Timeline: Williams Government, 2003-2007

29 September 2003 Liberal Premier Roger Grimes called a provincial election for 21 October. Party standings were Liberal 27, Progressive Conservatives 19, and New Democrats two.

Sept/Oct 2003 During the campaign, polls and pundits predicted a solid Progressive Conservative majority. The Conservatives' campaign slogan, "No More Giveaways", captured a mood among voters - past governments had made too many concessions to Ottawa and major corporations. Williams, a wealthy businessman, Rhodes scholar, and gifted public speaker, pledged to bring long-promised prosperity to Canada's poorest province and reign in government spending. In contrast, Grimes ran a low-key campaign that failed to connect with voters.

21 October 2003 The Progressive Conservatives won a decisive majority and ended almost 15 years of Liberal government. The PCs took 34 seats, the Liberals 12, and the New Democrats two.

22 October 2003 Williams, the new premier, announced that the government would audit the province's finances and make the findings public. The Liberals had predicted a $666-million deficit for the 2003-04 fiscal year; the Conservatives thought this was a serious underestimate.

6 November 2003 Williams was sworn in as the province's ninth premier.

5 January 2004 Finance Minister Loyola Sullivan released an independent external review of the province's finances, completed by PricewaterhouseCoopers. The audit's findings set the stage for government cutbacks. It placed the 2003-04 deficit at $827 million and predicted that the following year's deficit would be almost $1 billion. The audit warned that the government had to curb spending. The report indicated that a declining population, increased spending on health care and education, and wage increases for government employees were important factors. The Williams government froze public sector salaries as an early cost-cutting measure.

23 February 2004 Federal Natural Resources Minister, John Efford, MP for Avalon, announced that Ottawa would renegotiate its offshore oil agreement with the province. The 1985 Atlantic Accord had received much criticism for allowing the federal government to keep the majority of tax revenues, despite stating that the province should be the primary beneficiary of its oil industry. In 2003, it was estimated that Ottawa would receive 78 per cent of all royalties, compared to the province's 22 per cent. Talks between the provincial and federal governments unfold over the coming months.

30 March 2004 The Williams administration tabled its first budget. It focused on deficit reduction. The budget reduced the number of school and health boards, cut funding to municipalities, delayed or canceled several major projects, and increased fees and fines. The most controversial measure was to eliminate 4,000 public sector jobs over four years. This upset union leaders, since government workers' union contracts would expire in two days' time.

31 March 2004 Contract negotiations ended in failure shortly before the midnight deadline. The government offered a two-year wage freeze followed by an eight per cent increase spread over three years. The unions held firm for 15 per cent.

1 April 2004 Approximately 20,000 public-sector workers took to the picket lines in the largest strike in the province's history.

26 April 2004 The government tabled legislation to send striking civil servants back to work. Bill 18 would impose a two-year wage freeze followed by a five per cent pay increase over the next two years.

28 April 2004 Civil servants returned to work.

4 May 2004 Bill 18 became law, ending contract negotiations.

4 June 2004 In the midst of a federal election campaign, Williams announced that "Newfoundlanders and Labradorians should not support any candidate or any party in the upcoming federal election that does not clearly and unequivocally provide us with a commitment to keep 100 per cent of our provincial revenues under the Atlantic Accord."

5 June 2004 Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin announced, in St. John's, that if re-elected, his government would revise the Atlantic Accord to make Newfoundland and Labrador the primary beneficiary of its offshore oil industry.

7 June 2004 Williams announced in the House of Assembly that the "Prime Minister accepted our proposal to receive 100 per cent of our provincial oil and gas revenues under the Atlantic Accord."

28 June 2004 Canadian voters elected a minority Liberal government.

24 October 2004 Williams received a letter from federal Finance Minister Ralph Goodale stating that Ottawa will "provide additional annual payments that will ensure the province effectively retains 100 per cent of its offshore revenues for an eight-year period covering 2004-05 through 2011-12, subject to the provision that no such additional payments result in the fiscal capacity of the province exceeding that of the province of Ontario in any given year."

26 October 2004 Williams boycotted a first ministers' meeting on equalization to protest Ottawa's offer on the Accord. He accused Martin of reneging on an election promise to unconditionally give Newfoundland and Labrador 100 per cent of its offshore oil royalties. Martin countered that his offer was always subject to a cap.

6 December 2004 The provincial government announced it would ratify the Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement Act in early 2005.

22 December 2004 Williams met with federal Finance Minister Ralph Goodale and federal Natural Resources Minister John Efford to discuss the Atlantic Accord. Williams rejected Ottawa's offer, arguing that the province could lose at least $1 billion of offshore revenues over an eight-year period.

23 December 2004 Williams sparked national controversy by ordering Canadian flags removed from provincial buildings to protest the federal government's position on the Atlantic Accord. He told a press conference: "They're slapping us in the face. I'm not willing to fly that flag any more in the province."

10 January 2005 Williams ordered the Maple Leaf remounted, stating: "Our problem is not with the people of the country. It's with the prime minister, it's with the leader of the country."

22 January 2005 The Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement was signed by representatives of the Labrador Inuit Association, and the federal and provincial governments. The agreement gave the Inuit self-government over 72,520 square kilometres of land in northern Labrador, to be known as Nunatsiavut. The provincial government formally apologized to the Inuit families it forcibly removed from Nutak and Hebron in the 1950s.

28 January 2005 Williams, Prime Minister Martin, and Nova Scotia Premier John Hamm reached a joint deal on the Atlantic Accords governing all east coast offshore oil developments. The arrangement was welcomed as a success. It guaranteed the province a minimum of $2.6 billion, including a $2-billion prepayment from Ottawa.

