Danny Wil­liams: The War with Ot­tawa

The Compass - - OPINION - Bur­ton K. Janes bur­tonj@nfld.net

I first met Bill Rowe when I was nine. It hap­pened on Sept. 1, 1966, while I was liv­ing in Ham­p­den, White Bay. I was in the base­ment play­ing; my fa­ther was in the yard, work­ing.

Hear­ing a car door slam, I looked out. I saw a swanky car out­side the fence. The driver got out, en­tered our yard and in­tro­duced him­self to Dad as “Bill Rowe, the MHA for this district.”

Even­tu­ally, he even fo­cused his at­ten­tion on me and asked me my name. I felt spe­cial. Be­fore leav­ing, he pulled a $10 bill from his pocket and gave it to my fa­ther. “Here’s a small gift for you, Pas­tor Janes,” he said. Dad felt spe­cial.

The rea­son I know the ex­act date of Rowe’s visit is that, af­ter Dad died, I was given the per­sonal ledger he had main­tained from the 1940s to the 1970s. When I came to Sept. 1, 1966, there it was: a $10 gift from MHA Bill Rowe.

Last week, I met Rowe again. This time, it was while read­ing his most re­cent book, Danny Wil­liams: The war with Ot­tawa. The in­side story by a hired gun.

In 2004, Premier Wil­liams hand­picked Rowe to rep­re­sent New­found­land and Labrador in Ot­tawa. Rowe served eight months dur­ing what be­came known as the At­lantic Ac­cord cri­sis. It was a defin­ing moment in Wil­liams’ po­lit­i­cal ca­reer. Cana­di­ans from sea to sea came to ei­ther love or hate the man. His an­tics, for good or ill, spread his rep­u­ta­tion far and near. Who will ever for­get what Rowe calls the “ flag flap”?

The cri­sis was an in­tense, en­dur­ing feud be­tween Wil­liams and the mean ma­chine known as Par­lia­ment Hill in Ot­tawa. This book is Rowe’s at­tempt to recre­ate the cri­sis for the read­ing pub­lic. Along the way, he high­lights the drama, an­a­lyzes the ruth­less­ness of

The reader is im­me­di­ately drawn into Rowe’s ver­sion of the At­lantic Ac­cord shenani­gans. It is cap­ti­vat­ing. He spares no punches. All the main

play­ers come in for in­tense scru­tiny.

pol­i­tics and shows an all-toohu­man side of the par­tic­i­pants. He hides lit­tle.

Take, for ex­am­ple, the day Rowe paid a cour­tesy visit to John Ef­ford, then fed­eral min­is­ter of nat­u­ral re­sources. Ef­ford “ was stand­off­ish and un­friendly (when he shook hands with me, I sud­denly re­al­ized what Bill Clin­ton must feel like dur­ing a hug from Hil­lary). When I said I’d come … to ex­plain to him in per­son the pur­pose of my new job, he sat there stern­faced and frosty. He never once looked at me, and his body lan­guage verged on the hos­tile.”

This is one of Rowe’s tamer para­graphs about Ef­ford. Be­cause this is Rowe’s book, he is free to write as he pleases.

Af­ter read­ing it, though, I was re­minded of what Wil­liam Cas­sel­man wrote in Ma­cleans mag­a­zine in 1979 about Peter Usti­nov’s TV doc­u­men­tary on Len­ingrad, “ This is the Len­ingrad of Peter Usti­nov. Not mine, not yours per­haps, but his alone — quirky, flawed, riv­et­ing.”

Like­wise, Danny Wil­liams: The war with Ot­tawa is the Ot­tawa of Bill Rowe. Not mine, not yours per­haps, but his alone — quirky, flawed, riv­et­ing.

The reader is im­me­di­ately drawn into Rowe’s ver­sion of the At­lantic Ac­cord shenani­gans. It is cap­ti­vat­ing. He spares no punches. All the main play­ers come in for in­tense scru­tiny.

The author was present in Ot­tawa dur­ing the cri­sis. Dur­ing that time, he main­tained a per­sonal jour­nal, in which he re­flected, of­ten in great and painful de­tail, on both im­por­tant and hu­mourous events as they hap­pened. He also recorded his im­pres­sions of the colour­ful per­son­al­i­ties in­volved on both sides of the bat­tle lines. He aug­mented his jour­nal with mem­o­ries, e-mails, con­ver­sa­tions and me­dia clips to pro­duce a sub­jec­tive ac­count of the cri­sis.

If Rowe is to be be­lieved, Ot­tawa is not a nice place to live. How­ever, it is the nation’s cap­i­tal and seat of govern­ment and, as such, is where pro­vin­cial-fed­eral de­ci­sions are ham­mered out.

Rowe, be­liev­ing New­found­lan­ders and Labrado­ri­ans de­serve to know what ac­tu­ally hap­pened dur­ing the At­lantic Ac­cord cri­sis, re­gales the reader with a chatty and in­for­mal story. At times, it sounds a lot like a “ kiss and tell” di­a­tribe.

If you want to read about what was al­most a fist­fight over the Ac­cord and what Wil­liams main­tained was then prime min­is­ter Paul Martin’s bro­ken elec­tion prom­ise, you’ve come to the right place. If you want to en­ter into the rumour mill Rowe says is op­er­at­ing in ev­ery con­ceiv­able place in Ot­tawa, in­clud­ing re­strooms, pick up a copy of this book.

If you want to view the cogs in the bureau­cratic wheel, es­pe­cially how glacially slowly they grind, this book will give you a pho­to­graph of the process.

Though Rowe’s book is a rous­ing yarn, as be­fit­ting a per­sonal mem­oir, it is not the ob­jec­tive ac­count aca­demics will call for when an of­fi­cial ver­sion of the At­lantic Ac­cord is writ­ten. Un­til then, this book will have to fill the need.

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