Tag Archives: Newfoundland and Labrador politics

2016 – The Year Newfoundland Separatism Died

When you talk of separatism in Canada, most Canadians think of Quebec, but there has always been a smaller, but no less passionate, separatism sentiment in Newfoundland. (I am excluding Labrador on purpose; when someone in Labrador talks about separation, they talk about separating from Newfoundland, not from Canada). For the first fifty years or so after confederation when we were perennially the poorest and least respected province in the country, there was always a group who would argue that if we are going to be poor, we might as well be poor on our own than controlled by Canada. After the cod fishery collapsed, separatist sentiment spiked as people blamed Ottawa for mismanagement of the cod stocks, even though the federal government stepped in with a rather generous compensation program during the moratorium.

When oil and oil revenues surged a decade ago and have not finally did become no more, with the province becoming a contributor rather than a recipient of equalization, there were many who started to think that separation from Canada might be a viable. A very public battle with two successive prime ministers that lead to Danny Williams taking down the Canadian flag at the confederation building served to further inflame the small but growing separatist sentiment. Though there was no organized separatist organization, you could not sit at a bar anywhere on the island for any amount of time before you would hear people talking about how we would be better off if we were our own country. Then came 2016.

If you sit at a bar these days, you won’t hear anyone complaining about Ottawa. You will hear people arguing of whether Dwight Ball, Kathy Dunderdale, or Danny Williams is responsible for the mess we find ourselves in, but nationalists and federalists alike agree that we have made the bed we are currently lying in. You would have to spend a lot of time at a lot of bars before you’d come across someone arguing that we would be better off with Prime Minister Ball instead of Premier Ball.

Newfoundland separatism was always based more on emotion than logic. The fact is there is strength in numbers. Being part of a large, diverse country means lowers the risk of being obliterated by a downturn in a particular industry. The next time you complain about the hit that the Canadian dollar has taken in the past year, take a moment to think how the Newfoundland dollar would have fared during that same timeframe.

2016 has been a rough year; taxes are up, the economy is struggling, and a lot of people are worried about losing their jobs, but if there is a silver lining is that the threat of a viable separatist movement developing in this province has been extinguished forever. If we were to hold a referendum this summer, Commission of Government would get more votes than Responsible Government.

Voters Are More Hypocritical and Dishonest Than Politicians

Politicians get a lot of well-earned criticism for being dishonest and hypocritical. Here in Newfoundland and Labrador, we have just witnessed Liberal MHAs defend cuts to libraries that they called shameful a few years ago when the PCs made cuts of their own Meanwhile the PCs  have criticized the Liberals for not doing enough to limit patronage appointments even though they seemed to have no issue with appointing PC supporters to patronage positions while they were in power. Amid all the scorn being heaped on politicians of all stripes in the province, one MHA caused a stir last week when he suggested that everyone in the province, not just the government, shares some responsibility for the mess we are in. He is absolutely right.

Voters are more hypocritical and dishonest than any MHA. How many of the people you hear bemoaning the fact that government wasn’t more frugal with public finances were calling into open line shows a few short years ago complaining about their income tax cut? Did you ever hear a public sector worker suggest that maybe it would be more prudent to get a smaller raise and put some money into a heritage fund for a rainy day?

When governments do their public consultations, how many people do you think show up and suggest that the government should spend less money or increase taxes? And of those who do, how many actually propose spending cuts or tax increases that would affect them? Nobody who works for the government is going to suggest spending less money and anyone who suggests increasing taxes is only going to want the increases for people who make more money than them.

Since last fall, the price of oil has actually been rising steadily, and there is reason to be optimistic that in the second half of the Liberal mandate the economy and oil royalties will be strong enough that the government will actually have some money to be spent again. You might think that after seeing firsthand the pain that can result from spending too much when times are good during an oil boom that voters will be encouraging the government to be cautious about increasing spending too quickly, but you would be wrong.

If the Liberal government wants to get re-elected in 2019 they will need to spend every cent of increased oil revenues they have. After attacking the PCs for not doing enough to save for a rainy day, some in the Liberal Party might have some reservations about doing the exact same thing they accused the PCs of, particularly when they have already broken so many promises in the last campaign, but they will have no worries about a voter backlash. Voters only get upset about government hypocrisy when they are taking money away, not when they are spreading it around.

Your Criticism is Welcome but Please Spare Us the Condescension

After friendliness, the second most distinguishing characteristic of Newfoundlanders is their sensitivity to criticism. We haven’t forgiven the Globe and Mail for allegedly publishing some columns a couple decades ago that took a sceptical view of the federal government’s involvement in the Hibernia project. Rod Stewart went from our favourite international rock star to a pariah when he said that he didn’t wear that sealskin coat on purpose. I’ve always thought that the “everyone on the mainland is out to get us” mentality is a little overblown and we should stop being so touchy when it comes to criticism, so when I came across an article the other day in the National Post about how the solution to Atlantic Canada’s problems is for the rest of Canada to start telling us no, I really did approach it with an open mind.

This was without a doubt the single most condescending article I have ever read. It reinforced every negative stereotype of mainlanders who look at us as helpless beggars completely unable to look after ourselves without the benevolent guidance of Ottawa. It is interesting that one of the two co-authors is actually from PEI, because it shows how there really isn’t an Atlantic Canada. There is the Maritimes and there is Newfoundland and Labrador. We have more in common with Alberta than we do with New Brunswick, and people in the Maritimes can be as dismissive of this province as someone from Ontario.

