Thursday, July 2, 2009

Penetrating the Teflon

If journalism is the first draft of history, we may be seeing some history being made this week. With the fishery protest entering its fourth day, my sense is that we are in the midst of some sort of change.

It's too early to tell whether this change will be temporary or long-lasting, but it appears that Danny Williams' political teflon has been breached. This story seems to have broken through the teflon barrier, and it has the potential traction to do political damage.

The Telegram's editorial this morning gutted the story with a straightforward question: Why are thousands of fishermen receiving far less government attention than 130 paper mill workers?

It then split the story open by observing that Williams is in Europe on a foreign policy junket and Hedderson is in Texas of all places, leaving Dunderdale to tell the protestors to leave the building. (By the way, wasn't it curious that Williams chose to be out of the province on Memorial Day and Canada Day, and thereby miss the plaque unveiling ceremony?).

It's unclear whether ignoring the fishermen will hurt Williams' poll numbers when CRA does its thing again. If the venomous comments on the CBC and Telly sites are any indication, beating up on fishermen plays well with biased, uninformed, and bigoted people. It's interesting to note that no one ever calls civil servants pampered, overpaid, or lazy; but fishermen get called worse every time a story is posted online.

The larger question here is not about the management of the fishery per se but rather the management of government itself. Earlier in the week, VOCM was sticking fairly closely to the Tory party line, but today's story carries the FFAW's three most important talking points:
1) Williams has refused to meet with McCurdy.
2) Williams needs to spend the same time on the fishery as on oil deals and ABC politics.
3) Williams' government needs to be more respectful towards the fishery.

Point number 2 is similar to the point that Randy Simms was trying to make before Williams' now-infamous meltdown on VOCM, so it will be interesting to see which Danny Williams lands at St. John's airport. Will we see the return of the angry patriarch eager to smite all those who doubt his will? Or will we see Williams quickly dispatch his ministers to throw money at this problem to make it go away as quietly as possible? (One wonders whether Hedderson himself knows the answer to that question).

What we do know at this juncture is this: the fishery protest is not a discrete, stand-alone story. It has hooked into the larger story about how Premier Williams treats people who challenge him. It has become a question of not only the government's fishery policy, but also its judgement, its attitude, and its competence. It relates directly to the political issue I've raised this week: the Tories are out of touch.

For four days now, the government's response has been to attack by throwing all the blame back onto the fishing industry. As a sign of the 8th Floor's irritation, they threw an angry press release at the problem. But still the protest continues.

Here is a question for you: if Williams lost his senses over just one session of Randy Simms' call-in show, how is he going to react to four days of protest?

For the press release and analysis, see:

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