Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Newfoundland pins on a map

“In regions throughout our province, our fisheries have the potential of sustaining many hundreds, and surely thousands, of people in rewarding careers.”

— Lieutenant-governor John Crosbie in his Monday, March 21st Speech from the Throne.


How many NLers exactly can the fisheries support?

In 1972, Dr. Parzival Copes, who began Memorial University’s economics department in the ’50s, wrote a bombshell report on the fishery entitled The Resettlement of Fishing Communities in Newfoundland.

He said the fishery was unsustainable, and recommended an immediate vast out-migration of NLers — up to half the population — to other parts of Canada as the only realistic solution.

“The basic problem was not that the fishery was unsustainable ... there were lots of fish resources, and they were valuable,” Copes said in a 2006 interview.

“The problem was Newfoundland had high unemployment rates and the fishery was being used as an employer of last resort. So they were stuffing people into the fishery and it meant catches per fishermen were low, and incomes were low, and also that the government had to support the fishing industry, which in terms of employment was the major employer in Newfoundland.”

Copes was savaged in the local press.

The Evening Telegram went so far as to compare resettlement to the Nazi's relocation of the Jews.

Yet time has proven the accuracy of his observations and conclusions.


The following column was written by Ray Guy for The Independent newspaper in November 2006.

I don’t know what would happen if some academic suggested the population of Manitoba or PEI be chopped in half.

But some of us do recall the ruckshuns here when Dr. Parzival Copes, formerly Memorial University’s head of economics, made the same modest proposal regarding our own dear isle.

Shit flew. Copes, who recently received Canada’s top gong, still blinks like an owl in a lightening storm about his Newfoundland experience.

Surely, all he did was cast his pearls before swine.

In 1972, Copes delivered a report on the future of the fishery and economy of Newfoundland.

His conclusion was chastely simple: half the population, 250,000, would just have to skedaddle.

Seems some simple. Reduce Newfoundlanders by half. The best place for 50 per cent of Newfoundlanders, according to Copes, was elsewhere.

He was as scanty on his ideas as to what 250,000 of us would actually do “elsewhere” as he was self sanctified in his conclusions that half of us had to jump ship and start rowing.

Copes, with the sharp eye and beak of a vulture, ripped into the notion of “conventional wisdom,” professed astonishment that his dictum struck any knots at all and then skittered off to British Columbia with all the smug satisfaction of a six-month-old with a full diaper … all of my own work.

Lo, after many a long year, Copes reaps a headline in the local press.

Well, he got the Order of Canada. He once worked in Newfoundland. Stirred up a little fuss while he was here, didn’t he?

We now have his own word on it: how right I was. How great I am. How wrong they were.

He must have been greatly encouraged and felt rather redeemed when, last year, Memorial University of Newfoundland gave him an honourary degree … when only these few decades ago he scarpered with sharp sticks to his bum.

In 1994, Copes was given a prize for “controversy” from Simon Fraser University.

He rather rolled around in the catnip of the fuss he had created in Newfoundland.

There is no slacking in the arrogance we once knew and loved: “From my position, I have the satisfaction,” he says, “of seeing my research vindicated and my credibility restored ... and of being amused by the hyperbole with which national magazines now identify me as a brilliant prognosticator.

“Of course, I take no pleasure in being proven right at the expense of the fishers of Newfoundland, who are the prime victims of the collective reliance on a conventional wisdom that has long outlived its usefulness.”

He then proceeds, in typical Copesian fashion, to say that while the great economists of the nation all agreed with him they were quite content to let him bear the Newfoundland cross alone.

Oh, Parzi, what a piece of work you were and are!

Today, with Newfoundland’s population dropping and thousands lined up around the block for something, anything, out west I wouldn’t venture a guess as to Copes’ current hat size.

It wasn’t his face. It wasn’t his name. It wasn’t altogether his manner.

But if I had to choose between someone who regarded human beings as little more than pins on our map and some oily politicians willing to ruin the fishery on behalf of their own sorry skins … I would have no hesitation in choosing the greaseball politician.

Beware the specialist, the single-focused expert, the one-tune scholar.

How will dear Parzival preen himself if and when, by hook or by crook, there really are only 250,000 left in Newfoundland?

Any fool can sneer at “conventional wisdom” and play the self-appointed role of bad boy by, let us say, declaring that half the population of Canada must scatter to the U.S.

Who can make some dust fly by doing so and sit smug in his impish ways?

Today, Newfoundland is bleeding population. The Williams administration won’t touch the subject with a 10-foot Parzival. The stink still lingers from “resettlement” which some might say had to be done even at the cost of gutting a generation.

Back in time, Smallwood put Colonel Alston on the job. The late George Story always claimed they arrived here as a pair, Alston and Bolston.

But the Colonel’s last job before he stuck into the good work in Newfoundland was in “resettling” the thousands of European refugees after the Second World War.

Strictly a “pins in the map” man was Alston as was Copes, who turned up on his heels.

You can see how we were all a little gun-shy in the early 1970s after Alston lined up his moving barges and Copes reported that, wait, moving them from the islands was only child’s play — moving half them off the island of Newfoundland is the more sophisticated thing to do.

Today, when what used to be called “moving fever” is again in the air over Newfoundland, we’d do worse than remember the theories and times of both Alston and Copes and learn something.

Let us not, as Copes scornfully proposes, give up on conventional wisdom altogether.

We’ve been done over by “experts” and need not call in others to bomb us until the wreckage bounces.


I make no comparison but the U.S. of A grabbed the Nazi rocket scientist, Werner von Braun. He gave the U.S. some really great rockets but not “conventional wisdom” to go along with them.

There was a ditty: “I make zem go up. Who knows vere zey come down? Zat is not my concern,” says Werner Von Braun.

1 comment:

Ursula said...

A quote from Nietzsche “That which does not kill us makes us stronger “, should be written as an epitaph for each and every Newfoundlander and Labradorian . We are a good people with a long, long history of neglect and abuse . We have fought the good fight , often without any help from the very people we trusted and elected to secure our very futures . Lest we Forget Beaumont Hamel ,we must also remember the day-to-day struggles of the ordinary people . It was their tenacity and hard work , that paved the way for our lifestyles today .