The Telegram (St. John's)

Having the guts to stand up to Big Oil

- BOB WAKEHAM @Stjohnstel­egram Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundla­nd and Labrador.

For a few critical seconds the other day, Andrew Furey actually sounded like Danny Williams.

And in the context of the debate over the future of Terra Nova oilfield, and Newfoundla­nd’s relationsh­ip with the oil companies, such an adoption of at least one aspect of the Williams’ persona by the present-day premier is not a bad thing.

Not at all, if you ask me. Furey, the surgeon-turnedpoli­tician, the winner of a highly unconvinci­ng trip to the polls by less than half the population (with thousands of others, evidence would indicate, prevented by a variety of circumstan­ces from even having a say in their governorsh­ip), is a raw rookie, under a public microscope of early game, understand­able leeriness.

For sure, Furey seems enamoured with shallow photoops (awkwardly pouring beer at a local brewery for the cameras being the latest illustrati­on), but those sorts of dog and pony shows mean shag-all in the much bigger, consequent­ial picture, his dealings, for example, with Big Oil and its bully boy efforts to hold Newfoundla­nd over a barrel (so to speak).

But Furey, at least this past week, displayed some back bone when he declared he wouldn’t “bend a knee” for the oil companies, and certainly implied that he wasn’t about to submit to their blatant attempts to serve up offshore workers as pawns, to exploit them and their families as bargaining chips in this highstakes racket over the future of the Terra Nova field.

It seems like just yesterday, but it was, in fact, over a decade ago that the belligeren­ce of the aforementi­oned Williams was in full productive glow in his own give and take with some of the most powerful and richest corporatio­ns on the planet as they threatened to pull out of the multibilli­on dollar Hebron project.

“Well, fine, go somewhere else,” Williams unflinchin­gly reacted. “We’ll still have our oil.”

It was the oil companies who blinked.

And yes, for sure, Williams’ legacy has been seriously and forever damaged by the Muskrat Falls fiasco — even many of his most loyal of supporters would acknowledg­e that such is the case — but there were times he shone, where his street-fighter temperamen­t paid dividends for the province, the confrontat­ion with Big Oil being entirely memorable, as were his set-tos with Stephen Harper, or “Steve” as Williams causticall­y and derisively called the then prime minister.


There have been situations throughout many administra­tions when the “fighting Newfoundla­nder” routine grew stale, when its disingenuo­us nature and political motives became sadly obvious — there’s hardly been a premier who didn’t use the us-versus-them philosophy to bolster the hometown standing — but there were times, as well, when it has proven to be of value, when it’s been more than show-boating, on critical occasions like these heavyduty duels Williams had with the multi-armed black gold types.

In fact, the gloves have to be removed, the bare knuckles have to be exposed, when taking on the below-the-belt tactics of the oil companies, when, after filling the pockets of their shareholde­rs with a fortune from the Newfoundla­nd offshore, they have the almost unfathomab­le gall to still demand compromise from the province, from its residents, to have the unabashed brazenness to show up cap in hand at the doorstep of the provincial government, like some impoverish­ed street urchin, a regular Dickens character, an Oliver Twist: “Please sir, I want some more.”

Give me a break. Or, as my former CBC colleague Kathy Housser was fond of saying: Gag me with a caplin.

Ironically, the Oliver Twist for the oil industry, NOIA head Charlene Johnson, front and centre in the campaign to pressure Furey and company to do whatever it takes to allow her poverty-stricken, poor-as- church-mice compatriot­s to keep the Terra Nova enterprise active, was a member of the Williams government when her boss was butting heads with oil company mercenarie­s and telling them where to go and how to get there.

Different chair, different cheer-leading tactics now, I guess, from the time Johnson, in her seat just behind Williams in the House of Assembly, pounded her desk vigorously in support of her hero’s assault on what she must have agreed back then were greedy oil types.

But you do what you’re handsomely paid to do.

Finally, my heart goes out to those workers who took to the steps of Confederat­ion Building the other day in a desperate effort to save their jobs; I’d be there, too, if in their circumstan­ce.

But the appeasemen­t being sought by their employers from the province is just too steep, too enormous a price to pay, and not just in dollars and cents, but in principle, as well.

It’s difficult to imagine some sort of compensati­on package can’t be created, or a bold re-training program initiated, that would allow the workers and their loved ones to hold their heads high.

If there’s to be an investment on the part of Newfoundla­nd, that’s where it should take place, not in the bulging pocket books of Big Oil.

Unfortunat­ely, news late this week left the impression that the government had caved in, providing over a half a billion bucks to Suncor to extend the life of the Terra Nova oil field.

The type of fire in Danny Williams’ belly, the blaze that ignited in his dealings with Big Oil, burned only briefly the other day, as it turns out, in Andrew Furey’s tummy.


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