Portrait of a Traitor

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Accusations of betrayal
are making me sick

You already know how I feel about this subject. I wrote a rather emotional commentary about it back in October 2008.

And you also know that our premier has done it again. He has accused Mark Griffin, a lawyer in Grand Falls-Windsor, of betraying his people.

This started when Griffin wrote a letter to the editor of The Advertiser, asking some probing and tough questions about the closure of the AbitibiBowater paper mill. (I commented recently on that letter as well.)

On February 21, in a story in Saturdays Telegram, Premier Williams dismissed some of Griffins questions, and ignored most others. Then, he did what he always does in these situations: attacked the messenger, accusing Griffin of having political motives.

It's really unfortunate when one of our own comes out and betrays us like that, Williams told The Telegram.

By betraying us, Griffin is, in effect, another traitor to the province. Thats a terrible thing to call anyone. But when it comes from the most-quoted person in Newfoundland and Labrador, the head of government in our legislative assembly, its a comment worthy of closer scrutiny. What does it mean, when an elected premier accuses a private citizen of betraying his people?

And who exactly is this traitor? I sent out a few messages last week, inquiring along these lines, and corresponded with someone who grew up on the same street as Griffin. This individual, who has known Griffin for a lifetime, was hesitant to be named for this article, perhaps fearful of being branded a traitor himself. I can understand that.

Without further ado, here is a quick portrait of a man who, according to Premier Williams, would betray his people.

Griffin was born and raised in Grand Falls-Windsor. His older brother died when he was four or five years old, then his father died two weeks later, Griffins friend said. We were a community of kids on that street. Mark's mother was debilitated with arthritis, yet raised the remaining four young children on her own on limited funds. One is now a Chartered Accountant, another has a Bachelor of Science in Forestry and a Bachelor of Education, another is a nurse, and Mark is an engineer and lawyer.

Griffins father was also an engineer and lawyer, his friend added.

Mark went to Memorial University and on to Dalhousie for law school. He articled in Corner Brook while his Mom was dying of lung cancer at home. He would drive back and forth to spend time with her, and he was there when she passed away. He returned home to practice law as a single practitioner and eventually formed a partnership with the son of his father's former law partner. He married a local girl, a schoolteacher, and has three young girls, ages nine, seven and three. He volunteers at hockey, is currently the associations VP, and helps coach his nine year olds atom team. He spent many years on the golf club executive and was one of the very key people in its expansion to 18 holes. He has a strong social conscience and is interested in public policy. He has a natural curiosity and is smart enough to shift through complex issues. He's analytical and deductive and for all that he's a traitor!

What, then, of Griffins political involvement and affiliation? Is he working secretly with the nefarious Liberals or NDP? Griffin has never run for party politics, though he did offer, at one point, in a municipal election which is not partisan.

Wallace MacLean has looked into this question in some detail, in his Labradore

blog, reporting that Griffin has indeed been making donations to a political party. Since 2003, Griffin made a total of $1300 in contributions to the provincial Progressive Conservatives, $150 to an NDP candidate, and nothing to the Liberals. Griffins partner, Karl Inder, has also donated to the provincial PCs, and actually worked for a time with Danny Williamss law firm.

Griffins friend cautioned against reading too much into the political donations. More interesting is that Mark's father ran for the PC's against Joey's man in Grand Falls back in the 60's How can Mark, or any of us, subscribe to the appropriate values and in the end be condemned for them?

He is right, of course. And Griffins friend also fired a parting shot at media coverage, wondering why news outlets have not made more of this issue.

I do understand his point.

The premiers latest intemperate outburst has not been followed as a news story, though it has been the subject of some editorial comment. David Newell wrote an intelligent editorial

in The Advertiser, in which he described the premiers comments as unnecessary, uncalled for and intolerable.

The Telegram also weighed in, though their tone was less strident.

This isn't a criticism, just a suggestion: maybe it's time to back away from the sound and fury, and deal more with the facts, was the strongest statement. However, the editorial did close with this quote, from G.K. Chesterton:

I have formed a very clear conception of patriotism. I have generally found it thrust into the foreground by some fellow who has something to hide in the background. I have seen a great deal of patriotism; and I have generally found it the last refuge of the scoundrel.

Yes, editorial writers have freedom to make critical comments on issues like this. As for reporters, the fact is that garbage talk from the premier makes for good headlines and quotes, so part of me can appreciate why they are happy to collect his spit and rush it to air or print.

But reporters also have the right no, an obligation to challenge any politician who would call his fellow citizens traitors. I offer a hypothetical interview, for your consideration:

With all respect, Premier, dont you think traitor or betrayal is excessive?

He denies, of course, and if anything, turns up the rhetoric. Then the reporter says:

Back to the traitor term, Mr. Premier. On what do you base this? What are your facts?

Again, we would hear more bombast about needing 100 percent support as he fights for the people of his province.

But Mr. Premier, this person is otherwise an upstanding citizen. I can see how his question is challenging for you, but doesnt it warrant an answer instead of an attack on his loyalty to the province?

Wouldnt that be interesting, to watch the premier actually defend - perhaps even swallow - his own venom for a change?

Danny Williams talks a lot about being Proud, Strong and Determined.

Well, I have always been proud to be a Newfoundlander, and I flatly reject his brand of patriotism.

It makes me want to vomit.

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Recent comments

  • Craig
    July 27, 2010 - 14:53

    I agree with you entirely and am ashamed that the leader of my province would condemn a man as a traitor for asking intelligent questions about a government policy and standing up for his community.

    I think the real traitor here is Danny Williams. He is a traitor to democracy, transparency in government and to common decency. The Chesterton quote has often come to mind in the past few years as I've watched Mr. Williams employ intimidation tactics and bullying behaviour.

    However, it's not the petulant, egocentric bully here that is worrisome. What's more concerning is that his behaviour has been emulated by his cabinet ministers and applauded, or at least permitted, by the public at large. It's a very sad mark on the standards and character of my fellow Newfoundlanders.

    I have it on good authority that not only did the premier publicly brand this outstanding family man and citizen as a traitor, but that he also called the man's law partner, Mr. Inder, and privately tried to use his influence there as well.

    Of course, this tactic is nothing new to some journalists who have been covering Newfoundland politics for the past several years. What is unfortunate is that the mainstream media, especially CBC, hasn't taken him to task on this long pattern of coercion.

    Danny Williams may be popular, but he is still a tyrant and a bully. His suppression of free speech and informed and loyal dissent will mark a very dark chapter in Newfoundland's history. His appointment of cronies to what were once non-partisan public offices is a further affront to the health of our democracy. And finally, his deliberate disruption of federal-provincial relations for the sake of jingoism and political popularity is shameful, and in my view unpatriotic.

    I once harboured great hope for the man. As a citizen, journalist and close observer of Newfoundland political life I have reluctantly watched as his administration, and in particular his personal behaviour, devolved into an obsecene power trip, one that will damage the democractic fabric of this wonderful place for years, if not generations, to come.

    As I said, the only thing more disappointing is that Newfoundlanders are encouraging him in his attack on our democratic foundations and that his caucus colleagues stand by him and applaud like trained seals.

    It's very dark days for Newfoundland democracy. I wish it were otherwise.

    Craig Westcott
    The Business Post