The über-patriots might be right that Newfoundlanders (and Labradorians) are the toughest people ever to walk the planet or float upon its waters.
As über-patriots are fond of saying, we’ve had more than 500 years to hone our toughness as the salt of the earth and the brine of the sea, what with five centuries of being exploited and bullied by fishing admirals, merchants and Tory cabinet ministers.
But a reputation for being tough can backfire — as Goliath found out. If toughness evolves into an ability to live with injustice, it simply becomes obedience.
Those of us who thought the political scene would calm down when Danny Williams left the premier’s office in the Confederation Building to become a hockey czar at Mile One Centre must admit we were wrong. All that has happened is that Williams’ pigheadedness (and that isn’t entirely a criticism) and short temper has been replaced with an utter and thorough contempt.
Toughness and contempt can be a bad combination. Newfoundlanders, Labradorians and über-patriots alike are being governed by a band of contemptuous bullies.
Fisheries Minister Darin King’s tantrum this week against the Fish, Food and Allied Workers’ (FFAW) union is the latest example of this government’s extremely bad behaviour.
FFAW President Earle McCurdy suggested this week the provincial government should speak out against the federal government’s apparent plan to allow fishing companies to get involved in the inshore fishery. The current policy — somewhat euphemistically referred to as “fleet separation” — helps ensure the survival of an inshore fishery.
The FFAW’s gall in making this request was met with King’s sudden announcement that the provincial government will cut or withhold the $1.3 million it spends on FFAW programs.
In keeping with King’s professional background in education, let’s take a multiple-choice approach. King’s actions are: (a) punitive; (b) vindictive; (c) callously petty; (d) authoritarian.
Part 2: in 25 words or less, describe King’s understanding of the concept of “freedom of speech.”
This is a bad precedent. The Newfoundland electorate has been put on notice and has been warned: disagree with the government at your peril.
Open and free discussion about important issues is no longer allowed.
King’s actions demonstrate his tenuous grasp of the concept of democracy, and reveal his ideological approach to the problems in the fishery — the latter of which has been a plague on this province for decades.
The FFAW only stated the obvious. If you want a healthy, long-term fishery, the way to accomplish it is to establish a strong inshore fishery.
This is not a new or revelatory statement.
Leslie Harris said as much in his report on northern cod more than 20 years ago.
Many people have been saying it since the cod moratorium was declared in 1992.
In contrast, governmental policy at both the federal and provincial levels centres on “efficiency” (read: technology), which will ensure that sometime during our lifetimes, we will see the headline, “Cod fishery no longer economically viable.”
It is such hubris. King and his boss, Premier Kathy Dunderdale, and their political mentor, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, seem to think they know more than Leslie Harris did about the cod fishery.
These days, suggesting differently will entail not only a public lashing by the minister in charge, but a pulling of government funding.
Some people have said the FFAW shouldn’t get government money anyway. Initial news reports didn’t give details about the FFAW “programs” that would be cut, but a good bet would be that some involve training and safety.
To hear King, you’d think the government was paying for FFAW members’ busfare so they could attend protest rallies in Marystown.
Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.