Tackling taboos and other thorny topics

Pam Frampton
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"If we don't do things differently, we will end up with the same result every time. We can't be afraid of the conversation."

- St. John's South-Mount Pearl NDP MP Ryan Cleary

Ryan Cleary could have been buried this week in the avalanche of political reaction he triggered by daring to muse about the future of the seal hunt in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Now, Cleary does not need me or anyone else to defend him, but defend him I must, because he is just the latest target in the groundswell of outrage that seems to erupt whenever anyone in this province has the gall to question the status quo.

Challenge a government policy or decision, and my friend Russell Wangersky usually gets "You're not from here, are you?" flung in his face, more than 25 years after he moved here from that frightening place called "Away."

Have the guts to ask tough questions about the fishery or the seal hunt, as "Fisheries Broadcast" host John Furlong courageously does day in and day out, and you will be accused of bias and your critics may even lobby to have you removed from your own show.

Muskrat Falls. Lack of government accountability and transparency. The seal hunt. The fishery. Sexual abuse by the clergy. These are among the topics in this province that some people don't want touched.

Can you believe it? There are actually people out there who think that by airing alternative viewpoints about issues that affect Newfoundland and Labrador, or by questioning conventional wisdom or tradition, we are committing some sort of treason.

Is it true that some folks poach fish and game out of season? Ssssssshhhhh!

Should every rural community in the province survive in the absence of local employment or the tax base needed to provide basic services? Don't mention the R word!

Did we have anything to do with the Beothuk's extinction? Quiet! No one wants to drag that dark chapter into the light.

This head-in-the-sand attitude that some people have is one thing I've never liked about this place. Oops! Did I actually put that in print? Break out the tar and feathers.

All too often in this province, you throw your opinion out there for consideration and out come the silencers - those who would have us ask no questions and challenge nothing. Or, if not the silencers, the twisters-of-message - those who take what you say and turn it on its ear to cast you in a bad light.

Just ask those who have spoken out against Muskrat Falls, or even questioned its viability.

When two intelligent, sensible people - David Vardy and Ron Penney - wrote a letter to The Telegram recently saying the Muskrat Falls project should be reviewed as extensively as possible to protect the public interest, it was dismissed by former premier Danny Williams as being absurd, irresponsible garbage.

Then Ryan Cleary has the audacity to say we should talk about the state of the sealing industry, and former Liberal fisheries minister John Efford calls it "totally disgusting," and accuses the MP of lobbying for an end to the hunt.

For God's sake, people, disagree with the notion that the seal hunt could be in jeopardy if you like, but don't falsely accuse someone of betraying the province and a bunch of other melodramatic nonsense.

In a statement issued by three federal cabinet ministers condemning Cleary on Tuesday - a news release in which their quotes were somehow spontaneously uttered by all three of them in unison - Peter Penashue, Keith Ashfield and Leona Aglukkaq accused Cleary's entire party of letting sealers down.

"It is disturbing that the NDP ... agrees that it's time to give up on Canadian sealers," they said.

That's absolute drivel. There's a huge difference in asking reasonable questions about an industry and saying it should be put out of its misery.

And this is not about the NDP, it's about democracy.

As John Furlong reiterated in the "Fisheries Broadcast" episode in which John Efford tried to paint Cleary as a turncoat, "Ryan Cleary did not say he was going to lobby the federal government to end the seal hunt. He was just wondering - musing aloud - if the days of the hunt are numbered."

Are the days of the hunt numbered? It's hard to hear anything above the roar of all those crying for Cleary's head on a hakapik.

As the MP wrote on his web page, "Having this debate does not signify in any way an end to the hunt - we simply need to start talking."

And start talking we must. About sexual abuse, racism, homophobia, gay rights, teen suicide, the fishery, the seal hunt, eating disorders, drinking and driving, mental health, under-the-table economies, patronage, price-fixing and corruption of any kind.

Otherwise, the silence is deafening.

Can you say "Mount Cashel," anyone?

Pam Frampton is a columnist and The Telegram's associate managing editor. She can be reached by email at pframpton@thetelegram.com. Twitter: pam_frampton


Organizations: NDP

Geographic location: Mount Pearl, Newfoundland and Labrador, St. John's South

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Recent comments

  • Andrew
    January 29, 2012 - 08:46

    Where would we be right now if not for people like Cleary who did question the status quo. I believe that even the most simple reflection should convince most that we need to always ask questions, never accept blindly, and never denounce what may be a good idea based on our comfort in the status quo. Things change, that's just the way things go. Embrace change (even help drive it) or be left in the dark.

  • Charles
    January 28, 2012 - 14:23

    Ryan,if i was to me you on the street,I would shake your hand,The only thing you did wrong,was to ask a question,as for Mr Efford, that one man i wouldn't give the time of day to.

  • Charles
    January 28, 2012 - 14:21

    Ryan,if i was to me you on the street,I would shake your hand,The only thing you did wrong,was to ask a question,as for Mr Efford, that one man i wouldn't give the time of day to.

  • Chris
    January 28, 2012 - 10:58

    Excellent column Pam. It's high time we started questing the status quo.

  • Faye
    January 28, 2012 - 08:33

    Can't say I'm a big fan of Cleary, but even so, this article is spot on.