Two more solitudes

Ed Smith
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There is a pronounced dichotomy these days in the population of this province.

You probably already knew that. Perhaps you can identify it. Rather stun if you can’t, if you ask me.

Protestants and Catholics, right? Wrong. Well no, not entirely wrong. From the earliest days of the 16th century, when English and French fishermen were fighting for the best fishing harbours and coves around the bays and inlets, and raiding each other’s settlements as part of larger wars in Europe, Protestants and Catholics have been into it.

These days they “share each other’s woes, each other’s burdens bear,” as the old hymn puts it. Apart from that, not much to it. One crowd talks to “Our Father who art in Heaven,” and the other to “Holy Father who art in Rome.” That’s about it.

I have two daughters married to Catholic husbands. That’s fair enough. The families of those husbands have two sons married to Protestant women. My attitude is let them worry.

So you’re thinking, urban and rural, right? No, but not quite wrong, either. There was always the “Overpass Syndrome,” something like the “China Syndrome” but far more insidious. The intelligentsia inside the Greater St. John’s Metropolitan Area maintain that they’re sick and tired of hearing about it, probably because it contains some unpleasant truths.

Being the intelligentsia, they no doubt figured that if we all stopped talking about it, the whole thing would go away. Something along the lines of the old adage — if a tree falls in the forest and no one’s there to hear it, does it make any noise?

Intelligentsia types like to make connections between things that don’t exist and try to make sense out of them. A good example would be a debate between two ex-premiers.

More and more people are pointing to the gap between Labrador and the island part of the province. One has to admit that there’s something to all that, but no one is quite sure what.

There’s a lot of talk about stolen resources and stolen lands and environmental damage to the great rivers. And then there’s Muskrat Falls, which has produced more experts than it ever will kilowatt hours.

It seems deceptively simple until you hear experts and politicians arguing about it, and you realize not one of them can understand the other. Every so often a survey is made of those whose minds run even slower than mine and we’re asked what we think of it all.

Of course, in our colossal ignorance we respond, sometimes at length, and the government then bases its policies about what we think we know. So, my children, wonder no more why government policies are such colossal screw-ups. It’s all our fault, just as they’ve always been telling us.

So, to the final and greatest dichotomy — if you have to ask you should immediately apply for citizenship in Iraq, where you’ll understand the culture and human circumstances much better than you do ours.

Simply stated, the people of the province are quite literally divided into two very unequal halves. Those who are getting it and those who are not.

Perhaps it’s better put another way: those who are not getting enough and those who are getting too much. That pretty much describes the history of the world, does it not? Shakespeare and Freud understood that well.

Newfoundland (for the moment forget Labrador) is a prime example. It’s been said before, but not often enough. It’s been said loudly, but not loudly enough. The highly vaunted economic prosperity that has brought undreamed-of riches to our shores is spread about the province (now you can include Labrador) as evenly as 300 hens among three roosters. And don’t tell me that’s not an appropriate simile.

I know government types will argue this to hell and back, but the plain unvarnished truth is that the greater metro area of St. John’s has hit the stratosphere, economically. Anyone who wants to work, can. Wages are high and going higher. Stores are crowded. Subdivisions springing up in multiples of Danny Williams.

I haven’t seen any stats on this, but I’d bet my pension that car dealerships can’t bring in new cars fast enough to fill the lots. Housing costs, and therefore real estate values, are making people rich.

Or should I say richer. Don’t want to mention any names, but. … At the same time, those values are making people poorer. People on social assistance and lower, fixed incomes can’t afford to pay rent. Families that were once regarded as middle-class can’t afford the costs of being middle-class.

So, you have two dichotomies moving side by side, but moving farther apart: the people who are getting too much and getting more,and those who aren’t getting enough and getting less.

They say the northeast Avalon is drowning in milk and honey. Don’t know how well they’re doing in Grates Cove or Western Bay. Clarenville is growing faster than mayor Fred Best is aging politically — oops, Fred isn’t mayor these days, so can’t pick on him anymore. Sorry Fred. (Good one, though.) But I’m not sure how Bunyan’s Cove is making out.

In the rest of the province — the boondocks, the sticks, around the bay, (dare I say it? Sure. Not as accurate geographically as it once was, but the principle is still the same) outside the overpass, coastal Labrador and the like — we keep hearing about the money flowing into the provincial treasury, but we don’t see a lot of it.

I still have a host of friends living from paycheque to paycheque and those paycheques aren’t large. I still see pensioners paying too much for drugs and housing. I still see the gradual deterioration of infrastructure.

It’s what Hugh McLennan might have called another “two solitudes.”

Ed Smith is an author who lives in Springdale.

His email address is

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Europe, Rome China Metropolitan Area Iraq Avalon Grates Cove Western Bay Clarenville Springdale

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Recent comments

  • Roy
    April 15, 2014 - 12:44

    I don't know what lens you're looking through but you should dust it off. There have been too few experts on MF and too many self-appointed experts. Also, I've never heard of any catholics praying to a pope. If you're wrong on these two points then how many more things are you wrong.

  • Cyril Rogers
    April 15, 2014 - 11:10

    Mr. Smith….you are being far too serious….for you!! Seriously, I love your humour and now I am "enjoying" your more serious side... if I may put it that way. Your analysis is dead on but sadly it is being totally ignored by those who "have it" at the expense of those who "do not have it". Thanks for pointing this out in a still humorous manner.