“There is a jingoism of small places as well as of large. And Newfoundland is more susceptible to it than most.”
— Rex Murphy, Newfoundlander
In the quotation above, Rex Murphy was referring to overly aggressive Newfoundland patriotism in the context of Danny Williams’ penchant for labelling as a traitor anyone who disagreed with him, but the observation still stands.
Many people praise and defend this province with a vehemence that often seems completely out of whack with the circumstances.
I once heard a radio caller defend an anti-province/pro-Ottawa political move by then MP Loyola Hearn by saying, “Oh, but he’s a beautiful Newfoundlander!”
What the heck does that mean? That because someone is from Newfoundland they can do no wrong?
If you believe that, perhaps you should pay closer attention to the news out of court.
I was born here and am proud of this place, but I dare say I’d say the same if I came from Lunenburg, N.S. or Elora, Ont.
By all means, let’s be proud of our heritage, but not to the point of being thoughtlessly or arrogantly dismissive of everyone else’s.
Last week, Steve Bartlett’s Telegram story about a Cambridge scholar who was born in Placentia and married into the Royal Family garnered nearly 7,000 hits on our website, not to mention how many times it was read in print.
It was a fascinating story and it’s fun to celebrate people’s links to this province and to think about how few degrees of separation there might be between one Newfoundlander and another. The Placentia native in question, who was born Sylvana Tomaselli, lived here as a small child and has referred to herself as a Newfoundlander.
There’s nothing wrong with being proud of the accomplishments of Newfoundland and Labrador’s sons and daughters.
But sometimes the media is too quick to exploit the accomplishments — or nefarious doings — of people whose connections to this place are far more tenuous.
In journalism circles, the old joke among reporters and editors trying to root out local human interest stories is that if the person was in the province long enough to have a cup of coffee, it’s fair game to claim a Newfoundland connection.
I knew one reporter, God rest his soul, who extended that connection to the exploits of Newfoundland dogs — wherever they lived in the world — when he was stuck for a story.
We’re quick to laud the successes of locals who make the big time — think Shaun Majumder, Rick Hillier, Mary Walsh, Gordon Pinsent, Rick Mercer, Bob Joy and so on — but we often overlook the contributions of people who live here but weren’t born here.
There are plenty of those folks — think of the Bulgarian defectors of 1990 alone — who make this place a lot more interesting.
And so I was anticipating the anti-mainlander sentiment that accompanied Brad Cabana’s bid to throw his name into the hat for the PC party leadership last week.
A commenter named Starr noted on The Telegram’s website: “I find this Brad Cabana thing quite a joke. He seems to think he’s a real hotshot and we know nothing about him. (Kathy) Dunderdale is one of our ‘own’ and I will definitely support her.”
Someone named Mary wrote: “He has lived in NL for less than 2 years and he claims to have roots here some 200 years back. Methinks that this is a CFA who thinks NLers are suckers and/or needs a CFA to help them.”
MJF wrote: “The photo of Mr. Cabana on VOCM looks very shifty …” (a real litmus test if I ever heard one).
“What does Mr. Cabana know about our beautiful province, considering he is a ‘CFA’ — Come From Away? Ms. Dunderdale will have my vote.”
And so on, and so on.
There were some who defended Cabana’s right to get involved in Newfoundland politics, of course, and some who praised his willingness to contribute to public life, but it’s obvious there are still people out there who think only true-blue, Newfoundland-born-Newfoundlanders have anything to contribute.
My husband, a journalist who has lived here for a quarter-century, still gets the “You’re not from here, are you?” response.
Russell Wangersky, a good friend and colleague who has contributed to Newfoundland journalism for roughly the same length of time, is often dismissed as being a “mainlander” or a “CFA” when readers don’t agree with his opinion pieces in this newspaper, but is embraced as a “Newfoundland writer” when his fiction and non-fiction garners acclaim.
What a fickle bunch we are.
Whatever you think of Brad Cabana — whether loose cannon or legitimate contender — he should be judged on his platform and politics, not his birthplace.
In my book, if someone lives here permanently — wherever they might have been born — they’re from here.
It should be as simple as that.
Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s story editor. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.