DANNY WILLIAMS, R.I.P.: THE POLITICAL PASSING OF A POPULAR CANADIAN PREMIER HAS BROUGHT US FULL CIRCLE IN OUR DEFINITION OF POLITICAL MORALITY.
At the end of last week, on December 3, 2010, to be precise, Danny Williams, by far the most popular provincial premier ever in the history of Canada, resigned. He had led his Progressive Conservative party to two straight landslide majorities in the first decade of the 21st century, and had the virtually unswerving loyalty of his people.
But who exactly is or was Danny Williams, and why did he become so popular? When I visited Newfoundland this summer, I was told proudly by my local Newfoundland guide that ‘Danny Williams never took a cent of taxpayers’ money for his job as Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador!’ Well, old Danny must’ve been already very much independently wealthy to pull off such a feat of daring doo and run a Canadian province for close to a decade, and live in fairly fine style, have a privately-funded heart operation in an American hospital and so on, and never take a cent of taxpayers’ money.
So I looked up his profile on the internet. As it would turn out, Danny Williams is no slouch. He has an undergraduate degree, as well as a law degree, was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, as well as studying at the Memorial University of Newfoundland. He was an athlete, playing ice hockey at Oxford, and later went on to a successful law practice.
Where he really made his money was in the cable TV and telecom business. He was the leader of a consortium of businessmen who started up Avalon Cablevision, one of the province’s first cable television companies, which became Cable Atlantic, with Williams being the principle owner. He eventually sold the telecom portion of the business to GT Group Telecom in April of 2000 for a cool 76 million dollars, and the television portion 8 months later to Rogers Cable for 152 million dollars in November of the same year.
He also kept up his extensive law practice, which most likely had extensive contacts with businesses and government throughout Atlantic Canada. He later started up OIS Fisher oil and gas company, which later changed names, and opened three golf courses in the eastern part of the province. He also purchased the naming rights to the Mile One Centre (civic auditorium, or hockey arena), in St. John’s for 600 000$ in from Molson’s brewery.
He ended up selling his share of the cable company to Rogers before entering politics. This is where my line of questioning essentially begins: In the old days, before we started paying politicians any money from the public purse, didn’t guys like Danny Williams eventually come to be considered as being ‘corrupt’? Is this not the reason why we started paying politicians salaries in the first place? It was supposed to be to create a class of professional politicians, who would be free from the temptations of graft, corruption, and the self-seeking, self serving and grasping pursuit of personal property and wealth, as was the case in the era leading up to the early 20th century, when we began to remunerate our politicians more amply from the public purse.
In the case of the UK, they were apparently still not paid a penny up until the 1920s. If one was to be a member of the ‘House of Commons’, then it was expected of you to be precisely that : A ‘commoner’, as opposed to a hereditary peer, who met the requirement for ownership of real property so as to be able to participate in statecraft, the principle reason being that, as a man of property, you were engaging yourself in the process of statecraft not as such for the advancement of the public good or the public interest, but explicitly or implicitly for the advancement of your own personal and propertied interests.
Such was the eventual outcry against such grasping forms of materialistic self-servingness, that laws were enacted to try and create a system whereby a class of more or less professionally-qualified politicians would labour in the public interest with taxpayers money for the public good, free of the temptations of bribery and self-interest. Eventually, however, the public, being fickle as they are, eventually began to complain about politicians voting themselves ‘big salary increases’, and getting ‘guaranteed pensions for life for doing very little or nothing of substance’, and so on.
So we now find ourselves back to coming full circle, whereby the politicians of yore, which in days gone by would’ve been considered rife with corruption, are now, like Danny Williams, considered ‘squeaky clean’, and ‘a man of the people’, because they came by their money ‘honestly’ by ‘working for it’, and not ‘sucking off the teat of the public treasury in doing so’. Funny how ideology changes over time.
Usually however, the very same people who advocate such forms of discourse, which includes such nice things as ‘getting government off our backs’, etc, ‘reducing the size of government’ and so on, are usually the first people to step up to the public feed trough to utilize their privileged relationship with the state to advance their economic interests through tax breaks, government contracts, subsidies, grants, loans, loan guarantees, etc.
But they will argue until they are blue in the face, (no pun intended), that maintaining a decently dignified level of publically-financed and delivered public services is Socialism, or Communism, and will do everything in their power to deconstruct such things from existence, even going so far as invading your country and overthrowing your government to make sure that ‘liberty’ and ‘freedom’ prevail.
Well, I hope Danny Williams’ heart surgery went well. I wish him a happy and healthy retirement. I just hope that he remembers where the rest of his people are going to get their heart surgery done, and make sure that they can get it done in a timely fashion. We don’t all have the honour and privilege of being Rhodes scholars, owning the cable company, selling it, and living off the proceeds, and then dabbling in politics to defend our ideas and propertied interests for a decade or so before going under the knife at Mount Sinai Hospital in Florida, then cashing in our chips, and maybe playing some golf on one of our courses.
Some of us just plain work for a living Danny. Now that’s being honest.