As one year fades away and another gets its bum slapped into new life, some thoughts from my mental notebook:
• There must be something in the Confederation Building’s water that weakens the spines of Newfoundland (and Labrador) cabinet ministers. The boss bows out and the top job beckons, but there isn’t enough backbone around the cabinet table to even make a race of it.
Premier Kathy Dunderdale’s hold on the office is, apparently, no longer temporary. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)
Dunderdale quickly proved herself competent and able, and her erstwhile competitors for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative party surrendered faster than France.
It is reminiscent of the departure of premier Clyde Wells in the mid-1990s. Back then, a collection of Liberal cabinet ministers showed similar spinelessness. Not one made a bid for the top job.
The great and formidable Brian Tobin — then a federal cabinet minister — wanted to come back to the fiefdom as premier, and none of the local lords were courageous enough to challenge his triumphant ascendance.
One cabinet minister of the day memorably commented that no one wanted to face the freight train of Tobin’s return. Barrelling down the tracks? Sort of.
But ambitious cabinet ministers fled like frightened children from the sound of a locomotive’s whistle. The more things change. …
• Speaking of Brian Tobin, there is a long list of reasons to dislike him as a public figure. Space limitations prevent me from going into detail, as it would likely develop into a three-part screed. But you have to feel sorry for the guy these days, in terms of his private life.
As recent news reports have revealed, his son, Jack, faces charges of impaired driving causing death and dangerous driving causing death after an incident in an Ottawa parking garage that killed his best friend. The deceased man’s family has said it was a tragic accident.
Even so, Jack Tobin could go to jail if he is convicted. We don’t necessarily need reminding, but it is proof yet again that fame, power, money and all their illusory trappings don’t insulate anyone from tragedy and heartbreak.
• My first journalism gig dates back to 1978, so I have years of experience with baseless conjecture. I’m watching with interest to see if any local media outlets offer former premier Danny Williams a stint as pundit.
He’d be a natural — he’s argumentative, short-tempered, egotistical, stubborn, opinionated and always right.
In other words, he’s a born commentator. And, after seven years of voluntarily not taking a salary, he could probably use the pocket change.
• It isn’t a tally officially kept, but 2011 will mark 514 years of Newfoundland (and Labrador) mythmaking.
The most notable myth, of course, is that Newfoundlanders (and Labradorians) are tough-minded political animals, when in fact we are generally docile and obedient (see above).
Another myth is that people in this province, living closer to the land and sea than residents of big mainland cities, have an ingrained connection to the environment. If only it were so.
In my town, they’re bulldozing trees and hillsides with wild abandon. Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s is a terrific place, and a lot of people want to live there, understandably enough. But the willingness of developers and the town council to utterly destroy huge swaths of the landscape is truly shocking and disgusting.
• Finally, thank you to the many readers who take time to respond to my columns. I appreciate your comments, especially when you shred my argument with a few concise observations. It keeps me humble (see above). As for those who prefer name-calling to reasoned debate, well, free speech is a wonderful thing. My favourite insult from 2010: “Jones, you must be a rat Jew.”
Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.