A consistent theme has emerged from the commentary provoked by Premier Danny Williams' surprise resignation last week: he re-instilled pride in Newfoundlanders as equals in Confederation, a sense of independence, and optimism that we can create a bright and self-reliant future for ourselves.
One unique achievement of the Williams premiership does not get mention in the retrospectives. He resisted pressure from the auto insurance industry to bring in no-fault auto insurance. In the 2002-2004 period the governments of Alberta, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island caved in to insurance industry propaganda and adopted threshold no-fault auto insurance. But not Danny.
Threshold no-fault excludes large numbers of accident and injury victims from compensation for pain and suffering on the theory that reduced costs are passed on to consumers by lower premiums - a "rights for rates" trade-off.
The truth is, it doesn't happen. The insurance companies take any savings for themselves. Newfoundland and Labrador (along with British Columbia) has a vigorous fault-based auto accident compensation system, and our insurance rates are about the lowest in the country. The new government in Nova Scotia has recently announced that it is moving away from its no-fault auto scheme in a significant way.
Danny resisted the pressure for insurance companies to sacrifice the rights of victims, in part because he had been a plaintiff-side personal injury lawyer himself, and understood how the insurance industry works. He was less easily bamboozled than other politicians. But a determined campaign by the Coalition Against No-Fault, led by Kevin Breen, countered insurance industry propaganda, and Newfoundland public opinion was not impressed by it. The Atlantic Provinces Trial Lawyers Association was a member of the Coalition.
Danny was an astute enough politician - and had enough guts - to take a calculated risk that public opinion was with him if he said "no" to no-fault, and he did.
Alone among premiers at the time, Danny Williams said "no" to no-fault. There are many reasons for Newfoundlanders' newfound pride in our independence and willingness to stand up to others for our rights, and this deserves to be one of them.