Some thoughts for your consideration this week on a couple of recent political goings-on in Newfoundland, written, naturally enough, with an acknowledgment that there will be absolute non-interest in some reading circles, depending on your taste in “current affairs,” as we in journalism land describe public issues, or depending, I admit with not an ounce of false modesty, on your taste in so-called pundits.
(I did contemplate, for a few nationalistic moments, writing this Saturday piece about that forest fire haze having ruined several days
of uncharacteristically hot, sunny weather in St. John’s, and citing that atmospheric phenomenon as just one further way Quebec has put the boots to Newfoundland, but I feared such incendiary words might provoke an attack in blog land from those who seem determined to revise the history of the screwing we’ve taken from our neighbours to the west of Labrador).
So, into safer territory I venture.
First off, we have the four horsemen and one horsewoman now officially in the race to lead the Newfoundland Liberals away from the abyss of the political apocalypse, an undesirable place where the Grits have been teetering for several years now.
Any observer with even the slightest bit of objectivity would have to agree — and I’m desperately trying to be kind here — that this is not the most impressive group of politicians that have ever sought an elevator to the premier’s office, at least in terms of their ability to create a real buzz among Newfoundland voters leading up to the next election. The five candidates appear to be decent enough people and reasonably intelligent (a patronizing description, some might say), but I’m not so sure any of them have that special intangible quality that most successful political leaders always seem to need.
Then again, there have been undoubtedly been exceptions: Kathy Dunderdale, who wasn’t overburdened with charisma, to say the least, still made it to the top.
But, of course, Dunderdale was able to shoot for the moon of the premier’s position when her predecessor made sure all the stars were aligned.
And speaking of Dunderdale (my less than subtle segue into another topic), our beleaguered premier must be thinking to herself that she has a hard time catching a break these days, what with her mission to China not having generated the kind of good press and publicity I’m sure she was seeking, as any politician would.
But one of her highly paid advisers should have told the premier that these expensive junkets are rarely, if ever, received well by the folks back home.
I’m not sure whether it’s totally fair or not, but whenever a gang of Newfoundland politicians, their favourite deputy ministers and a few flacks (to take the snaps and write up the good vibrations news releases) head anywhere east or west of the Rock to drum up interest in this place, there is invariably a sense here that it’s a waste of taxpayers’ dollars. (Even more so in this amazing technological age where there are much cheaper ways to sell yourself and your place of governance than jumping aboard a jumbo jet to fly to the other side of the globe).
And the vague descriptions of the “success” of these types of business missions, issued almost immediately after “top level” meetings take place in various countries with foreign politicians and mandarins you’ve never heard of, rarely give those keeping the home fires burning a sense that a trip abroad was worth the price.
Perhaps the cynicism about these junkets goes back to Joey’s day, when the dictator with the big glasses and the bow tie would drag one or two of his subservient cabinet ministers across the pond (he had an abundance of “yes” men from whom to choose), impress the hell out of his travelling partners with his knowledge of European history and the like, and return to Newfoundland with, more than likely, some nefarious character who would eventually do shag-all for us, but plenty for his own financial well-being.
And there would be claims from J.R.S. that he had managed to convince, not one or two, or six or a dozen, but every single banking institution in the world, Mr. Speaker, to invest in this fair little province.
Then there were international missions by Frank Moores and his ministers that invariably had much of the public concluding that the amount time the Newfoundland entourage spent carousing at some Canadian ambassador’s digs greatly surpassed the time spent impressing business interests in different countries to turn their attention to Newfoundland.
Moores’ well-deserved reputation for wine, women and song undoubtedly influenced how his trips abroad were perceived.
And even if there were successful trade missions by Newfoundland politicians over the years, they were usually effectively pooh-poohed by opposition parties questioning the humongous amount of money spent to send the crowd thousands of miles to sign a few unimportant “letters of intent.”
There was always an eager horde of media types, as well, who discovered that expensive trips here and there and everywhere were easy targets for editorials, commentaries, and, believe it or not, the odd column.
What Dunderdale did do on her most recent trip that was a fine move, and beyond reproach, was taking time to be at Beaumont Hamel on July 1 on the anniversary of that terrible day in Newfoundland history.
It’s sacred ground for any Newfoundlander, and Dunderdale’s decision to be there was devoid of politics. And I thought Dunderdale’s words were from the heart and sincere, not platitudes scratched out on a notepad by some nearby executive assistant.
“Beaumont Hamel was not anything like I imagined it might be,” she was quoted in The Telegram as having said. “I find it a very peaceful place, but the longer you stay there, the deeper the emotion you feel.”
And, having been to Beaumont Hamel twice, I can echo Dunderdale’s sentiments.
Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.