A family health issue caused me to opt out of last week’s column, surely driving thousands of fiercely loyal readers to head to their nearest watering hole to drown their sorrows, and giving me an excuse this Saturday to recite an old favourite of mine, written many moons ago by a good buddy:
“Dominion, oh Dominion, oh golden frothy brew, oh where on Saturday Mornings would I be if not for you; my Fridays would be dismal, if my gut I could not fill, with a whack of cold Dominion, that golden frothy brew.”
“As I stand in line and wait, for Ambrose, George or Pat, I reflect, without Dominion, where the f---would I be at?”
I’ll spare you the rest, it gets a bit raunchy.
And there’s guaranteed to be a few pious types who might take offence and anonymously (a.k.a. cowardly) take to one of those ubiquitous blogs, the voices of gutless wonders, and preach their sanctimonious displeasure.
Besides, it’s my own personal drinking song from way back when. The author and I practically have it copyrighted.
But I hope my non-appearance last Saturday did not prompt serious withdrawal, and did not spawn still another of those 12-step programs, one of those self-help dogmas that keep cropping up everywhere for a generation that apparently feels that sitting in a church basement drinking coffee out of a styrofoam cup for an hour can immediately solve everything from acne pimples to an addiction to Jiggs dinner.
So after that wandering, stream-of-consciousness preface, just let me say that my non-contribution to public dialogue last week has not dated my desire to make the point that a couple of weeks ago, I honestly believed, ever so briefly, that we had a watershed moment in Newfoundland politics, that an elected cabinet minister was honest enough to acknowledge what everybody with a half a grain of sense has always believed: that promises made during election campaigns are not worth the paper they’re printed on.
Now the paper in this case was the Blue Book put out by the Tories during the last provincial election; the politician making the shocking admission was none other than Jerome Kennedy, arguably the highest profiled and most influential cabinet minister on the political stomping grounds of Newfoundland in recent years.
Kennedy never minces words, and even his enemies, and they are far from few in number, have to admire his penchant for saying exactly what’s on his mind, politeness and political correctness be damned.
So I was delighted that this well-known politico had admitted to James McLeod in a Telegram interview that he would never use the word “promises” to describe commitments made in the Blue Book, that they were more like a “blueprint” or a “platform,” only to become reality if the province had the bucks.
That latter section is always in the fine print, of course; no political party, not the Tories with their Blue Book, not the Liberals with a Red Book, not the NDP with an Orange Book , are going to take a chance on losing votes by placing financial caveats on every promise they make during those three weeks on the hustings, a time when they’d sell their mother for a vote.
Even a voter with the IQ of a mud trout knows that blue books, red books and orange books, should always be taken with a grain of salt.
Nevertheless, it was refreshing to hear a politician like Kennedy admit that promises are not really promises.
It was a confirmation from the horse’s mouth that we can’t take literally anything politicians say during election campaigns or what they write on those slick documents they stick in your mailbox or under your front door.
Alas, the warm fuzzy feeling I had about a politician displaying true colours did not last long.
As quick as it takes to dial up VOCM, the voice of the cabinet minister, as some have described that radio station’s open line shows over the years, Kennedy was all over the airwaves, claiming — wait for it, now, drum roll please — his words were taken out of context.
What a first for a politician!
There was even a 5,000 word news release issued that outlined — “in excruciating detail,” according to a Telegram story — every promise the Tories have kept. I didn’t read the release (I was too busy watching a nail rust), but it sounds as if the government would have heralded the construction and painting of a new outhouse in Crappy Bay South, if such self-congratulations were able to help its fading credibility, and help minister Kennedy out of his little pickle of honesty.
Kennedy’s defensive overreaction calls to mind a variation on that famous Shakespearean quote: the gentleman doth protest too much, methinks.
The irony is that Kennedy was right the first time around. Blue Books and the like are just words, words designed to get parties elected. Period.
Take them for what they’re worth: shag-all.
They’re vote grabbers, nothing more, nothing less.
But we keep believing the crap every four or five years, taking the same shots to the guts, remaining naive as a helpless child.
It reminds me of one of the most honest, frankest remarks I ever heard from a politician.
His name was Al Evans, not exactly a historical figure, but a Tory backbencher from LaPoile defeated after one term.
When I tracked him down at his home election night, and asked why he thought he had lost, he replied succinctly and unabashedly, “The voters was stupid.”
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.