Pity the poor historians. Before some of them are even born, they’re loaded down with assignments.
This is mostly due to politicians, who have a habit of grandiosely proclaiming, “History will show that …” or, “History will record that …” to bolster a pronouncement and immediately forestall any criticism, because only a fool would dare argue with history.
The latest to call forth the forces of future historians was Natural Resources Minister Tom Marshall. Speechifying this week at an oil and gas conference in St. John’s, Marshall expressed his hope that future historians will look back at 2013 in Newfoundland (and Labrador) as a “golden time of opportunity.”
The attention historians get must miff archeologists.
After all, archeologists are the ones who get their hands dirty digging up the past. No clean, heated archives for them.
They’re out in the weather, in the muck, scrounging for clues about eras long past.
In the 22nd century, digs will be roped off in the areas of George Street, Mount Pearl and the shell of the former Mile One Coliseum as archeologists attempt to answer the enduring question, “Was Newfoundland a hunter/gatherer society right up until the day the first offshore oil well was spudded?”
Sign of the times
Marshall’s historians, and the unmentioned archeologists, came to mind one morning while I was driving to work. A temporary road sign was alongside the Prince Philip Parkway.
This being one of the city’s essential thoroughfares, drivers wouldn’t expect to see such a sign. But there it was.
What, I wondered, would future archeologists make of it if they dug it up, say, in 2163? After all, it’s confusing enough to read it today, let alone a century and a half hence. This is what the sign said: “Caution: potholes ahead.”
Such a sign seems nonsensical, because in the time it took to send a crew to set it up, the city may as well have sent a crew with gravel and asphalt to fix the potholes. But such is the mind of bureaucracy.
Future archeologists, who undoubtedly will also be well versed in history, will be baffled by the discovery.
In a time of golden opportunity?
Misled by money
Meanwhile, over in the comfortable archives, a group of historians will be verging on fisticuffs as they argue about the state and condition of Newfoundland circa 2013. No archivist will be there to restore order, as the place had remained unstaffed since the Great Cutbacks of 2014.
On one side of the debate will be historians who argue that Newfoundland, circa 2013, was rich with oil.
On the other side will be historians who argue that Newfoundland, circa 2013, had deficits and debt and hid its ongoing poverty behind misleading oil revenue.
If they check the fine print of the footnotes, they can trace their confusion and disagreement back to the very same Tom Marshall who, in 2013, trumpeted that they should declare his era a “golden time of opportunity.”
The mantra of Premier Kathy Dunderdale’s administration seems to be, “We are rich, but we are poor.”
We can afford Muskrat Falls, but we must make cutbacks to education and health care.
We have lots of oil, but we must cut back on public services.
The government waves around its looming $1.6-billion deficit like a bogeyman trying to scare a child.
Sure, it’s lousy, in the short term. But the long term is more important. By the oil companies’ own estimates, they will pump offshore oil until about 2047 — probably longer, if history is anything to go by. In Alberta, the first prognosis of doom was uttered in 1973. Forty years later, they’re still gushing.
Brian Jones is a desk editor
at The Telegram.