Friday, February 26, 2016

'I'm not a separatist, but it may be time to leave'

The following is my opening statement from a debate today (Feb. 26th) on NL nationalism or nationhood, as organized by Memorial University’s Political Science Student Society, and Political Science Department.  

I’m going to read you an excerpt from a letter to the editor that was published in the April 25th, 1928 edition of the Corner Brook Western Star.

Once I’m done, I want you to guess who wrote the letter.

“Why should Newfoundland enter the Confederation with Canada? What possible good would it do us? Politically it would submerge us underneath a weight of strongly organized, well-knit Provincial groupings that know what they want and how to get it. 
In a parliament at Ottawa which is bossed, controlled and dominated by the Western block, the Ontario bloc, and the Quebec Bloc, what earthly chance would Newfoundland have of being heard or of being given any attention? 
Under these conditions Newfoundland would be like the flea on Noah’s ark, “Said the flea to the elephant, ‘Who are you shoving?’
Let us spurn this Confederation talk, fellow Newfoundlanders! We posses the men of brains who can govern this country, and transform it into a happy, prosperous, developing Island, with its chin held high, its eyes unafraid, its heart beating rythmetically. Have faith in Newfoundland, give the governing of the island over to our best sons, as we will very soon silence the calamity howlers and visionless croakers."

Who wrote that 1928 letter to the editor?

None other than J.R. Smallwood, who, 21 years later, would become the final Father of Confederation.

Here’s a Smallwood quote from the Newfoundland Convention (between 1946 and 48), to decide our fate after years of Commission Government. 

“Our danger, so it seems to me, is that of nursing delusions of grandeur. We remember the stories of small states that valiantly preserved their national independence and developed their own proud culture, but we tend to overlook the fact that comparison of Newfoundland with them is ludicrous. We are not a nation. We are merely a medium size municipality, a mere miniature borough of a large city.”

Big change in Smallwood from 1928 and '49.

The question being asked today: “What relevance is nationalism or nationhood for Newfoundland to contemporary politics?”

My answer is this: Contemporary politics here in Newfoundland and Labrador involves being back to square one — We’re broke. 

There’s even public talk about possible bankruptcy, that’s how bad things are. 

Square 1 for me is 1933 when Newfoundland was in desperate financial straits — broke — and we voluntarily surrendered our democracy in favour of Commission Government. 

Nationalism or nationhood is absolutely relevant today, it’s relevant to explore whether Newfoundland and Labrador would be better off on our own in terms of the Upper Churchill contract and hydro in general, in terms of the fishery, and in terms of oil and gas.

I’m not a separatist, but it may be time to leave. 

Just on the Upper Churchill contract alone, the contract expires this year, on Aug. 31, and then an automatic renewal clause kicks in for 25 years more years  — when we will make even less from the contract than we did over the first 44 years.

To quote Vic Young, former chairman and CEO of Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro (he also headed the 2003 Royal Commission into our place in Canada): “How can a collective vision for Canada exist when one of our nation’s richest hydro resources produces huge returns for Quebec, while Newfoundland, as the owner of that resource, receives virtually no benefit?

“Who could imagine a situation where Alberta was forced to sell its oil to British Columbia, which in turn gained hundreds of millions of dollars in annual benefits from the subsequent resale of Alberta’s oil to the United States?”

I can imagine it — it’s the case with hydro and the relationship between Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec. 

To quote the late Geoff Stirling on the Upper Churchill contract:  “There’s nothing intellectually honest about this deal on the Upper Churchill. If you’re living in a Confederation that says ‘No, we will not renegotiate anything. It’s frozen, it’s frozen, we have no sympathy … if you’re thinking that is the kind of country we want to be part of you’re thinking wrong.”

That’s just hydro. We also have fundamental problems in terms of the fishery, and offshore oil and gas. 

So, I’m not a separatist — although I most definitely considered it at one point — but we should look at separating. We’ve be foolish, irresponsible not to. All cards must be on the table. 

The concept of Nationalism or nationhood is absolutely relevant in terms of straight up dollars and cents alone. 

Would we be better off — yes or no. 

Premier Dwight Ball says the financial circumstance we find ourselves in are unprecedented

Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures. 

I am not a separatist, but we should absolutely look at separating. 

Nationalism, nationhood is absolutely relevant.

1 comment:

Patrick said...

All this talk of separation is just fodder for the open-line hosts who will milk it for what it's worth. It's good for VOCM ratings but adds nothing
remotely resembling a serious debate. When times get tough our default position is always to find a scapegoat. It's Ottawa's fault or Quebec's fault or the foreigners destroying our fishery. People who contend we would be better off on our own have no understanding or appreciation of our political and economic history. The current fiscal straits we find ourselves in is due to government mis-management pure and simple. They did not allow for the inevitable downturn in the price of oil. They spent like drunken sailors, as if the good times would last for ever. It was our government that would have its way on Muskrat Falls come hell or high water. The building of a railway in our little country was a main cause of our bankruptcy in the 20th Century. Muskrat Falls may very well do the same in the 21st Century. A good thing we have Ottawa to back-stop us and not some stingy commission of government. The cause of our travails is not to be found in confederation with Canada; on the contrary, to quote Shakespeare, " the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves that we are underlings."