One course worth dropping

Peter Jackson
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I love myth-busting. There’s a certain satisfaction that comes with clearing up long-standing misconceptions, and bursting a few bubbles in the process.

But there’s a cabal of myth-busters who inevitably get under my skin. I’m referring to those armchair illuminati whose sole purpose appears to be telling Newfoundland­ers how stunned they are. If not stunned, then hopelessly gullible enough to repeatedly elect nationalist despots who feed them tall tales about bad resource deals and federal trickery. They feed us this stuff, we’re told, purely for the purpose of propping up their sagging popularity. Nothing more.

Who are these myths-busters?

Well, you couldn’t get a finer sampling than political science professors Matthew Kerby and Alex Marland, who were featured in a Telegram series last week.

While somewhat new on the scene, these two gentlemen proudly proclaimed that MUN’s political science department has gone through an exciting renaissance in recent years (one that mysteriously coincides with a greater influx of mainland born and/or trained faculty such as themselves).

One of the primary sources of Newfoundlanders’ mass ignorance, say our learned friends, is nationalism.

(Nationalism is a bad thing, of course — unless it’s Canadian nationalism, in which case it’s the stuff of heroes. The term is never parsed into its diverse manifestations. No distinction is made between those who merely feel the province deserves more, say, in fisheries management and those who say American frogmen are electrocuting our cod stocks.)

“Nationalists will keep saying things that advocate their points of view and they will conveniently ignore things that don’t,” warns Marland. “And so what happens is you start hearing it enough times and then people start believing it.”

One such myth is the belief that Ottawa blithely bartered away fish quotas in unrelated trade deals.

No one has produced a shred of evidence for this. Specific deals have been cited for years without a scrap of documentation to prove they ever happened.

But the myths emerged out of a more fundamental truth — that fish quotas are allocated at the pleasure of the federal government and, when it came to foreign interests, Canadian quotas were often served up with little or no consultation with the province.

Offshore resources — the lifeblood of Newfoundland's past and present — fall under federal jurisdiction. That makes Newfoundland an anomaly of Confederation. In 1985, one federal government agreed to share management of offshore oil through the Atlantic Accord. No such compromise has ever been reached with regard to fish.

Anecdotal fabrications aside, this has been the central issue, and it still is.

Uninformed speculation

Other myths?

There’s the “myth” that Newfoundland would have been better off without Confederation.

First of all, this isn’t a myth. It’s poorly informed speculation — wishful thinking, if you will. There are a few old-timers who still resent joining Canada. And there are a handful of younger folk who like to carry that torch, tinkering with historical numbers until they get the result they want.

But few Newfoundlanders take such a notion seriously. Separatism is a fringe movement.

Newfoundland has no monopoly on myths. Neither does it have a monopoly on electing charismatic leaders, or blaming its woes on the powers that be.

But our poli sci friends go even further.

Voter complacency, they say, is a huge problem here. As proof, they cite the recent constituency spending scandal.

Here’s a news flash: Newfoundland was actually ahead of the ball. Federal MPs still enjoy undisclosed parliamentary spending, and similar controversies surfaced in other jurisdictions after the Newfoundland case — notably Nova Scotia.

But our friends persist in their scolding ways.

“Newfoundland politicians … haven’t shown that they’re able to do a good enough job to be able to manage things when they’re part of something else,” said Marland. “Why should we think that they’ll be able to do things exceptionally well when all of a sudden there’s a level of independence?”

Now, if I didn’t know better, I’d be inclined to call that patronizing, colonialist tripe.

At best, it’s a brazen suggestion that outside forces are necessary to tell Newfoundlanders what they’re really all about. At worst, it suggests the population here is still too backward and insular to properly look after itself.

Here’s Kerby’s response to a question about local hires in the poli sci department.

“If you’re local, you probably carry more imaginary legitimacy than somebody who’s (not from here).”

Ouch. Watch your back in there, Matt.

Yes, there is a strong resentment here about come-from-aways insert­ing their two cents’ worth into the local dialogue. But it’s a common paranoia, no more unique to this province than it is to any other small, entrenched population.

One thing I do know. People from all over God’s acre have willingly visited or settled here and rarely felt the urge to insult the local populace en masse.

Professors Marland and Kerby are not among them.

Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s editorial page editor. He can be contacted by email at

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Ottawa, Canada

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Recent comments

  • Liam
    March 06, 2011 - 05:30

    "While somewhat new on the scene, these two gentlemen proudly proclaimed that MUN’s political science department has gone through an exciting renaissance in recent years (one that mysteriously coincides with a greater influx of mainland born and/or trained faculty such as themselves)" Compared to what? Peter, there were never many (any?) Newfoundlanders or Labradorians in the political science department. Derek Butler, head of the Association of Seafood Producers, and Terry Carlson are per-course instructors. Jeff Loder is a grad student. Peter Boswell taught NF Politics for many years but he is from outside the province as well. In fact most professors at MUN are not from the province, and many, including those from the Sociology and History departments lecture about NF and the myths that pervade its culture. There is nothing unusual or condescending about this. Whatever your thoughts on Mr.'s Kerby and Marland's comments from the other articles, I'm happy they're studying NF politics in an academic setting, and they're not alone. Many of the other new hires are putting forward papers about local elections, interest groups, the House of Assembly, and so on at domestic and international political science conferences and helping put Newfoundland & Labrador on the academic map.

  • Frank Blackwood
    February 25, 2011 - 15:28

    I have to agree with FinTip. Its an understanding of our livelihood since the early exployers which Marland and Kerby will deny it really didn't happen. It's all about common sense and survival. I lived in Quebec for 34 years and never felt once that it would fail because of the seperatists movement. The same goes for the fishery as long as Mother Nature will take it back by the horns and let it all out of schools. In Quebec it was the people who had great cultural spirit who beleived in survival away from those who lacked common sense. The fishery is much like Quebec, it will survive long after this generation passes on the torch. We have people teaching at Memorial who would not have survived if they had to do a good day of hard work. Trying to find loop holes in an economy's growth is not hard work, especially when one tries to degrade and scare people to death in order to make Memorial University feel they are doing an excellent job at teaching something they know little about. They have never lived upon or challenge the sea that really doesn't belong to government,as it belongs to nature and the people.

  • Frank Blackwood
    February 24, 2011 - 20:53

    I would give the researchers at MUN a big (D) for their remarks about rural Newfoundland and Labrador. It is scary because there are professors at Memorial who would erase the outports from the map if they were politicians. I had trouble convincing Premier Danny Williams that Rural Newfoundland is the real historical foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador. It would be better if researchers at MUN would work on a pilot project to challenge "The CRA And Its Inhumane Rights Approach" towards taxpayers across Canada, especially our own province. We all know that tax payers are scared to death of the CRA (Canada Revenue Agency). It would be interesting to see what results they come up with and if MUN professors could obtain honest rights for Nerwfoundlanders and Canadians at large by showing the CRA that it treats people like dirt, especially the students. Perer must've watched W5 on CBc , discovering how cruel the CRA has been towards a citizen of Benton, Newfoundland. I have to admit that MUN is a great institution which needs to build up our province, not let it down.

  • Fintip
    February 23, 2011 - 14:19

    I am encouraged when I read comments such as those attributed to our two new political experts at MUN. As if deploying the DFO aproved method for ensuring a harp seal is dead, Marland and Kerby have probed and palpated the essence of Newfoundland’s unique national psyche and found it battered but still breathing. Not wanting to leave anything half-alive, they felt obliged to deliver a few more blows. These are only the most recent in a long line of self-proclaimed wise men, intellectual colonialists who leave the comforts of home to help eradicate ingornance in the hinterland. One of their best putdowns is that “if you’re local, you probably carry more imaginary legitimacy than somebody who’s (not).” For self-styled experts in all things Newfoundland, they seem oblivious of our notorious inferiority complex – our proclivity for elevating and revering almost anyone from the outside. From Alfred Valdmanis to Perceval Copes, we’ve had no shortage of CFAs brandishing their superior intellects. It warms the cockles of my heart to hear that maybe it ain’t so anymore. Universities are places for free expression of thought, hence the need to grin and bear it even when those thoughts are not only wrong but offensive and condescending. Perhaps Kerby and Marland should walk across the hall and talk with their colleauges in the history and economics departments. They might discover for example that a major factor in Newfoundland’s near bankruptcy in the thirties and the loss of independence was the enormous debt it took on in raising an army to help save Britons from having to learn German. While other Commonwealth countried were forgiven their first World War debts, no so Newfoundland – no doubt the first step in a plan to force confederation with Canada. Newfoundland did suffer from political corruption – but no more so, for example, than Kerby's home province of Quebec. Given a fair shake, it is difficult to say how fast Newfoundland would have emerged from its economic doldrums. My guess is that it would have been worse off during through the fifties but much better from the sixties onward. That is conjecture, of course, but what no self respecting economist would doubt is whether Newfoundland could survive on its own today. Kerby and Marland reveal their own ignorance, and perhaps their own agenda, in arguing otherwise.

