Canada

Danny Williams: Fighter, millionaire, townie

When he assumed office in October 2003, N.L. Premier Danny Williams began earning a reputation as a politician prepared to wage battle with Ottawa, championing the province's fight over fiscal balance and equalization.

When he assumed office in October 2003, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams began earning a reputation as a politician prepared to wage battle with Ottawa, championing the province's fight over fiscal equalization.

Born: Aug. 4, 1950

Education

Bachelor of arts, Memorial University, St. John's

Rhodes Scholar, degree of arts in law, Oxford University, England

Bachelor of law, Dalhousie University, Halifax

Politics

Became Progressive Conservative Party leader April 7, 2001. Elected MHA for Humber West in 2001.

In the 2003 provincial election, Williams captured 58 per cent of the popular vote and secured 34 seats.

In 2007, Williams enjoyed another landslide election victory, wining 69 per cent of the vote and 43 seats.

Before politics

Lawyer; head of Cable Atlantic, sold business to Rogers for $282 million.

Family

Married to Maureen, four children, four grandchildren.

Seven years later, in November 2010, Williams announced his resignation — his record as a fighter firmly entrenched.

"You know, I laugh when critics and some reporters say that I'm nothing more than a fighter, … someone always looking for a racket, … never happy unless I'm taking someone on. Well, folks, I am here to tell you today that those people are right," he said.

"There has never been one thing in this province that I can think of that hasn't been worth fighting for, for the people of the province. There has not been one battle too great or too small for me and for our group if it meant a better life for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians."

Williams made his announcement a week after securing a $6.2-billion deal with Nova Scotia to develop the Lower Churchill hydroelectric project in Labrador — an initiative he dubbed his legacy project.

"He stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Nova Scotia in both the campaign for fairness" — on the offshore resources deal with Ottawa — "and of course on the Lower Churchill agreement, so certainly for us he has been a profound friend," Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter said regarding Williams's retirement.

When he was elected with a large Progressive Conservative majority in 2003, Williams told the public he wasn't in politics for the money. As Opposition leader, the millionaire lawyer had donated his legislative salary to charity. And he promised during the provincial election campaign to do the same with the premier's paycheque.

Williams is a Rhodes Scholar and high-profile St. John's lawyer. He made millions in the sale of the region's cable TV utility to Rogers Communications. His success in business earned him a nickname in the legislature: "Danny Millions."

He was still in law school when he led a group of businesspeople seeking the first cable television licence in Newfoundland and Labrador. He grew the company into one of Atlantic Canada's largest communications companies before selling it for $282 million prior to getting into politics.

Williams was born in St. John's to a political family of longtime Progressive Conservative supporters.

He married young, settling down with his high school sweetheart, Maureen. The couple were named king and queen of roller skating in the 1960s at Memorial Stadium, which is where Williams took over the reins of the Tory party in 2001, four decades later.

Fights with Ottawa

It didn't take long for Williams to make a splash on the federal scene after becoming premier. Williams was furious that then prime minister Paul Martin made election promises in June 2004 to give Newfoundland and Labrador royalties from offshore oil developments, then backtracked at a first ministers meeting in Ottawa. He stormed out of the meeting. "Our pride can't be bought…. We won't say yes to less," Williams told reporters in October 2004. "We had a commitment and [the prime minister] has broken that commitment."

In December of that year, Williams pulled down Canadian flags from provincial buildings during talks to give Newfoundland full protection against equalization clawbacks on offshore royalties. A month later, the flags went back up and a deal was made.

Harper's government didn't find it any easier dealing with Williams, who criticized the Conservatives for refusing to support the province's push for higher royalties from the oil industry.

Frustrated with federal-provincial equalization formulas, Williams in 2008 launched his "Anything But Conservative" campaign, in which he urged voters to reject Harper's party.

Harper described the campaign as more personal than political, saying at heart it was a clash of personalities.

"Premier Williams didn't like the last government. He doesn't like this government. And I don't think he'll like the next government, whoever that would be," he said.

The premier's move in 2010 to seek heart surgery at a U.S. clinic was met with great scrutiny. Critics suggested the move reflected a lack of confidence in the province's health care.

Williams said the surgery was not offered in Canada, noting that it was his heart and his health that were at stake.

"It's not a typical open heart surgery where your arteries are replaced.… So they recommended that I look at going outside the province," he said. "What was ultimately done to me, the surgery that I eventually got … was not offered to me in Canada."

Spending scandal

In 2006, the province was hit by an audit scandal that revealed allegations of misuse of public money linked to representatives of all three parties. Sparking the scandal were Auditor General John Noseworthy's investigations into spending at the house of assembly. The report found four politicians misused approximately $1 million from their constituency allowances.

In June 2006, Williams announced that Ed Byrne, a senior member of his party, would step aside as natural resources minister while the audit into financial matters at the legislature continued.

A 'townie'

Williams remained an immensely popular politician, despite the political stumblings. A "townie" from the provincial capital, he appealed to voters in rural Newfoundland.

Williams has excelled in business as well as law. He was involved in the province's offshore resources industry through an oil-and-gas supply and services company, and has been formally recognized for his entrepreneurial success and charitable works.

Williams loves hockey and golf. He founded the St. John's Hockey League and was instrumental in bringing the St. John's Maple Leafs to the city, as well as in the building of their home arena, Mile One Stadium.

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