We continually hear about the ways and means that Newfoundland an Labrador is ill treated by the feds, other provinces, of our lack of ability to get just rewards for our resources, the lack of concern for our near dead fishery and about each new tactic that will curtail development of our vast hydro potential. We have to wonder why we tolerate this abuse. It appears that once again we have been cut adrift.
A recent article in the Globe and Mail, entitled “What Newfoundland can teach us”, reminded me that our history is one of being used and abused by all and sundry; oftentimes even our own. This article suggests our experience in the thirties has been a case study for no less prestigious academics, than those at Harvard and MarylandUniversity. They cite “Newfoundland’s spectacular decline and fall as a cautionary tale laden with sombre lessons for a global economy that persists in going deeper into debt.”
We were punished then with the loss of our democracy. It appears that we are now being punished for our aspirations.
There is no more vivid example of what we have to endure than a crossing on Marine Atlantic; the only way out of the province for most. Don DiCesare recently wrote a very interesting column, in which he suggested that the biggest problem lies in the attitude of those who manage and operate the service: I couldn’t agree more.
Never in my extensive travels have I encountered a more arrogant and dismissive service. I dared question why, as a single person, I needed to purchase a cabin with four berths and couldn’t purchase just a single berth. It is done all over the world, even on Via Rail. The cost of such a cabin is higher than the government rate for a room at the QueenElizabethHotel in Montreal. At my suggestion that they obviously aren’t interested in making money, the response was “if we sell you a cabin with four berths and you use only one we only have to clean one and we make lots of money.” Needless to say I was not impressed!
A senior staff member told me that this is the way it is and it can’t be changed. It appears their operational plan was written in stone, perhaps in the fine print under the Ten Commandments. “Thou shalt not question authority, especially of those who run Marine Atlantic.” If you do voice your displeasure; expect to be threatened with security!
The attitude of Marine Atlantic is only a symptom of a much broader malaise. Where else in the developed world would people accept such diminishment, other than Newfoundland? Newfoundlanders have to take a long hard look within themselves. We have historically and still continually accept such treatment. We have proven we are as good as the best, academically and otherwise. Ontario and other provinces have been enriched by Newfoundland’s talent and labour. Alberta’s Tar Sands have been the beneficiary of this province’s skills and a work ethic second to none. In my travels I have discovered fellow Newfoundlanders contributing to the well being of those in other countries.
Yet, in our “homeland” we continue to receive abuse and the crumbs of those who would use our resources and people.
We achieved “have status” by sheer dint of determination, hard work and against the odds. Not that anything has changed by this feat, with unemployment at seventeen percent, the necessity for our young to leave for work and most of our outports in dire straits: many gasping for survival.
This is perhaps the price of dependence on colonial masters past and present; apparently, we only have traded one for another in 1949.
The Globe article said that in 1933 “the oldest parliament in the British Empire, after Westminster, was abolished and a form of dictatorship was imposed on 280,000 English-speaking people who had known 78 years of direct democracy”. The dictate of Canadian policy has scuttled our fishery, confiscated our Labrador hydro, diminished once proud people to dependence on make work programs and exiled many far from home. It will eventually force the closure of most of our outport communities.
Our current “have status”, perhaps is not what one of our former premiers had in mind when he campaigned under the slogan “some day the sun will shine and have not will be no more”. With the exception of St John’s and area, most of the province is withering and appears to be perishing by default, as they are thrown only the scraps from our vast resources.
Yes, we do have an attitude problem, and it’s not only within Marine Atlantic, it within ourselves. Few other Canadians, nor people in other developed countries, would accept the kind of second rate status and abuse that we continually are dealt.
There are traces of our growing intolerance, as in the protests against health care cuts and people were able to sway those that would control.
But, we still await the imaginary leader, who will right all the wrongs and correct all the inequities. It is perhaps why we accepted in 1933 dictatorship over democracy. It’s maybe why we sit and wait while our resources are depleted and stolen. Perhaps, it is the hope that someone will come along and sort it out for us and all will be right and we will really be “have”.
The Globe article ended with this poignant note: “Newfoundland’s political economy isn’t really the stuff of legend. It’s more the stuff of parable”. Must we once again abandon our aspirations for the dictate of colonial masters? The option is to accept a fate others would impose and be secure in a future which has been our past; or instead, accept our much greater destiny, and its responsibilities: its achievement only requires belief in our collective self!
Written by Bill Pardy,
December 8th, 2008