    • EdMarkSimon Wally and The Beav
      February 24, 2011 - 09:28

      Well said FINTIP

  • We want all our inhabitants to speak up against inequality.
    February 23, 2011 - 12:49

    If those amongst us, who weren't born here, but earn their living in our province and consider it their home, offered their voices to speak out on the inequality of infrastructure and a job-filled economy here, despite our great natural resource base that has helped fuel the economies of the other province, THEN those political scientists would not have to worry about us telling them to go home. And to be honest I HAVE NEVER ever heard a Newfoundlander and Labradorian tell anyone to go back to where they came from. Never! We love having people come and live amongst us, but how could we entertain having people emigrate here, when our own people have had to follow the tail of their resources to the other provinces where their resources were exported to so as to create job-filled economies? All we want is for all to recognize the injustices done to a province, which brought to Canada in 1949 a Mother lode of natural resources and gave Canada its Eastern Bookend with thousands of kilometres on the Atlantic Ocean. Canada became complete from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, it finally had the top half of the North American Continent. The Ottawa government craved our territory since the inception of Confederation in 1867, so said P.M. Louis St. Laurent in his speech to the Canadian Nation in May of 1949, but when it got us it treated our province like we didn`t matter to them and then it exploited our resources for the good of the other provinces. Of course they had control over our politicians`minds, who as a result toed the line for them, because of the goodies Ottawa offered to them to command that type of respect. First thing that should be eliminated in the Ottawa Government is Political Patronage, it destroys Democracy and creates Dictators.

  • Ursula Dowler
    February 23, 2011 - 10:35

    Peter , you have a greater advantage over Marland and Kerby , [you] are preaching to the converted . No bravery here , whereas these professors face the backlash of xenophobes and fearmongers . These gentlemen entered the noble profession of educating young and impressionable minds to the enormous possibilities that are available to , opportunities that present themselves , when the mind is free of persistent prejudices .

  • Everyone should speak up against the injustices committed against our province.
    February 23, 2011 - 08:35

    If you are living in this province, whether you were born here or not, but if you make your living here then you should speak up against the inequities that have been perpetrated against us by Federal Government. It is as plain as the nose on our face that our precious resources such as Fish, Hydroelectric Energy, Iron Ore, Nickel Ore and Oil have all benefitted other parts of Canada and the World to the tune of Billions of Dollars each year.The economy of Newfoundland and Labrador resembles more like an economy of an under-developed country as it compares with any of the provinces of Central and Western Canada, even Nova Scotia has far more infrastructure and Federal Government jobs and it has no natural resource base at all. If the same thing happened to the resources of any of the other province, don't you think Messrs. Marland and Kerby that the citizens of those province would not have spoken up in their own defence? Or if those same province didn't get any of the monies that were given out for Expos, Olympics, Summit Meetings, etc., etc., don't you think they would have been remained quiet while their province became the Cinderella of Confederation and all the while watched their natural resources and economy sink into oblivion? The people of Newfoundland and Labrador were too quiet for the past 61 years and now that they have become vociferous on how things have evolved over those years of being part of the Canadian Federation, it has proven that it is to their detriment to speak up. And the more we speak up the more we are punished.

  • Imagine first, reality second.
    February 22, 2011 - 23:40

    I liked it all, except for the part about separatism. Perhaps separatism is more of a question. And there are no stupid questions when someone is honestly curious about something. And everyone i know talks about it, so I'd be daft not to ask about it. Answers, now that's something else.

  • Off the mark
    February 22, 2011 - 22:11

    One column worth dropping.

    • EdMarkSimon Wally and the Beav
      February 24, 2011 - 09:29

      How did the election go?

  • Sue Kelland-Dyer
    February 22, 2011 - 18:01

    On the issue of being able to stand on our own - where is the proof we cannot - Iceland is dead too right. What tripe. Nothing better to stop a population from doing something for themselves than telling them they can't. Does keep us in check though and they don't even have to threaten us.

