A welcome home and a political primer

Bob Wakeham
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In 1962, late June as I recall, an eternity ago, it seems now, my parents paraded their five young offspring onto an escalator at Gander Airport to board a flight that marked the start of a life-altering immigration to the United States.

It was a scene of profound sadness.  

But last week, five decades after they reluctantly left Newfoundland with heavy hearts, Gerry and Eileen Wakeham cleared customs at St. John’s airport, and returned to live out their remaining years in the land they’ve always referred to as home.  

It was a scene of profound joy.

Mom and Dad have made regular visits to Newfoundland ever since they settled in the States (after all, their eldest, yours truly, was available to provide a variety of roofs over their heads, having returned here over 40 years ago).

But now they’re home for good.   

As my father has happily declared on a couple of occasions during the past two weeks: “I’ve got to pinch myself to realize I’m actually back home in Newfoundland.”

Here they are — octogenarians both — ensconced in the pleasant surroundings of Kenny’s Pond Retirement Community, the walls in their two-room apartment adorned with innumerable pictures of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Now if Mom can find a good bridge game, she’ll be all set.

Anyway, I’ve been bringing them up to date on some of the goings-on here in Newfoundland, as I’ve been doing over the years; a bit of scandal and gossip here, some delightful and pleasant news there.   

But I thought I’d exploit this particular Saturday space to perhaps kill two birds with one stone: a chance to resume punditry and pontificating after an absence of a couple of weeks while I was helping the folks’ northward move, and to give Mom and Dad an example of the kind of politics they’ll be occasionally exposed to here in Newfoundland. If they so care for such exposure, of course.

And you never know, I might add two new readers to my cheering section, increase the multitude who anxiously await my pearls of wisdom every Saturday (I’m being facetious, Mom; no need for a scolding).    

In any case: so you see, Dad and Mom, there’s this fella named Darin King (King Darin, as he was sarcastically called by Newfoundland teachers during his reign as head of the province’s largest school board, a man never accused of enlightenment, someone who gave the impression he detested outspokenness among his educators, going so far as to suspend two teachers who complained publicly about stress in the classroom). You wouldn’t know him. No reason for you to know him. After all, when you were last paying close attention to Newfoundland politics in 1962, Joey was still occupying his dictator’s chair.

But the week before last, King Darin made one of the more bone-headed and nastiest moves in recent legislative history (and God knows I’ve witnessed more than my share of stupidity and offensive, boorish behaviour in the House of Assembly).     

Not only was it politically dumb, Dad and Mom, it was mean-spirited and has pushed a drowning government further beneath the waves.    

King thought he was going to score some big political points against the NDP, specifically MHA Gerry Rogers, by “revealing” that her name had been added to a Facebook group trying to oust Premier Kathy Dunderdale.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

Now I happen to know, Gerry and Eileen, you have about as much knowledge about, and interest in, Facebook and blogs and Twitter as I do, or ever want to have, for that matter. But take it from me: you don’t raise holy hell because some cement head happens to drop an inappropriate comment, one of hundreds of remarks, if not thousands, on a Facebook location to which a politician has had her name added.

Bringing it up was bad enough.  

Demanding an apology was worse.

And the icing on the partisan cake, Mom and Dad, was that the Speaker, a supposedly independent arbiter of parliamentary debate, kicked Rogers out of the legislature for refusing to apologize. King’s actions, and those of the Speaker, were universally condemned. I’ve heard that even die-hard Tories were mortified.  

This Speaker fella, Ross Wiseman by name, in case you’re wondering, did eventually claim he was sorry for having booted Rogers out of the chambers. It was, however, too little, too late. He should have resigned. His credibility was in the sewer. But then, of course, if he had stepped down, he would have had to relinquish his sizable, ministerial-like salary.

The government was further embarrassed when the CBC (which still does exemplary work, Mom and Dad, when it’s not giving the impoverished Tim Hortons chain free PR, or cheaply promoting itself by collecting turkeys for the poor) broke a story that someone had attached Premier Kathy Dunderdale’s name to a Facebook page that promotes porn. Naturally, the government had to then endure charges of hypocrisy.    

Dunderdale, by the way, is the province’s first woman premier, folks, a matter of justifiable note and applause when she was elected. But she’s been a disaster and this Gerry Rogers fiasco is just the latest blunder to dog her administration. She’s in trouble, Mom and Dad, and is about as popular as a snowstorm in May. (Remember those delightful weather blasts from your previous life in Newfoundland?)   

But enough of this political garbage. Politicians always seem to give a country, a province, a state, even this glorious land you’ve returned to, a bad name.

There’s so much more than politics in Newfoundland (although our politics are rarely dull), so much more to enjoy and savour and celebrate, as the two of you have remarked on for years: decency and warmth, an incredible abundance of literary, musical and artistic creativity, a sense of place that is remarkable and unique.       

You’ll find even more opportunities to use that expression you’re used so often in the past, Mom, whenever you’ve been here for a visit and experienced an act of unusual kindness: “Only in Newfoundland.”  

Welcome home.  

Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwakeham@nl.rogers.com.

Organizations: Gander Airport, NDP, CBC Tim Hortons

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador

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