Thursday, October 11, 2007

Equalization Ball in Williams' Court

Ball officially in Danny Williams' court

There's something to be said about being able to campaign against a proxy instead of your opponent.

So far this year, it's already worked for Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty when he campaigned, at least in part, against both the federal Conservative government (on gun control issues), and against the Albertan Progressive Conservative government (regarding climate change issues). It also worked for Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams, in regards to the so-called "broken promises" by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the federal Conservative party over off-shore oil revenues and equalization.

Admittedly, in both cases the opposition had a hand in their own downfall. Ontario PC leader John Tory provoked a wave of postmodern religious intolerance when he proposed extending public funding (already extended to Catholic schools) to other sectarian schools, while the Newfoundland Liberal party wasn't much of a factor in the election at all (their leader lost his own seat).

Yesterday, however, Williams was stripped of his metaphorical running mate in the campaign against the Conservative party's new equalization formula when Nova Scotia premier Rodney MacDonald publicly struck a deal with the federal government.

Provided with a choice between the old equalization formula combined with the agreements under the Atlanic Accords and a new equalization formula promising more guaranteed funds (although these funds would be adjustable if oil and gas revenues exceed a certain level), the government of Nova Scotia has chosen the latter.

However, they also retain the option of reverting back to the old equalization formula, including the Atlantic Accord, if it's losing out on any monies.

MacDonald has, oddly enough, finally "secured an agreement" that won't cost the province "a red cent" -- although that offer was on the table from the very beginning of the dispute.

"It has never been this government's intention that Nova Scotia, or Newfoundland for that matter, would lose benefits agreed to under the Atlantic Accord," Harper announced on Wednesday. "It's up to Premier Williams whether he accepts the reconciliation or not."

Danny Williams, unsurprisingly, was not amused.

"Stephen Harper has decided he's going to try and pit provinces against each other, which he's very good at," Williams insisted. "I don't think that does much for Canadian unity."

"It just shows the pettiness of the man," Williams added. "It shows what he's all about. ...We can't trust him. ...We'll fight him all the way."

It's unsurprising that Williams would make such promises: he had done so all election long.

"Just because people don't have the cash to challenge something that's wrong in a court, Stephen Harper is going to say, 'Well, we're not going to give you the money to find out whether the government is right or wrong,'" Williams said in one particular election speech. "...Of all the things that he's done, I think that's one of the most significant things."

Perhaps its understandable that Williams would take on the federal government during the election, considering the weakness of his own opposition, clearly needing some way to make Newfoundlanders excited about his government.

In responding to the Nova Scotian government's deal over equalization, however, Williams directed his barbs at both the federal and Nova Scotian governments. "The bottom line here is that Nova Scotians have said yes to less," he announced. "Stephen Harper has a way for preying on the weak. ... He sees in Nova Scotia a minority government that is in difficulty and he's talked them into taking this," he added, seemingly intending to remind premier MacDonald of his political situation.

Williams insists that taking him on over equalization amounts to challenging all of Newfoundland. Yet at least one of his cohorts in his ongoing feud with Ottawa doesn't seem to feel the same way -- at least regarding his own province.

Now, however, the ball is in Danny Williams' court. Rodney MacDonald may have tipped the hands of both men by admitting how implicitly reasonable the Conservatives' equalization formula really is. He can feel free to try and dribble the ball out, but he'll now find himself at least one teammate short. With his other teammate, Saskatchewan's Lorne Calvert, on rather shaky political ground himself, he may soon find himself in a very solitary position.

There's no "I" in team. However, that may well be the position that Danny Williams will soon find himself in, and he may find the equalization ball very difficult to move.

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