It is too bad that the article was so condescending, because the authors did have some valid points to make. Our public sector is disproportionately large compared to our private sector and our government is spending more money than it takes in, but we already know that. We may not have a plan to deal with that at the moment, but our government has assured us they have a plan to come up with a plan to address that issue at some point in the not too distant future.

Any valid points made by these authors were completely overshadowed by their failure to acknowledge that Newfoundland and Labrador has not received any equalization payments in seven years while Ontario has been receiving equalization for the past six years. And since they were discussing subsidies, they probably should have at least acknowledged the huge tax breaks and subsidies that the auto sector has received in Ontario as well as the enormous economic subsidy that the province receives by having such a disproportionate number of federal government workers in Ontario. It would have also been nice if they could have made at least a passing reference to some of the high profile examples of corruption and mismanagement that has occurred in places like Quebec and Ontario in the past decade.

My point is not that people in the rest of Canada should stop writing anything critical about Newfoundland and Labrador. Criticism is good; it helps you get better. The best managed companies in the world hold all their managers accountable and expose them to constructive criticism. The key point though is that they use objective and constructive criticism. They realize that while frank criticism is healthy, condescending and insulting criticism is counterproductive. We are facing a lot of challenges in Newfoundland and Labrador these days, so feel free to offer any suggestions or criticisms you might have, but please, spare us the condescension.

A Ranking of the Top #nlpoli Twitter Accounts

  1. David Cochrane (@CochraneCBCNL)

The highest profile political affairs reporter in the province and one of, if not the most, well connected. An important caveat here is that I like football and have young children, so I don’t mind that 40% of his tweets are about football and kids. If you hate football (the real football, not the kind where all the players kick the ball with their feet) and/or children, then you might want to avoid this feed. For such a high profile personality, Cochrane is quite interactive with his followers, and is also surprisingly, and sometimes comically, eager to gobble up the bait from trolling followers. If you want to interact with a local TV personality, just tweet him something about how his favourite football team is full of domestic abusers or call him a shill for the Liberals or the PCs, or better yet, NL Hydro, and you are sure to get a response. His place at the top of this list was secured when he recently finished off a back and forth with Con O’Brien by telling him that the Rattlin Bog sucked. We need more of that from political analysts.

  1. Mark Critch (@markcritch)

The long-time comedian has recently started doing political commentary for the CBC and has become a fresher, funnier version of Scott Feshuk. Macleans should hire him.  Though I suspect all employees of the CBC despise Stephen Harper his tweets generally don’t display any bias towards any particular party; just against Paul Calandra, who he considers a tool. His CBC columns, though meant to be funny, generally make some intelligent points.

  1. Paddy Daly (@VOCMOpenline)

About half of his tweets are about how much he detests his twitter followers, so try not take it personally. His tweets often have no context whatsoever as he is tweeting as if his followers are standing next to him, which is strange since he doesn’t appear to like his followers, so be prepared for odd “ugh”, or “terrible”, with absolutely no follow-up. You do get some good candid and feisty tweets on this feed, and for those who dislike mindless partisans, he isn’t just non-partisan, but generally sends a half dozen tweets a day reminding everyone how pathetic he considers these people.

  1. James McLeod (@TelegramJames)

Imagine a Globe and Mail columnist from Toronto moving to St. John’s and tweeting fifty times a day about provincial affairs and you have this twitter feed. Of all the local reporters who are not from here, he is the most obviously not from here. Intelligent and sometimes slightly snarky tweets. Produces a respectable amount of exclusive interviews with politicians, news coverage, and columns. If you hate baseball, you might want to wait until November to follow him.

  1. Dan MacEachern (@DanMacEachern)

Full-time municipal affairs reporter for the Telegram and occasional pan-handler. Lively feed with some candid and intelligent opinions but handicapped by having to cover the St. John’s city council, which has become shamefully boring since Andy Wells stepped down as mayor. Who would have thought back when John Murphy, Andy Wells, and Shannie Duff were on council that we’d ever live to see a day when Toronto had more interesting municipal politics. When Dennis O’Keefe’s rein of blandness finally comes to an end and the city gets the lunatic mayor it rightly deserves this will probably become the top political feed out there.

  1. Anthony Germain (@AnthonyGermain)

A healthy dose of political coverage mixed in with the usual morning show general interest stories. Though he’s generally cheerful on the radio or filling in on the evening news, he has a surprisingly sharp edge to him on Twitter, and unlike most of the other prominent TV and Radio personalities is not hesitant to go after politicians directly. He’s gotten a number of sharp elbowed exchanges with local bloggers and politicians.

  1. Peter Cowan (@PeterCBC)

Political reporter who is the primary on the ground CBC rep for most political events. Provides the most up close coverage of political happenings but not a lot of exclusives or anonymously sourced political gossip. He is not from the province and when he first came here he was in Goose Bay, so he has not had a lot of time to build a network of sources around the Confederation building. That will likely change in the coming years. Injects plenty of personality in his tweets but avoids anything controversial. No doubt he is trying to stay out of trouble as he positions himself to take David Cochrane’s job once he gets promoted to the national CBC.

  1. Fred Hutton (@Fred_Hutton)

Has been in the local news for decades and is as well connected as anyone, so he’ll break some news and get the interviews with all the politicians. If you want to focus on politics then disable his retweets as he’ll retweet most everything from the VOCM Twitter feed. A little too professional for my tastes as he never injects any personal opinions in his tweets. It’s great that he’s not biased but a dash of personal opinion would help. Would love to see him pick a fight with a local politician sometime.