“Divide and rule, the politician cries; unite and lead, is watchword of the wise.”
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe,
German writer, artist, politician
Peter Penashue rolled the dice with his recent boast that he stalled projects in Newfoundland in order to procure funding from the provincial government for projects in Labrador.
That makes him a hero to some, a rogue to others. We’ll find out on Monday how Labrador voters, at least, feel.
But frankly, if Penashue wins, we all lose in a way. Because in his desperation to win back a seat in Parliament, he manipulated voters. And, mind you, we’re talking about a seat that we don’t even know was originally won by legitimate means.
He’s manipulated all of us.
How? By choosing that most disagreeable of political strategies: divide and conquer.
“I will tell you a secret,” he told supporters on the campaign trail last month. “I did not sign the approvals in Newfoundland until I had my $85 million for the road in Labrador, and I held their project for six months.”
Whether or not his little stratagem pays off for him politically, or whether it is even what actually happened, his motivation was nasty. He deliberately fanned decades-old embers of resentment among people in Labrador — who feel ill-used by the island of Newfoundland, and perhaps rightly so — until he got a few sparks of outrage flying on both sides of the Strait of Belle Isle.
Ask yourself this: what was Penashue’s motivation for bragging about where his allegiance lies?
The answer is pure politics, and hardly becoming of someone who was a federal cabinet minister — this province’s representative in the federal government, not just Labrador’s MP.
It was one of the most distasteful moments in politics in this province that I have ever witnessed. Clearly, if you live in Newfoundland, Penashue does not represent you, no matter what cabinet post he might be given in Ottawa.
If I was voting in Labrador, I’d be looking for someone who cares about the people of the province more than scoring cheap political points.
Let’s face it, we’re pretty insignificant in terms of the political clout we wield in this country. Why would we elect someone who would deliberately pit the people of this province against each other? That kind of small-minded, mean-spirited rhetoric is meant to stir negative emotions and does nothing to serve the greater good. It’s the kind of old-school-politics, “we’re the good guys and they’re the bad guys” mentality that fosters dissent and turns people against their neighbours.
We don’t need that here. We’re still reeling from job and service cuts from both provincial and federal governments, and this is not the time for “every man for himself.”
Besides, people should expect more from their votes than a lick of pavement — they should expect ethical, fair and vocal representation. Everyone knows Penashue was practically mute as an MP.
In his column of Jan. 1, 2013, the Toronto Star’s Michael Valpy said of the Harper administration:
“They have withdrawn from obligations to monitor employment equity and address discrimination, ended support for agencies that advocate for women’s rights, terminated scientific research, ended health care for refugee claimants, been contemptuous of Parliament and its rules. They’ve fuelled a civil society, a polity, of us and them.”
Well, it appears Penashue learned at the feet of his master, because the notion of “us and them” is precisely the tool he used to try to leverage a few votes out of disenfranchised Labradorians.
There’s a big difference between being a good constituency person and being an agitator.
We’ve already seen that Penashue blamed a campaign volunteer — a member of his own team — for bringing Elections Canada scrutiny to bear on his last election campaign.
Who will he blame if he botches this one?
Campaigning with Yvonne Jones in Labrador on April 24, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau told The Canadian Press that Monday’s byelection gives Labradorians a chance to tell Harper “that his approach, that his values focused on division and attack, is not good enough for the challenges we’re facing, not good enough for the country we want to build.”
Whether you support that sentiment or not, I think most people would agree that we have a better chance of building a better province and a better country if we pull together, rather than being encouraged to go for each other’s throats.
Pam Frampton is a columnist and
The Telegram’s associate managing editor.
She can be reached by email at