Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams said Wednesday he is prepared to work co-operatively with Stephen Harper, largely because the re-elected Conservative prime minister needs to hold together a minority government.
"I think in fact we will be better off," Williams told reporters at Confederation Building, responding to a Conservative shutout in Newfoundland and Labrador's seven ridings, as the federal Tories lost all three seats they had held.
Harper, meanwhile, said later Wednesday he is also willing to move beyond a dispute that had put the two Tories on a crash course.
Williams said the Anything But Conservative campaign he launched well before the election was called is now over, and that he believes he can work with the Harper Conservatives.
Williams, a Progressive Conservative, said he is expecting the federal Tories to refrain from punishing Newfoundland and Labrador in the coming months, particularly over critical issues for the province, including the Lower Churchill hydroelectric megaproject.
"We have seven strong MPs here," Williams said, referring to the six Liberals and one New Democrat who prevailed in Tuesday's election.
"Where were we when we had three Conservative MPs?"
|Conservative support in N.L.|
|Party||2006 election||2008 election|
|Source: Elections Canada; Percentages have been rounded|
Two years to the day before Tuesday's election, Williams had first suggested the electoral "goose egg" that became reality in Tuesday's returns. The comment — which was made in a speech Williams gave to provincial Progressive Conservatives in Gander — came out of an evidently frosty meeting with Harper that marked a turning point in an obviously rancorous relationship.
Williams said he can now co-operate with Harper, despite the history between the two.
"There's no battle with the prime minister right now. Those issues are behind us, from my perspective. That day is done," Williams said.
"The battle is over.… We achieved our goal."
Asked Wednesday in Calgary to respond to Williams's comments, Harper said he is also willing to open a new relationship with Williams.
"I have no trouble saying bygones be bygones," Harper told reporters Tuesday in Calgary.
"As many of you know, I've constructed an entire party out of people who once opposed me. That's what you always have to do with in this business," Harper said.
The election result means Newfoundland and Labrador will not have an MP at the cabinet table. Williams said, however, that does not mean the province won't be represented.
"Stephen Harper now needs the Bloc Québécois, he needs the Liberals, he needs the New Democratic Party, as well, to achieve his mandate," Williams said.
Throughout the ABC dispute, the Conservatives cast Williams as an isolated premier who was lashing out against the prime minister over a personal vendetta. Williams, for his part, said he was motivated by policy, not personalities.
Williams said he would like to see Harper make an effort at a more cordial relationship with his province.
"I truly hope that happens, and we will all be better off," he said.
"On the other hand, if he takes a dismissive attitude, and tries to punish Newfoundland and Labrador for not delivering any Conservative seats, then we'll do fine by ourselves, thank you very much," Williams said.
Launched battle over equalization promise
Williams launched the ABC campaign to protest Harper's decision to drop a written election promise to exclude non-renewable energy revenues from the equalization formula.
The Conservative vote all but vanished in Newfoundland and Labrador. While the party polled almost 43 per cent of votes cast in the province in 2006, it had less than 17 per cent of voter support in Tuesday's election.
Many voters who would normally vote Conservative, though, probably stayed at home. Newfoundland and Labrador pegged the lowest voter turnout in the country, with only 48.1 per cent of registered voters showing up at polling stations.
Craig Westcott, a journalist who represented the Conservatives in St. John's East, said Newfoundland and Labrador should expect serious repercussions.
"Newfoundlanders have opted to not participate in the federal government. We haven't done anything like that since 1933 when we gave up our right to self-government in Newfoundland," Westcott said.
"It's a historic, and very tragic, event in our history."
Williams brushed aside such criticism.
He also suggested that had Harper worked on establishing a "good rapport" with the provincial governing Progressive Conservatives — which won a landslide in the 2007 provincial election, and have enjoyed high approval ratings — the federal Conservatives could conceivably have gained all seven seats, putting the party close to a majority government.
Williams also said the "ripple effects" of the ABC campaign across the country would not have occurred.