During his seven-year reign as premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, he took on Big Oil and two prime ministers. In advance of the Toronto premiere of the NFB documentary Danny at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, we took on the feisty Danny Williams.
How do you prefer to be addressed?
Since I got out of politics, for some bloody reason, people call me Mr. Williams. It makes me feel like an old man. So, the name of the film is the best way to call me.
The documentary is called Danny, and it's about you, obviously. But we also get a parallel history of Newfoundland and Labrador. Are you happy with that, being placed in that context?
I think it was brilliant, the way the directors Justin Simms and William D. MacGillivray did that. It worked out that I was born the year Confederation came along for Newfoundland and Labrador. So, yes, the filmmakers were able to draw a very clear parallel.
The people we hear from in the film are fond of you. But you did make enemies. Is there a different documentary to be made, if we gave your opponents a voice?
Any time you take tough positions, you make enemies. I don't think Stephen Harper would consider himself a friend of mine. But [radio commentator and mayor of Mount Pearl, Nfld.] Randy Simms was in the film, and he related a pretty hot moment he and I had on the air. I think he represented a contrary opinion, but I think he was fair.
The way you fought for Newfoundland and Labrador, could you have gone on to fight for Canada as a federal politician?
I think anybody who has any skills similar to mine or other people who have skills I don't have, I think you can take that to another level. But I was focused on Newfoundland and Labrador. I got into politics when I turned 50, knowing that I wanted to give a decade of my life to the province. If I had done it as the first step on my way to federal politics, I think you lose your focus. I've been asked by hundreds of people to get into federal politics. But it wasn't in the cards for me.
The film begins and ends with you stepping down as premier in 2010. Looking back, do you have any regrets?
I'd have to say no. I had practised law for 30 years. I sold my cable-television company. I could have sailed off into the sunset and taken those 10 years and enjoyed life in a freewheeling way. But that's not my nature. When I made the decision, I looked into the mirror and said it was time for me to give something back to the province. And if my only legacy is that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians feel better about themselves, it was worthwhile a hundred times over.
Hot Docs, April 23 to May 3. Danny screens April 25 (6:30 p.m.) at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, 506 Bloor St. W.; April 26 (10:30 a.m.) and May 3 (1:15 p.m.) at Isabel Bader Theatre, 93 Charles St. W., hotdocs.ca.