Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Danny Williams' Fighting Words

We will not allow you to defeat us in Newfoundland and Labrador. It will be over my dead body.

That was the message Nfld and Labrador premier Danny Williams sent to Stephen Harper in an appearance on CBC's Politics show on Wednesday. Williams was referring to a comment Harper made in 2002 in which he said, "There is a dependence in the region that breeds a culture of defeatism." Williams used that as a reminder to Harper that maritimers are not about to bow to whatever he decides to throw at them.

This, of course, comes on the same day that Williams has launched attack ads over Harper's broken promises on equalization.

Williams has launched a retaliatory attack against the recent federal budget, which he says serves as a betrayal of his province. Williams accuses the prime minister of breaking a promise to fix equalization and address the so-called fiscal imbalance.

Harper insists his government hasn't broken any promises and has come up with a solution that benefits Newfoundland and Labrador. He says Williams is overreacting.

"What we're seeing is confrontation for the sake of confrontation," the prime minister said in question period Wednesday.

Not exactly.

And if there's anyone who does "confrontation for the sake of confrontation", it's definitely Harper and his cronies who are still operating in opposition party mode.

Harper had promised that the budget's solution to the fiscal imbalance would fully exclude non-renewable natural resource revenue from the equalization formula used to calculate payments to have-not provinces.

Williams told CTV Newnset it wasn't a "flippant" promise, but "a very strong commitment" made in letters to premiers, in election blueprints, in speeches and in a pamphlet sent to households in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The purpose of the ads, he said, is to make Canadians aware that "the prime minister has broken a promise to Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans, Nova Scotians and Saskatchewanians and in fact it could happen to them."

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's new budget allows receiving provinces to choose whether their equalization payment is calculated based on a formula that includes 50 per cent of their revenue from non-renewable resources, or excludes all of it. The option was recommended in a report to the government by Al O'Brien.

Williams says both options mean a loss for Newfoundland and Labrador, while other provinces stand to gain from the new arrangement.

The new budget -- which survived a confidence vote in the House of Commons on Tuesday with the support of the Bloc Quebecois -- also establishes a cap on how much have-not provinces can receive as resource revenues rise -- another measure Williams is opposed to.

"The problem is that in that same brochure, in that same householder, and in those commitments, there's no mention of a cap, in fact in the brochure that was sent around it specifically said there's no cap," Williams said.

"Well the O'Brien report has a cap and that's basically what cuts off the benefit to Newfoundland and Labrador, to Nova Scotia and of course to Saskatchewan. So it basically neutralizes any benefit that was coming from the deductibility of non-renewable resource revenue."

Williams also claims the new budget reverses progress made with 2005's Atlantic accord, a deal signed with former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin. It allowed Newfoundland and Nova Scotia to keep their oil revenue without having their equalization payments docked.

Williams certainly isn't one to walk away quietly from any fight and this one has already become ugly:

Opposition MPs from Newfoundland and Labrador blasted the equalization choices offered to their province.

"Why did the prime minister lie?" Liberal Bill Matthews, of Burin-St.George's, asked in the House of Commons.

The comment prompted Speaker Peter Milliken to ask Matthews to withdraw his remark. It is considered unparliamentary language to accuse a member of Parliament of lying.

Matthews refused, saying he'd be lying to his constituents if he were to say the prime minister honoured his commitment.

The drama continues...and I doubt very much that Harper can come out of this one without any permanent scars.

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