Punishing opposition

Bob Wakeham
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The next time Kathy Dunderdale arranges a photo-op in one of the province's classrooms, one of those cozy scenes where the premier, trying to look warm and cuddly, reads aloud to an obedient and receptive audience of youngsters, maybe she should pick a yarn from her own backyard.

Now once upon a time, in a land called Newf, there was a little boy named Darin, known throughout the playground as being a bit of a sook. One day Darin found himself in the sand box with a boy named Earle. Darin was shovelling sand, or perhaps something else that began with the letter "S," given the fact that little Darin, even back then, had political ambitions and wanted to run the playground his way. Anyway, Earle threw some sand in Darin's face. Darin started to cry his poor little eyes out. He said Earle was not playing fair. And he was never, ever going to talk to him again. And he was taking away Earle's allowance. So there, cried Darin. Take that, Earle.

Well, say what you want about Darin King's tantrum this week, you have to admit he had all the subtlety of a guerrilla, a regular King Kong King.

And, in a strange, ironic way, perhaps we should be grateful to King Kong King for his lack of nuance in what I would argue was an outrageous move to try and punish, to attempt to intimidate the fisheries union for daring, for having the unmitigated gall, to (drum roll please) question government policy.

Grateful, because he has performed a public service by reminding all of us once again, from the naïve to the cynical, why it is we so often find it difficult to trust the people we elect to act in a sensible, democratic fashion, to take the high road, to never use their powers to stifle debate.

In fact, King delivered a slow pitch over the plate to just about anybody wanting to swing for the anti-government fences when he cut off research and marketing funds to the union this past week, a move he made because Earle McCurdy had gotten under his skin, the thinnest of skin obviously, and had said things he found bothersome.

It is one thing to have a strong difference of opinion, to argue vigorously, to fight publicly, and even, on occasion, to engage in a knock-down drag-out set-to, a pier eight brawl; it shouldn't shock anyone with a few neurons of intelligence that debates over the future of the fishery, about the future of countless jobs, will evoke strong debate. They always have. They always will.

But if King has trouble with McCurdy or any of his executive, then hold a press conference, or roar and bawl on the open line shows, call him down to the dogs, tell him he's full of crap. McCurdy is a big boy. He's been under fire most of his professional life. It's the nature of the beast of that job. He can take it. If he can't, he shouldn't be there.

But for King to react the way he did this past week, to cut off funding to the union, to wave the big stick of power because he doesn't like what an organization has said about his government, is an affront to any notion of free thinking and wide ranging exchange of ideas that should exist in any society.

When heading up what is arguably the most important portfolio in government, certainly the most sensitive, and at a crucial time in the history of the fishery, you don't take your marbles and storm on home to your Mom - or, in this case, Mother Dunderdale - and ask her to punish your evil combatant.

And we can only assume Dunderdale has given her minister total support in this matter, has his back, as they say.

Perhaps it is part of her philosophy of transparency to let the province know in no uncertain terms: be good to us, slip under the covers with us, play the role of sycophant and you'll be seen in a favourable light and will be rewarded.

You can't help but think this sort of over-the-top, super-sensitivity represents a residue from the Williams tenure when criticism of the government was equated, in a real twisted way, with being a traitor to the Newfoundland cause. You're either with us, or against us; there's no in between.

Williams could wave the flag with the best of 'em, an illustration, as the famous Samuel Johnson quote goes, that "patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel." Dunderdale and King have a desire, apparently, to keep up that tradition.

And King, you might recall, is a life-long educator, so it would have been a real eye opener to have been able to observe him in the classroom, especially if he taught civics and lectured about participation in democracy.

King Kong King hit a low mark this week, even for politicians. Using strong-arm tactics and intimidation with your critics, trying to shut them up, is reprehensible.

And if King feels unable to stand the rigors of a good healthy debate about the future of the Newfoundland fishery, perhaps he should transfer to tourism, spend his days gazing at and approving slickly-produced television ads about the joys of travelling through Gros Morne Park.

That seems to be more his speed, a position in which he can do the least amount of damage.

Bob Wakeham has spent more than 30 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwakeham@nl.rogers.com.

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Gros Morne Park

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Recent comments

  • Pam
    March 04, 2012 - 13:55

    I wonder how many governement ministers there have been since Earl McCurdy has been head of FFAW? Now that might be something constructive for the reporters to find out. I hope Darin King sticks to his guns. I have no involvement in the fishery, however i do live in Rural NL and follow the news. I am just sick and tired of everyone bowing to McCurdy and the FFAW. Time for us as a province to stick up and say enough is enough.

  • John Smith
    March 03, 2012 - 10:41

    Funny thing though...through all the turmoil, through all the layoffs, through all the devestation in the fishery there has been one constant...Earl Mcurdy, and the FFAW. Everything else has changed..there have been Liberal governments, PC governments, both here, and in Ottawa, many differents ministers, both here and in ottawa..yet the only thing that hasn't changed is Earl and the Union...Hmmm could it be possible that a change might be needed there? Could that be at all a remote possibility?? No, of course not. It's fine to have one union own fishing fleets, it's fine for one union to represent both plant workers and fishers, it's fine for Earl to consatntly play games with every administration we have, and always come out on top. So it simply can't be Earl or the FFAW, now could it Bob?

  • RookiesDoing Damage
    March 03, 2012 - 10:33

    This government are a bunch of school boy/ girl amateurs, elected and riding on the coat tails of Danny Williams. Bunch of opportunists Danny put in who hopped on his celeb status bandwagon, at the time. They won't last long. Already time for a new gov and they haven't even ruled or worked yet.. F/T Twitter jobs it seems . Must be nice. At least they can afford their utility bills. But not for long hopefully.

    • Ben
      March 04, 2012 - 13:48

      I didnt see Danny's name anywhere on a ballot during this election! The people had a chance to choose who they wanted in their districts. They did just that. And i am sure the alternative opposition looks like a bright bunch! Take Jim Bennett, Randy Edmunds, Dale Kirby, Gerry Rogers, or Chris Mitchelmore...oh yeah they will run the province alright. Get real!! Maybe some of the reporters in the province should have had their names on the ballot in October. Because apparently some of them have all the answers!