‘Mean-Spirited:’ Christmas Tree Tension Erupts Between City, Former N.L. Premier

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Danny Williams leaves the Colonial Building in St. John’s on Friday, Dec. 3, 2010 following the swearing in of Kathy Dunderdale as premier of Newfoundland and Labrador. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Daly

Former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Danny Williams is accusing the City of St. John’s of taking Christmas away from the residents of a subdivision he developedon the city’s outskirts.

Williams says that just as he did last year, he recently installed a 10-metre Christmas tree in the centre of a traffic roundabout in the Galway subdivision, which was developed by his company DewCor.

 

But this year, he says the city took issue with the tree, requiring that he take out an insurance policy and asking him to keep it unlit due to traffic concerns.

In a statement emailed Wednesday, city staff in the transportation engineering department say they’re open to considering other locations for the tree in Galway that don’t interfere with an intersection.

Meanwhile, the neighbouring city of Mount Pearl has offered to give the tree a proper home with lights, and Williams says the tree will be delivered there within the next two days.

“All’s well that ends well,” Williams said in an interview. “It’s going to the neighbouring city of Mount Pearl, and to be quite honest with you, if Galway could be part of Mount Pearl, that would be my choice.”

In another statement emailed Wednesday, Kevin Breen, the St. John’s city manager says the tree went up last year without a permit, and he reiterated that the issue is with the proposed location of the tree.

“There is a concern with its illumination in the middle of a busy roundabout due to driver distraction,” Breen said.

Williams says he spent around $14,000 last year to install a permanent power source for the tree in the roundabout.

He said the tree wasn’t exactly inconspicuous last year — there was a tree-lighting ceremony with hot chocolate and carollers — and if the city had a problem about a permit or about traffic considerations, they had ample opportunity to make it known.

He said the twinkling tree didn’t cause any traffic accidents and pointed to the Christmas lights the city puts up along some its busiest streets each holiday season.

Williams butted heads with the City St. John’s a number of times during the development of the Galway subdivision. When asked if he felt the city’s pushback about the tree was personal, he said he wasn’t sure what to think.

“I don’t see any logical reason why they would do this. There’s no common sense,” he said. “Especially at this time of the year. It’s mean-spirited.”

Williams said if Mount Pearl plans a lighting ceremony for the displaced Galway Christmas tree, he would be “delighted” to attend.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 2, 2020.

Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press

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