30 May 2005 Roger Grimes resigned from politics and Gerry Reid became leader of the provincial Liberal Party.

2 October 2005 News emerged that, in May 2005, the St. John's Eastern Health Authority had sent all tissue samples from breast cancer patients dating back to May 1997 to Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto for retesting. The move came after oncologists discovered inconsistent results in breast tumour samples.

12 November 2005 White Rose pumped first oil.

23 January 2006 Canadian voters elected a minority Conservative government led by Stephen Harper. During the campaign, Harper promised that any future changes to the equalization formula would not take money away from the province's oil revenues.

3 March 2006 Danny Williams debated the seal hunt with former Beatle Paul McCartney and Heather Mills (McCartney's then wife) on CNN's Larry King Live.

30 March 2006 The provincial budget forecast a $6.2-million surplus for the 2006-07 fiscal year. It also reported a $76.5-million surplus for the previous year, despite a projected deficit of $492.5 million in the 2005 budget. The improvement was driven largely by the offshore oil industry and revised Atlantic Accord.

3 April 2006 Talks to develop the Hebron oilfield broke off after a consortium of oil companies (Chevron, ExxonMobil, Petro-Canada, and Norway-based Norsk Hydro ASA) refused the province's demands for an equity stake in the project and a richer royalty regime than it negotiated for previous developments.

28 May 2006 Jack Harris resigned from provincial politics and was succeeded by Lorraine Michael as leader of the provincial New Democratic Party.

21 June 2006 Natural Resources Minister Ed Byrne resigned after a review by the Auditor General's office questioned financial irregularities within the provincial legislature.

22 June 2006 Auditor General John Noseworthy released a report on excess constituency allowance claims made by Byrne, and said he was also investigating two Liberal MHAs and one New Democrat. His findings escalated into what became known as the Newfoundland and Labrador Spending (or Audit) Scandal.

26 June 2006 Williams asked the Chief Justice of the provincial Supreme Court, Derek Green, to review the government's constituency allowance policies and recommend a revised system.

4 July 2006 The Auditor General released reports focusing on excess constituency allowance claims by three politicians - New Democrat MHA Randy Collins, Liberal MHA Wally Andersen, and former Liberal cabinet minister Jim Walsh. A police investigation later resulted in the convictions of Byrne, Collins, Andersen, and Walsh, as well as a civil servant, Bill Murray.

5 July 2006 Williams shuffled his cabinet in response to Noseworthy's investigation. Kathy Dunderdale replaced Byrne as Minister of Natural Resources, and Trevor Taylor took over her Innovation, Trade, and Retail Development portfolio.

19 July 2006 Noseworthy expanded his review to include constituency allowance expenditures between 1989 (the year they were introduced) and 2004. Williams also authorized him to conduct comprehensive audits from 1999 to 2004 - a period when the government barred the Auditor General from the legislature's accounts.

14 October 2006 Fearing that upcoming changes to the equalization formula might affect non-renewable resource revenues, Williams announced that if Prime Minister Harper reneged on his election promise to shelter oil royalties, the province would deliver "a big goose egg" to the Conservatives in the next federal election (meaning it would not elect any Conservative Members of Parliament). Harper had refused to support the province's bid for higher royalties in the Hebron negotiations, and rejected Williams's request for fallow-field legislation that would have compelled companies to develop offshore oilfields within a specified time or risk losing the property.

11 December 2006 The St. John's Eastern Health Authority announced 117 breast cancer patients received inaccurate test results between 1997 and 2005 and required a change in treatment. The number grew to almost 400 in the coming years.

19 March 2007 The federal government introduced a richer equalization system in its budget and forced Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia to choose between the new formula, which did not shelter offshore oil revenues, and their 2005 offshore agreements. Both provinces argued that Harper violated an election promise to keep oil and gas revenues out of equalization calculations. Williams and Nova Scotia Premier Rodney MacDonald demanded access to the new system without losing any petroleum revenues.

16 May 2007 More details emerged concerning flawed breast-cancer tests performed by the Eastern Health Authority between 1997 and 2005. At least 36 women who had incorrect test results had died.

17 May 2007 Williams announced that the province would establish a judicial commission of inquiry to determine how more than 300 women received incorrect screening results for breast cancer.

18 May 2007 The Eastern Health Authority apologized for failing to disclose that 317 women had received the wrong results from faulty breast cancer tests conducted between 1997 and 2005.

7 June 2007 Chief Justice Derek Green's report, Rebuilding Confidence, was released to the public. It criticized the legislature for a "broad-based systemic failure" in financial controls and made 80 recommendations to improve the system.

14 June 2007 Williams appointed provincial Supreme Court Judge Margaret Cameron to head the Commission of Inquiry on Hormone Receptor Testing. Cameron was scheduled to begin her work on 3 July 2007 and deliver her final report on 30 July 2008; the deadline was later extended to February 2009.

19 June 2007 Talks resumed between the province and oil companies concerning the development of the Hebron offshore project.

22 August 2007 Williams, Natural Resources Minister Kathy Dunderdale, and Nalcor CEO Ed Martin announced a Memorandum of Understanding between the province and a consortium of oil companies (ExxonMobil Canada, Chevron Canada, Petro Canada and Norsk Hydro Canada) to develop the Hebron offshore oilfield. The government negotiated a 4.9 per cent equity stake in the project, as well as an enhanced royalty regime that gives the province an additional 6.5 per cent royalty when monthly oil prices exceed $50 US.

12 September 2007 The government announced a deal with Husky Oil to develop White Rose's satellite fields. The arrangement included a five per cent equity stake for the province.

17 September 2007 A provincial election was called for 9 October 2007.