  • Thanks Peter for the Great Myth Busting article.
    February 22, 2011 - 15:04

    Thanks Peter for myth-busting the tripe that these two political scientists spewed forth in Saturday's Telegram. According to the article they are supposed to be a part of a cadre of their ilk who have been hired by MUN over the past 5 years. Those must be the only few Federal jobs that this province gained for that time period. Oh, don't tell me please that these profs are paid for by the province, it can't be why would our province hire voices like that to teach our students. I would suggest they were sent here by Ottawa as a gift to MUN to look after Ottawa's needs, we can't forget it was the Danny Williams's era and he had to be combatted. I will expound on one interesting item in the article that you forgot to mention and that is our province the 2 political scientists said that our province still has plenty of resources, we also are aware we have a fine geographic location, so why then couldn't we have found a few smart brains somewhere in the Global economy? IT IS a global economy afterall and since according to the scientists smart brains can't be found in Newfoundland and Labrador. I have to agree somewhat that they didn't evolve under the Confederation System they way they should have given our provinces rich resource base, but it was mainly because they were just 7 MPs among a cadre of 308 Canadian MPs who made sure that everything that became available in resource development in NL had to be exported to the Central Canada to grow economies, along with our human resource. If there had been independent management of our resource base for an independent country, I am sure over the past 60 years of the Western World growing 21 Great Economies, the country of NL could have done the same, and maybe it would have been by the same great politicians who were touted by Ottawa to be great statesmen but didn't do a great deal for their province in way of growing an economy with jobs. But had they been governing their own independent country they could have brought the country of NL into the 21st Century with buoyant economy that included lots of infrastructure and jobs. That couldn't happen under Canada's umbrella with so many needs in the other provinces for raw resources.

  • Chantal
    February 22, 2011 - 14:00


    • EdMarkSimon Wally and the Beav
      February 22, 2011 - 20:58

      The Irony with that small group of little men with big mouths like Mr. Hollet is this statement: "Nationalists will keep saying things that advocate their points of view and they will conveniently ignore things that don’t,” warns Marland. “And so what happens is you start hearing it enough times and then people start believing it.” Ed is starting to believe his own tripe because he has been preaching it as long as he's had a computer. Same old retoric. Funny thing is this is the barb he makes at the so called "nationalists." Ed can join these come from aways and take the next ship out. Peter Jackson you are right on the money. There can be no denying the fact that the federal government - who represents Canada in NAFO allocates quotas to foreign nations. Ed/Wally let me throw the ball back in your court - let us see you produce evidence that they do not. It is not a reach that foreign influences like trade deals affect these quotas. Lets go in with our eyes open here.

  • kent
    February 22, 2011 - 13:22

    Seems like Peter Jackson is trying to drum-up readership...He's attitude is reminiscent of Danny William's "you’re with us or against us" on anything that even has the slightest whiff of disapproval or criticism. The fact is, NL leadership has always used nationalism as a means to detract from their inability to solve the province's problems. So what then? They invent rivals, like Quebec. NFLD has constantly demonized Quebec over Churchill. Our leaders of the day weren't forced to sign it. Instead of getting our back up because someone from off the rock criticizes the place, perhaps we might try to learn from it. To quote you .... "there is a strong resentment here about come-from-aways insert­ing their two cents’ worth into the local dialogue. But it’s a common paranoia, no more unique to this province than it is to any other small, entrenched population." Xenophobia, paranoia and entrenchment are not admirable qualities, they only lead to tunnel vision.

  • Ed Hollett
    February 22, 2011 - 12:36

    Bravo Peter on yet another brilliant parody of the very sort of arguments Marland and Kerby described. It is full of all the self-righteous indignation and myth mongering one would expect right down to the gross insecurity manifest as the sneering comments about where these two fellows are from One could not have penned a better example of exactly the sort of drivel they were talking about right down to the promulgation of even more myths to replace the ones the pair criticised. Oh. On reading again, I seem to have misunderstood. Nonetheless, thanks for proving their point in spades.

  • Gert
    February 22, 2011 - 11:29

    Me thinks he doth protest too much.

  • DP
    February 22, 2011 - 09:38

    People are still settling in Rural Newfoundland and Labrador, mainly outsiders - Americans mostly. However they visited once and ended up buying a home because of rural NL, not St. John's. So, to the professors points, they should get out passed the overpass and witness what other outsiders have said about our province. They can still learn a thing or two from rural NL. As Lanier Phillips - the survivor of the Truxon disaster said "If the world could come to St. Lawrence, or come to Newfoundland, and take a lesson on love and humanity there would not be an Iraq or Afghanistan" Pretty strong words for rural NL don't you think? So why can't our highest educational institution see positive in our most prized assets - Rural Communities. Our Government can! Just check out the Vision 2020 strategy for tourism.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    February 22, 2011 - 07:33

    One fine piece of work Mr. Jackson. Very well said indeed. I hope Mr. Marland and Mr. Kerby don't represent the overall quality of investigation, research and analysis that is passing these days as "higher" education at MUN's. Good thing King Danny didn't have his degree in political science.