unruly political system. He imposed fixed term elections and returned the legislature to the oversight of the Auditor General – and while no-one expected the spending scandals that emerged, he says he has no regrets.
Despite his reputation as a scrapper, Premier Williams believes in regional and national cooperation. While hesitant to endorse the Atlantica concept, he acknowledges the common ground among the Atlantic premiers and communicates frequently with his counterparts. He values the Council of Atlantic Premiers and the Council of the Federation as forums to address common challenges, maintains issues unique to specific provinces “require an independent approach”.
Williams’ pugnacious independence is most evident in his relationship with Ottawa: while nodding toward cooperation, he vows “as leader of Newfoundland and Labrador I will always protect the interests of the people of the province.”
Reviewing his first term as premier of Canada’s most easterly province, Williams says the thing that surprised him most was “the immense satisfaction I feel when our government implements policies and programs that positively impact everyday life in Newfoundland and Labrador.”