CALGARY/OTTAWA (Reuters) - Danny Williams, premier of the oil-producing Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, said on Thursday he was leaving politics after seven years, having clinched a much sought-after hydroelectric deal.
An emotional Williams, who had heart surgery in February, said he would resign on December 3. Deputy Premier Kathy Dunderdale will take over until the ruling Progressive Conservative party can elect a new leader.
“If you want a happy ending, you need to know when to end your story ... It is time for new leadership and new ideas within the PC party of Newfoundland and Labrador,” Williams told a news conference in the capital, St John‘s.
The famously scrappy leader listed accomplishments he said helped the country’s Easternmost province move from “have-not” status to “have,” including winning more energy-royalty revenues from Ottawa, gaining more of a take from offshore oil projects and, last week, signing an agreement to develop the Lower Churchill Falls hydro project.
He said the C$6.2 billion ($6.1 billion) deal with Nova Scotia’s Emera Inc will cushion the blow of a 1969 agreement with Hydro Quebec for the first Churchill Falls project, in which Quebec reaps most of the benefits.
Williams, 61, has been a relentless promoter of Newfoundland’s natural resources sector. It is now Canada’s third-largest oil-producing province.
He began his tenure as premier by criticizing the world’s oil majors for what he said were overly rich deals for developing the Atlantic province’s oil reserves. He successfully negotiated higher royalties and equity stakes for new projects, such as the Hebron development, and now brags about his strong ties with the industry.
A Progressive Conservative, Williams is a fiery character and not afraid to speak his mind. In 2008, after a clash with Conservative Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper over how much money the province could keep from its resources earnings, he urged voters to shun the federal party.
“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,” he said.
“Well folks, I‘m here to tell you today that those people are right.”
Williams was a successful businessman before entering politics, earning the nickname “Danny Millions.”
When he became premier in 2003, Newfoundland was struggling with the collapse of its famous cod fishery and an energy regime under which any amounts taken in as oil royalties were subtracted from federal contributions to provincial coffers.
He pledged to end what he called “giveaways” that he said were hampering Newfoundland’s efforts to improve its own economy.
Williams said the Lower Churchill hydroelectric deal was the crowning achievement of those efforts.
Under the agreement, a system will be set up to transmit electricity from a power generation site at Muskrat Falls on the Lower Churchill River in Labrador to the island of Newfoundland, and then on to the provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and into the state of Maine.
Previously, Williams had tried to get Hydro-Quebec to transport power from the Lower Churchill, but the huge utility said it had no capacity on its system, blocking the development and raising Williams’s ire.
Newfoundland’s Hibernia oil field in the North Atlantic, led by Exxon Mobil Corp, is Canada’s largest-producing offshore oil project. The other producing projects are Suncor Energy Inc’s Terra Nova and Husky Energy Inc’s White Rose development.
Newfoundland is also home to the Come-by-Chance refinery, owned by Korea National Oil Co.
Editing by Peter Galloway