A million little pieces

Russell Wangersky
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I hope, for everyone’s sake, that by the end of the next provincial election, this province’s politicians will be at peace with themselves — because I’m really tired of them being “at piece” with everything under the sun.

Politics has its empires; under Brian Tobin, we lived in the empire of “at the end of the day.”

We might not have seen the government work the way we wanted it to, but things, we were promised, would work out “at the end of the day.” (The end of the day, it must be stressed, didn’t mean the end of today, exactly; it meant at the end of some mythical construct that could be a bunch of days, or even months or years. It could even be decades. It meant, in real terms, “when we actually get around to stopping doing this thing, whenever that thing might be.”)

Then, under Danny Williams, we entered the age of the “go-forward basis.”

Bad things always happened in the past; the past might only be seconds ago, but it would not be fixed or compensated for. Instead, everything would be dealt with differently in the future.

It was a wonderfully empty commitment: as far as we know, time moves only in one direction, so everything is necessarily on a go-forward basis.

Even when you’re backing out of your driveway, you are, sadly, ticking forward in time.

As diseases go, it was a marvellous catching thing.

By the time of Williams’ sudden departure, there were probably members of his cabinet who were telling their spouses that they’d be more attentive “on a go-forward basis” (providing, of course, that the entire province wasn’t shafted by Stephen Harper, the federal government or the European Union in the meantime.)

Then came the Kathy Dunderdale epoch, the period that brought piece in our time. Or, at least, brought piece into our time.

Here are a couple of examples, straight from Dunderdale herself.

“While we did not get a great deal of support in terms of the whole land tenure piece, Mr. Speaker, we were able to bring enough pressure to bear on the oil companies, again amidst a storm of controversy and abuse, often led by our friends across the way, I might add.”

“Even now companies come back to us and say we were so resistant on that piece, yet we are taking the template that was developed in Newfoundland and Labrador and we are applying it around the world because it works for us, it works for our partners in other countries.”

But it’s not just her.

Here’s cabinet minister Kevin O’Brien: “How important that is to partner with Lufthansa on that educational piece to give two certifications to our students out there, one European and one North American. How important is that?”

Even the opposition jumped onboard, sometimes in triplicate, like this wonder from MHA Kelvin Parsons: “The new act had a number of things in it, one of them principally being the privacy piece and the other piece being the access to information piece.”

And opposition member Les Dean: “So that, in particular, was a decision that this Rural Secretariat, the rural lens piece of that office really seemed to have no input into.” (All of those are from just the last three days of  the House of Assembly’s spring sessions, and there are many, many more.)


Disfigure of speech

I can accept that maybe it’s just shorthand. Maybe the people who use “piece” can’t really be bothered to go through the whole gamut of details involved with an issue. Maybe they don’t even know the details. Or perhaps it’s a time-filler, designed to keep your mouth moving in a somewhat intelligible fashion while your brain desperately tries to catch up, a more strategic way to stall for time than simply saying “ummmm.”

Problem is, when you hear it over and over and over again, it makes the speaker sound no more informed about their topic than if they had decided to come out with “we’re dealing with that medical thang” or “we’re fixing that transportation whack-a-doodle-thingy.”

You wouldn’t have much confidence in your doctor if he kept telling you that you had “the cancer piece,” or if your accountant wanted you to consider “the bankruptcy whatchamacallit.”

So, let’s call it the end of the day, and put the piece to rest on a go-forward basis.


Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at rwanger@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: European Union, Lufthansa, North American Rural Secretariat

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador

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Recent comments

  • Eli
    August 09, 2011 - 09:23

    Rolling it out was the hot button "piece" for a short while. Sounded real good on on a $15,000.00 "investment" in a softball field.

  • Anne
    August 09, 2011 - 08:37

    Ha...great "piece." Ah, politicians - always blabbing on about something, yet they never say anything at all.

  • Ed Hollett
    August 09, 2011 - 06:55

    "Piece" is actually another one of the Dannyisms that crept into political speak after 2003. He is full of those bits of jargon. "On a go-forward" basis was another one that Tobin liked as well. Who knows where he picked it up? As with all these things, the dominant political player uses them and others take them up in order to ape the dominant. Clyde Wells used fairness and balance a lot but the favorite word of his that the apes picked up was "unconscionable". Kathy Dunderdale picked up on "piece" from Danny and she uses it as much or more than anyone else. She used to relate it to "due diligence" - another bit of pseudo-business jargon - as in ""do the due diligence piece" on something or other. Fairity O'Brien likes to use it. Yvonne Jones uses "piece" and a bunch of other Dannyisms, as do pretty well all the cabinet ministers and MHAs who want to sound more impressive than they feel they would be if they used ordinary words that others understand. The reality of using this jargon is that they don't sound smarter or more savy. They just sound foolish.