On the 10-year anniversary of his decision to enter politics, Danny Williams, the popular and feisty premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, announced Thursday he will resign early next month.
Finally allowed to speak after being welcomed by applause, cheering and a chant of “Danny, Danny,” Williams told a press conference in St. John’s, N.L., that if you want a happy ending, you have to know when to end the story.
His story as premier will end when he steps down on Dec. 3.
Deputy premier Kathy Dunderdale will be interim premier. The province is scheduled to have an election in fall 2011.
In a nearly half-hour speech, Williams thanked his colleagues and staff and highlighted the battles his government won for the province.
“Believe me, I was quite prepared to stay on for another term,” he said, “but with the completion of the Lower Churchill deal, it is time for new ideas and new leadership.”
Last week, Williams and Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter announced a $6.2-billion deal for a hydro-electric project that will take energy from a plant at the Lower Churchill Falls in Newfoundland to consumers in the province, the Maritimes and New England, realizing a goal that had long been stymied by Quebec’s refusal to co-operate by transporting power to markets through its existing transmission system.
In television interviews that followed on Thursday, Williams called the deal a "piece of mastery" and the "stuff of nation building."
Williams said when he got involved in politics a decade ago, he set goals for himself - some of which he didn't necessarily think the province would be able to fully achieve.
"What better note to conclude on," he said of the hydro-electric deal.
Williams’s fellow Atlantic premiers wished him well in his retirement from politics.
Dexter called him “a great friend to Nova Scotia who stood shoulder to shoulder with us on the Offshore Accord and now Lower Churchill.”
New Brunswick Premier David Alward offered his “heartfelt thanks” to Williams for his efforts on behalf of Atlantic Canadians.
Born and raised in St. John’s, Williams, 61, worked as a lawyer and led a consortium of businesspeople that sought the province’s first cable television licences.
He became leader of the provincial Progressive Conservatives in 2001, and led the Tories to victory in the 2003 election. They clinched 34 of 48 seats, ending nearly 15 years of Liberal rule.
In 2007, the margin of victory was even greater — Williams’s Conservatives took 43 seats.
In office, Williams’ popularity in the province soared.
But outside the province, he sometimes stirred up controversy.
Quebec deputy premier Nathalie Normandeau acknowledged this in Quebec City Thursday.
“We wish Mr. Williams a happy retirement, of course,” she told reporters. “I think that under the circumstances we have to recognize that Mr. Williams at times hurt our feelings; he shocked us, and in that vein, obviously we hope that in the future, that there is another tone, another mood (from that government).”
Williams acknowledged there were some in the media and among his critics who said he was never happy unless he was “taking someone out."
“Well, folks, I’m here to tell you today that those people are right,” he said. “There has never been one thing in this province that I can think of that hasn’t been worth fighting for for the people of the province.”
In an interview with CTV, Williams said he didn't go looking for battles.
"Each and every one was brought to us," he said. "We never went out looking for a fight. But I can tell you, the minute someone wronged my province we took them on."
In December 2004, Williams ordered Canadian flags be taken down from provincial buildings because he was upset that Paul Martin’s Liberal government backtracked on its federal election promise to give the province royalties from offshore oil developments. A month later, a deal was made and the flags went back up.
The premier’s clashes with the federal government weren’t strictly partisan.
Williams launched his ABC campaign — anything but Conservative — during the 2008 federal election because he was angered about ongoing disputes over equalization payments and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s appeal to voters in provinces with more MPs.
In 2006, he took his commitment to his province to the international stage when he appeared on CNN’s Larry King Live to debate Paul McCartney and Heather Mills about their campaign to stop the seal hunt.
Williams hasn't yet disclosed any plans for his future beyond getting an office, getting back to running a business portfolio and looking at his investments.
He's told reporters he has been approached about getting involved in federal politics but that's not what prompted the resignation.
"I did not give up provincial politics to go into federal politics. I can tell you that categorically."
In an interview on CBC, Williams' mother, Teresita, said her son needs a rest and she'd "shoot him first" before letting him enter the federal fray.
"Well, an 85-year-old woman has a great way of expressing herself ... She's my elder and if she said she's going to kill me, then I better not go into federal politics," the exiting premier later told CBC.
Earlier this year, Williams made headlines when he travelled to the U.S. for heart surgery.
But his heart health is fine and also was not a deciding factor in his departure, Williams told CTV. "It's just a little bit broken today," he said.
Williams called his time as leader of Canada's youngest province "the best job on Earth."
Newfoundland and Labrador has come of age and has earned the rightful recognition as an equal partner in Confederation, he said.
What others had to say about Williams's resignation
As Newfoundlanders and Labradorians marked Premier Danny Williams's retirement by wishing him well in storefronts and on pub blackboards the province over, sitting politicians did the same.
“Premier Williams has been a dominating force in Newfoundland and Labrador politics since becoming leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Newfoundland and Labrador in 2001. A tireless champion for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, Mr. Williams accomplished a great deal in his seven years as premier. His enormous popularity in the province is a tribute to his hard work and commitment, and his very personal connection to the people. His caring, devotion and leadership were very much on display in the aftermath of hurricane Igor when both our governments worked to help Newfoundland and Labrador rebuild after the storm."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper
"I know Danny Williams very well and worked with him, known him for many, many years. I was very surprised by the announcement and have nothing but best wishes for him. "I think that any battles in the past, bygones are bygones. I think we are very competitive in Newfoundland and Labrador and looking forward to whenever there is an election having a few members rejoin us from that province."
Sen. Marjory LeBreton, government leader in the Senate
"Premier Danny Williams has always been a strong leader and passionate advocate for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador...I will miss his characteristic fighting spirit and his undeniable passion for his province. Canadian politics will certainly be a little less colourful now. I wish him all the best in whatever his next step will be."
NDP Leader Jack Layton
"Mr. Williams has been as successful in politics as he was in business and law. He is known not only for his fiery and charismatic leadership style, but also for his dedication to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. Working on their behalf, Premier Williams has accomplished much since becoming premier in 2003."
New Brunswick Premier David Alward
"Danny's pride as a Newfoundlander is only exceeded by his Canadian pride. He has been a resolute champion for a strong Newfoundland and Labrador within a strong Confederation — a position that has strengthened both his province and our country. And Danny's persistence is legendary. Whether his cause was poverty reduction or growing a stronger economy, Danny simply did not quit."
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty
"For more than seven years, Premier Danny Williams has represented the people of Newfoundland and Labrador with steadfast dedication and a political energy that will be remembered for generations to come. Danny Williams promoted the people of Newfoundland and Labrador with a tenacity unmatched in Canadian politics. A Rhodes Scholar and successful businessman, he was also a true politician of the people, even going so far as to donate his annual legislative salary to a local charitable foundation."
Federal Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff