Monday, April 25, 2016

Revolt of the bologna republic


I am grateful to the Dwight Ball Liberals for their most recent budget — not for the content, on that front the new government is a bitter disappointment, so oblivious to the financial pulse — but for the public reaction the document has provoked.
There’s life in us yet. 

I haven’t heard/seen Newfoundlanders and Labradorians this pissed off — ever. 

The challenge now is to turn the anger into real change, because, in case it isn’t obvious, the status quo is slowing killing us. 

Newfoundlanders — “true” ones anyway, as the song goes— have a reputation for ranting and roaring, but that’s a lie.

We are a people easily pacified. We’ve lived most of our 500-plus years hand-to-mouth, barely eking out an existence from the land and sea, and, generally speaking, we take what little we’re given, and kiss the hand that offers it. 

There have been exceptions, when our blood boiled over: the 1932 Colonial Building riot, the fuss over Confederation, and the cod moratorium. 

We stood up then and were counted (even if the final numbers were lacking).

Only the ’32 riot, in which the Prime Minister of the day, Sir Richard Squires, barely made it out alive (some reports had him disguised as a woman), led to Newfoundland surrendering her democracy the very next year. We had lost faith in our ability to govern ourselves. My late Grandmother was among the 10,000-strong mob and was not impressed that the liquor stores (and not the grocery stores) were plundered. 

Fifteen years later and the question of Confederation stirred the pot, and Newfoundlanders were lured away by the mother of all nets — Canada’s social security system. We weren’t brought in, so much as bought in (many with bells on). That, and lack of confidence after years of being a ward of the UK state under Commission Government made us vulnerable to the snake-oil pitch. 

While there was a flash of anger in ’92 when John Crosbie announced the northern cod ban (anger at the $225-a-week in immediate relief), billions of dollars in federal welfare soon quelled that mob. The only substantive change in fisheries management since then has been the elimination of the double-hook jigger. The disrespect shown to our fishery is legend. 

And now we’re on our feet again, shaking fists at Dwight et al. 

Yes the Tories spent us into the current mess we’re in, but I can’t help but sympathize — we never had money before and didn’t know how to handle the billions showered upon us. I don’t recall a single complaint over a government job posting or paved road over the years that the cash poured in. (Hold on — there was the Humber Valley paving scandal, involving an anointed Tory leader and millions of taxpayers’ dollars — but I’m talking actual road work, no complaints about that. Scandals are a dime a dozen here.) 
Next time we have money (Please God there’s a next time), things will be different.

Our economic engine must be rebuilt to work without oil, while, at the same time, praying for at least one more prolonged boost in the price of a barrel to fund our moving-on expenses.

Yes the Dwight knights inherited a financial mess, but their plan to slay the deficit dragon also pounds the piss out of the peasants they’re sworn to protect. The Liberal antidote is as bad or worse than the Tory poison. Voters expect politicians to break promises, but not to spit in their face while they’re at it.

So here we stand, with Russell Wangersky, leading columnist at the province’s largest daily advising us to “get out if you can.” 

He’s either given up hope (and burnt himself out), or deliberately poking the Newfoundland and Labrador bear. (Thanks for that, by the way.)

The changes that we must fight for now are not just in budget choices (which, experts warn, will lead to personal bankruptcies ), but an overthrow of the status quo.

The Finance minister accused the Opposition Tories of weaving a “tapestry of bologna” in their criticism of the budget, but the well-to-do minister herself wouldn’t know a stick of bologna if Ronald McDonald swung it like a baton. By the time all the new taxes are in effect, people won't be able to afford Potted Meat, let alone bologna.  

The revolt has begun, the Revolt of the Bologna Republic.

Newfoundland and Labrador will never prosper until it controls its three main resources: fish, oil and gas, and hydro. Battles must be waged with respect to fisheries management; the continuation of the Upper Churchill contract and future power transmission through Quebec; as well as the ownership of offshore oil and gas reserves.

As it stands, we control none. Even the Atlantic Accord is supposed to make us the principle beneficiary of our offshore resources — and we are not. 

We are not now, and have never been, masters of our own destiny. Danny Williams raised the possibility, but the follow through went nowhere. 

As for today’s political realities, the three provincial parties can never truly represent the best interests of our people as long as they’re tied to the federal parties. 

Newfoundland and Labrador’s best interests too often do not align with those of the Maritimes or the rest of the country. I’ve seen that first hand. 

Dwight Ball cannot represent out best interests as long as he’s in loving lock-step with Justin Trudeau. That can’t work. 

Our political system does not allow MHAs or MPs to speak their minds, to stray from the official party line. As a Member of Parliament, the thing I missed most from my life before politics was freedom.  

That system will be our undoing. 

Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures. The time has come for a Newfoundland and Labrador party, similar to Alberta’s Wildrose, the Saskatchewan Party, or even Quebec’s Parti Québécois. 

Comparable in that the mandate of the new party must be to represent Newfoundland and Labrador’s best interests — always, and above all else. 

That sort of change isn’t easy — indeed, it would take a monumental effort — but the fire begins with a spark. 

And, thankfully, we have another one now. 

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