Nottawa and Geoff Meeker have the best analysis thus far, but this CBC story is also inadvertently revealing, because it demonstrates four lessons:
1) Call it what you will -- personality cult, Late Williamsism, the Williams brand, Dannystan, whatever -- but the mainstream media are deeply complicit in its production and perpetuation. The symbiotic relationship between Williams and the media is so deep that I doubt whether the media even questions whether it is appropriate to have a post-mortem story on the byelection dominated (in title, photo, and sound bites -- the trinity of journalism) by The Premier.
2) As is so often the case, we're witnessing the alteration between the War-Danny and Zen-Danny. Whereas War-Danny was out in full force right up to voting day, today Zen-Danny is again at peace with the piece. It is, of course, no surprise that he is saying that this is no surprise; it's perhaps even no surprise that he's saying that this is a good thing, because it is (so the CBC tells us) a useful lesson...
3) ...But it's still a surprise to read Williams saying this: "It's a good check for a party that's been in government now for six years, that [is] showing popularity all through, and [has] the support of the people of the province." It's hard to follow the logic here (perhaps because there is so little of it to be found), but Williams seems to be saying that the defeat was good because the government is so popular. Wow! We knew that popularity could be used to explain just about everything in NL, but who knew that it could also explain an electoral defeat? Thus when the Tories win, it's because they are popular, and when they lose, it's because they are popular!
4) While no one seems to be paying much attention to Yvonne Jones, she made one of the most relevant comments I've seen today. According to CBC, Liberal Leader Yvonne Jones said people should see the result as a comment on the management style of Williams. "People want a voice, and there isn't a voice inside the Williams government," she said. "Most of the backbenchers are silent. Many of the cabinet ministers are allowing critical cuts to happen in their districts without ever speaking out against it." My hypothesis is that the question of democratic governance was far more important than the pundits and politicos realized. There is a persistent misconception in Town that style and substance can somehow be separated, that political rhetoric and economic reality are discrete phenomena that bear little relation to each other. Thus commentators overlook Williams' violent rhetoric because of the price of oil. Thus it is acceptable for the Premier to say that someone should be shot because he is spending lots of public money and is polling high. Thus the temptation is to accept the Faustian bargain of the endless war against the endless enemies of the people because it's a small price to pay for have-status and, as Professor Marland put it so superlatively, Williams is incredibly, phenomenally popular. I think that the byelection shows that the bargain may not be as good as it seemed.