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Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams (Paul Daly/Paul Daly)
Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams (Paul Daly/Paul Daly)

More time needed to finish job: Williams Add to ...

Danny Williams says he needs more time to fulfill his dream of sustainable growth for Newfoundland and Labrador, a province traditionally dogged by chronic poverty and fiscal imbalances. In this interview in his St. John's office, he explains his confrontational style and his ultimate vision for the province.

How long will you be in this job?

It looks like I'm going to have to go another term. I've got unfinished business. I've got the Lower Churchill power project which has to be done, and that isn't going to happen overnight.

Does this really demand another term?

If we weren't making progress here and I didn't feel I was advancing us, I'd move on. I'm a private sector guy and I'd love to be in the private sector. That's where I cut my eye teeth, but I am feeling a sense of gratification about what we are accomplishing here as a people.

Isn't the Newfoundland boom basically a St. John's phenomenon, with the rest of the province still lagging?

It's a St. John's-heavy boom in the sense that half our population happens to live in St. Johns, the Avalon Peninsula and immediate environs …

But you need to go to my district, the city of Corner Brook on the west coast. Corner Brook had kind of dropped off as a second city. But if you had a picture of the city five years ago compared to Corner Brook now, you'd see a completely different place. Corner Brook is booming ….

We've also put the infrastructure in place for the northern peninsula even though it remains somewhat depressed. What has to happen is Quebec companies need to build that Quebec North Shore highway, and we would finish by eventually linking up the province.

So you would build a northern bridge or causeway to the mainland?

Yeah, but it's not just a simple link but a major transportation piece that enables people to do a circuitous route. [In Quebec]they are extremely interested; we talked to them about it recently.

With this vision, the megaprojects and Central Canada's troubles, are we seeing a fundamental shift of economic clout?

Being a have-province is a huge piece for us psychologically. We know that the equalization formula is a revenue exercise, and there are all kinds of problems with it. But the symbolism is really important because we always felt as a province - not only culturally but with our human resource base - that we have contributed significantly to Canada.

We knew we were making a big contribution - from fishery, iron ore, nickel and everything else - but we now feel that Canada is finally taking notice and saying we are an integral part, not just a poor weak sister down on the East Coast.

But your story is all about resources and power. Where is the knowledge economy?

Our oceans have been identified as our No. 1 technological economic advantage. We have world-class facilities here at the Marine Institute of Memorial University. We have made a significant monetary commitment and identified this as the best opportunity we have right now.

I look at Newfoundland and Labrador not as a foggy, rocky, windy place but as a piece of land that is strategically located in the North Atlantic. Now with homeland security and the need to understand our oceans, I see Newfoundland and Labrador as being the "Oceans NASA of the North" at some point.

Are you now going to change your style to become more of an elder statesman?

My style is my style - it's the way I've always been. I was that way in court; I was that way in business. I was firm on the front but there is a soft sensitive side to me in regards to employees and people. You won't find a more social government in the country - we're Progressive Conservatives.

With all these battles, do you worry about creating an image as a province inhospitable to business?

Even in the dog days when the "Danny Chavez" thing was predominating, John Lau, president of Husky Oil, came out and said: "We have a very good relationship with Newfoundland." Now just talk to senior officials of Exxon, Chevron, Petro-Canada and Statoil.

The ones that try to jam us here, if it happens to be AbitibiBowater or Vale or anybody else, they're going to get it right back. That will continue till the day I walk out that door for the last time.

When I make these moves, I don't do it to be an arsehole or a pig-headed nuisance or stubborn. I do it because, "Okay: Here's fair ball, we tried, you made commitments."

But perception is what matters these days.

My goal was to get the province toward a relative long-term self-sufficiency. To do that, I've got to be firm. Maybe the next guy or gal after me can be the sweet, cuddly, lovey-dovey type. That's fine, I have no problem with that.

I've got to get done what I've got to get done, but I do think we are getting respect with these companies. They treat us differently and what I concentrated on were the big-ticket items … I needed to go after the big companies and the big revenues, and we brought these companies on side.

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