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Russell Wangersky: Pride has its place, but it’s not a panacea

Loathe as I am to get dragged into the whole flag-waving morass, it’s hard not to see that pride is a powerful topic in this province.

 

Russell Wangersky
Russell Wangersky

 

In the last few weeks, prominent journalist James McLeod wrote about his reasons for leaving the province, prominent journalist Fred Hutton wrote about his reasons for staying in the province, and prominent journalist Robin Short wrote about spontaneous kitchen parties at airports, and their place in maintaining a Newfoundland stereotype.

The three opinion pieces garnered all sorts of response: anger, agreement, insult, rage and even threats. (My particular favourite response was a Tweet that said comparing the pieces by McLeod and Hutton was like trying to compare vinegar and saccharine.)

But primarily, all of the response was anchored in pride — in particular, I’d argue, the neo-Newfoundland and Labrador pride created during the Danny Williams/Kathy Dunderdale era, when oil cash made us the coolest province, the happening place, when our world-class Newfoundland experts were going to bring us on-time, on-budget hydro megaprojects, even though they hadn’t built a hydro project in living corporate memory.

But I digress.

Back to pride and prejudices.

The three opinion pieces garnered all sorts of response: anger, agreement, insult, rage and even threats.

I agreed with parts of all three of the pieces: I agree with James that we’re heading for an economic mess that is going to chew up and spit out the marginalized in our society, and that, for some, the time to leave is now. I agree with Fred that this can be a fine place to live, even when it’s battering down sleet, if you actually have the financial means to stay here. And I even agree with Robin: responding to an airport delay with accordions, song and dance may be fine, but it also allows a fair few people from away to continue with their “pat them on the head, aren’t the Newfoundlanders the cutest things” attitude.

You might fill with pride and marvel at the performers’ resilience. Or you might shudder and imagine that, if that performance broke out before your flight, with the singers not knowing if their party was unwelcome for someone flying to a funeral or coming off 36 hours of interrupted flights, you’d head to the bar.

Pride can be a great thing. It can lift you up when you’re flat, it can keep you going when others cave.

But I’d toss a caveat in there: it can only do so much.

You can believe in yourself all you want; except in rare cases where belief, hard work and the right genes all combine, all the belief in the world won’t get you into the NHL or win you a medal at the Olympics.

Blind optimism has its value. It keeps the local economy churning along, keeps cycling what dollars we do have through the system so that service industry employees stay employed and businesses keep going.

Fred Hutton, in his piece, said, “That is not to say that what is happening is not important, or having a devastating impact on some who are forced to find greener pastures. But for those who can stay and eke out a living, it's a pretty good spot.” And that’s true.

My advice? Start the eking now. Get used to it. Find a way to economise — see if you can’t find 10 per cent of your household income to put aside, before the coming days when you will need it. And you will need it. Listen to McLeod on that point.

There is a small cushion right now.

Provincial government taxes and fees are likely to go on somewhat of a hiatus, at least for the next few years, as the Dwight Ball Liberals try to curry favour before the 2019 election. But don’t think for one moment that they won’t be back — chances are we’ll be told, by whoever wins the next election, that we’re living wildly beyond our means. We are — our government is just too scared to say it and lose votes.

Likewise, however much “softening” of electrical bills the provincial government and Nalcor can do over the next few years, delaying the impact of the Muskrat Falls rate hike is not cancelling it.

The piper will be paid.

Make sure you’re in a position to pay, so that, as Fred Hutton says, you can continue to enjoy home, hearth and family.

Oh, and maybe even listen to Robin Short: we’re not the centre of the universe — that could be important, should we need outside help for bills we cannot pay.

Pride is a pitfall if you don’t have skills to anchor it to, and patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels.

Oh, and one last thing: if you do have to leave, you’re not a traitor. And only a scoundrel would say you are.

 

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 39 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at rwanger@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky.

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