Tuesday, April 27, 2010

There’s nothing wrong with Ottawa 'that half a dozen big state funerals wouldn’t cure'


Bill Rowe on our Ottawa embassy


“In the middle of bandying boring numbers about, Williams and Martin lunged from their chairs and stood toe-to-toe, fists clenched, shouting abuse and spittle into one another’s face. The dispute seemed to be about which leader was most lacking in honour and gonads. Only the intervention of a gutsy aide thwarted a fistfight between the two statesmen.”
— Bill Rowe of a November 2004 meeting between NL Premier Danny Williams and then-Liberal PM Paul Martin over the Atlantic Accord.
•••
The position of NL’s representative in Ottawa — which is open — doesn’t only pay half-decent at $148,000 a year, but there could be a book deal when it’s done.

Bill Rowe, the province’s first ambassador/emissary to the nation’s capital, is writing a book about his nine months in Ottawa (July 2004-March 2005), tentatively titled Danny Williams: The War with Ottawa.

But then it could be titled a lot of things.

Danny Williams: The War with Doctors.

The War with Nurses.

The War with Big Oil.

The War with the Parting of His Hair.

The book is scheduled for release this fall through local publisher Flanker Press.

Bill Rowe began writing the book in April 2008 through a series of weekly, page-two columns for The Independent newspaper.

The first column came with the following note: “Each week an excerpt from his book in progress will appear in The Independent focusing on the dramatic events in the nation’s capital, the wacky nature of federal-provincial politics, the many dysfunctional features of the civil service and the roles of key personalities.”

It was only fitting that Rowe serve as the first ambassador — considering he proposed the job in the first place.

Williams reportedly asked Rowe, a long-time Liberal, to run provincially prior to the 2003 provincial election, but Rowe turned him down, saying he would only run for an elected Senate.

Rowe suggested that Danny, as premier, should consider a representative in the “federal heartland.”

Then, lo and behold, the Tories released their policy bluebook leading up to the October 2003 election and one of the “key commitments” (page 15) was a NL office of federal-provincial relations in Ottawa.

Wrote Rowe: “It’s fascinating, sometimes, how important government policies come to see the light of day.”

Rowe eventually relented to Danny’s considerable pressures and took the job.

The two had known each other for years.

Rowe first met Danny in the early 1970s when Tory premier Frank Moores appointed him deputy law clerk, “or the like”, in the House of Assembly.

Years later, Rowe made a weekly appearance with a panel of pundits on Danny’s community TV channel.

Rowe left the show on principle after he asked to be paid for his appearance on the show and was turned down.

He mentioned the turn of events to someone high in the cable company.

“But that’s how Danny is making his millions,” Rowe said he was told. “He’s as tight as a crab’s ass.”

“As tight as a crab’s ass” made for a great Independent headline, I must say.

Some other notable quotes from Rowe’s columns:

“What kind of bastard would I be to decline in his time of need.”
— On being offered the Ottawa post for the umpteenth time.

“My stark terror stemmed from a sudden awareness that, from now on, my life and fate would be squarely in the hands of provincial bureaucrats.”
— Upon being appointed in July 2004.

“There’s nothing wrong with Ottawa, a nasty wag once said, that half a dozen big state funerals wouldn’t cure.”
— June 6th, 2008.

“A Liberal Senator figured, ‘What Einstein was to physics, and Gretzky was to hockey, that’s what Danny Williams was to horse manure.’”
— June 20th, 2008.

The last I personally heard of Bill Rowe was in June 2008 when he e-mailed me out of the blue to say he was taking a summer break from column writing.

He offered to resume writing in August or September of that year if we could come to a “suitable arrangement.”

Rowe wasn’t happy with his remuneration.

At the time, The Independent paid him $125 a column, meaning he was one of the paper's highest paid columnists.

John FitzGerald took over the Ottawa office in May 2006, more than a year after Rowe left.

He left the position this past January, more than three months before his contract was set to expire.

He now works as special advisor to executive council.

FitzGerald took a lot of heat from the media for not granting interviews.

He once virtually attacked me in the Duke of Duckworth for how he had been handled by the media.

He was no Bill Rowe.

Will there be another?

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