For the past few years we’ve all bowed down to the great god Free Market, not realizing we were giving free rein to all the thieves, cheats and liars of big-time Capitalism to run roughshod over our economic well-being.
One guy who didn’t fall over and lie down in front of the corporate steamroller is Danny Williams, the lawyer/businessman Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador.
For his forthright defense of the right of his province’s people for a fair share in their natural wealth, I nominate Premier Williams as Canada’s Man of the Year. I say Man because he’s a guy — and what a guy!
David Newell/The Advertiser
This week,the Premier served notice on AbitibiBowater that it didn’t just have ever-lasting rights to timber and water resources after it was no longer operating in the province.
This followed the big American pulp and paper company’s decision to close its Grand Falls mill next March, putting 600 people out of work.
Now, a company has every right to shut a plant when it can no longer be operated profitably. (Note to the Big 3.) And perhaps there’s not much future in pulp and paper, considering the ease and economy of digital communication.
But it’s a different story when the company expects to also sell off to the highest bidder the rights it had held to timber and water rights as a condition of its “milling and logging business.”
So when the Premier pushed a bill through the Legislature to expropriate those rights it was, in the opinion of most perople in N&L (and many others) an entirely juistifiable action.
That’s because a 1905 agreement allowed AbitibiBowater’s predecessor “to have, use and enjoy for its milling and logging business all streams, lakes, watercourses, springs or water …”
No more milling and logging, no more water rights, or cutting rights either. Fair’s fair.
None of this will restore the jobs of the pulp workers. Nor guarantee an alternative source of income from the expropriated water and timber rights.
But Danny Williams has demonstrated again that he’s a Premier who truly acts as a steward for his people’s well-being.
It was this attitude that enabled Newfoundlanders to benefit by hundreds of millions of dollars from the hard bargain he drove with oil companies wanting to tap the Hebron offshore oil field.
At first, the companies walked away, crying they were being robbed. But they soon enough came around again, ready to face the reality of dealing with a tough-minded negotiator.
Then, of course, there was Danny Williams’ principled “Anybody but Harper” campaign in the late federal election. He felt the Prime Minister had broken a committment on equalization, and showed that he had the guts to fight back.
Sure, they’re calling him Danny Chavez, the socialist of the north. He’s not. And it’s too bad a few other Canadian politicians aren’t capable of being equally ballsy.
Premier Campbell of B.C., for instance. His province continues to pay through the nose for power produced by Alcan’s Kemano hydro station, even though Alcan’s new owner, Rio Tinto, refuses to invest in keeping alive the Kitimat aluminum smelter that was the basis for Alcan receiving hydro rights.
Of course, there’ll be a long legal dispute as AbitibiBowater tries to use NAFTA rules to stop the expropriation. Ironically, it’s the federal government, as the partner in NAFTA, that will have to defend Williams’ actions.
Meanwhile, all hail Danny Williams — Canada’s Man of the Year for 2008.