In an opinion piece in yesterday's Telegram, John Maher, the former mayor of Placentia, says that Premier Danny Williams's (right, CBC photo) verbal "assaults" on Fabian Manning are "very wrong", and must be devastating for his family to endure.
Maher is right. Manning is a Newfoundlander. He is one of us. Yet, some people have taken to calling him a "traitor", "Judas" and "quisling" (a traitor who collaborates with an occupying force).
Politics in Newfoundland and Labrador are heated and vitriolic, but this is something different. Something despicable. It turns my stomach.
One group, comfortably ensconced within the majority, has taken to condemning those they oppose as traitors', a crime that was punishable by death up until 1961. It's pretty much the nastiest thing you can say about someone.
How far are we from smashing the windows of these traitors, burning crosses on their lawns and cutting them down with machetes?
Yes, I am exaggerating to make a point. But consider this: most atrocities begin with one segment of society singling out another as conniving, treasonous or inferior. I just wish we'd tone it back a little, and stop saying hateful things in the name of scoring cheap political points.
Just read some of the things that have been said lately.
Bill Westcott, writing in The Compass, referred to "traitors Norm Doyle, Loyola Hearn and Fabian Manning."
Peter Whittle, in his Polemic and Paradox blog, wrote, "The Premier is right, Manning is a traitor."
There was also the CBC Radio Morning Show debate, in which a Margaret Swinamer asked Fabian Manning when he decided to become a traitor to his constituents. I take heart in the fact that Randy Dawe of the NDP stepped up, saying, "in all fairness, Mr. Manning is not a traitor to the people of this province." The audience applauded Dawe's statement, which is also encouraging. It seems that many of us are indeed troubled that our politics have become so hateful and intolerant. (You can hear the full exchange here, in podcast form.)
I ask the people who utter these slurs: would they just as quickly lean over their fence and call their neighbour a traitor or a quisling? If so, what else would they do? How many nutjobs are taking their cue from this poison? How far are they from actually causing harm?
Where do we place the blame for this? Right at the feet of our "leader", Danny Williams, who was one of the first to use the term. Here's what he said in The Telegram in June of 2007.
"I can't control traitors. People who betray their province, I have no control over that. All I can continue to do is fight the good fight and I will right up until the federal election..."
That is not responsible leadership. The premier's intemperate remark created a climate in which it is acceptable and commonplace to use the word "traitor" on our fellow citizens.
Me, I have always been proud never ashamed of Newfoundland and Labrador. But this new sense of "pride" that the premier claims to have awakened in this province? It has a cost.
And I don't buy it.
Frankly, it scares me.
In his opinion piece, John Maher complained about how the premier works to "demonize anyone who expresses an opposing viewpoint."
This, too, is part of the problem. The premier's attacks on whoever dares oppose him are vicious, personal and excessive.
"There is something seriously wrong with what is happening to any person who falls out of grace with the premier of our province," Maher wrote. "There is something very wrong when people are called upon to destroy the character of their friends and there is certainly something very wrong when they readily agree to do so.
"The biggest question that needs to be asked in all of this, I think, is why are the rest of us tolerating and supporting it?"
John Maher is not the only opinion leader to speak up on this issue. No less a luminary than Rex Murphy, writing in The Globe and Mail, has said that 'Danny boy has gone too far'. You should read the entire column, but here's a snippet:
"There are only two ways of doing politics now: Mr. Williams's way, or no way at all. Those who cross him, in what he sees as "Newfoundland's interests," are given short shrift, and none too subtly derided as working against Newfoundland. This was a Smallwood turn, and the least attractive aspect of his quite mixed political qualities"
"This "standing up for Newfoundland" palaver is best administered in small doses, if at all. And it never fits the mouth of the person doing the "standing up." Furthermore, a difference of opinion, a clash of party interests, should never be categorized as a clash of patriotism. There is a jingoism of small places as well as of large. And Newfoundland is more susceptible to it than most. Newfoundlanders are ferociously fond of Newfoundland, but that very affection can play havoc with our judgment and our politics."
On the day Rex Murphy's column appeared, there was, of course, some agitated calls to VOCM Open Line.
One of them fingered Murphy as "another Judas."