The politics of silencing dissent

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Lana Payne

It is another sign of a government in severe decline.

For months and months and months, the provincial government has been digging its way out of a giant political hole with an even bigger shovel. The end result: the hole keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger.

Some will pinpoint the beginning of the great fall to the day Premier Kathy Dunderdale stepped on that stage with the most disliked politician in Newfoundland and Labrador: Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

It was an example of extremely poor judgment. But it was also to be just the beginning.

The 2013 budget, the erratic swings on projected deficits and surpluses, the mixed messages, the poor communications, Bill 29, the handling of Muskrat Falls, the failure to reach out to a cross-section of society and build relationships and bridges, the indecisions, the revolving door in the senior bureaucracy, the talking down to the citizens of the province, defensive behaviour, the attack on Gerry Rogers, the cancelling of funding for people with disabilities, the failure to meet with Burton Winters’ grandmother. And the list goes on and on.

They all point to a government that has not only lost its way, but has lost the confidence of the people of the province.

This is a government that hasn’t been able to take advantage of good news. Newfoundland and Labrador has one of the hottest economies in the nation and virtually no one is crediting the governing party with it. When was the last time that happened?

And now the latest tempest.

While Gander MHA and Municipal Affairs Minister Kevin O’Brien has denied that he threatened a local business organization with the loss of infrastructure funding for the region if it didn’t toe his party’s line, most people know there could be a grain of truth in the story.

Government funding has been known in the past to be tied to a price: silence, no criticism, or tempered criticism. Non-profit organizations have known this unwritten rule for a long time. Criticize government policy and risk losing your project funding.

A former member of the Gander Chamber of Commerce says his MHA threatened to hold up or slow down major infrastructure funding if the organization didn’t play nice by disinviting NDP MHAs from participating in a charity breakfast.

In the recent Labrador byelection, the now-former Conservative MP Peter Penashue bragged that he held up approval for an island-based project until funding was awarded for the Trans-Labrador Highway.

When asked about this at the time, Dunderdale told the CBC’s “On Point” that had Penashue been a member of her cabinet, he would be ejected for such actions.

She was quite critical of  Penashue saying, “I wouldn’t bring a minister to the table if that was their perspective.”

There is a difference between  Penashue and  O’Brien. One admitted to taking such action, while the other has denied making the threats. And yet O’Brien did admit to asking the Chamber of Commerce to disinvite MHAs from another political party, saying he didn’t think the event should be partisan. Yet it was O’Brien’s actions that turned the matter into a partisan discussion.

The problem for the Dunderdale government is when you’re a government in decline, people are more likely to believe the worst. And in this case, folks don’t seem to be buying the denials. They know that this kind of favouritism has been common practice back to the days of Smallwood.

It is the ugly underbelly of politics in this province; perhaps in every jurisdiction: play nice, toe the line, don’t criticize and everything will be OK.

That doesn’t make it right.

It is ultimately about stifling dissent. It is very much the action of an insecure government; a government that has lost its way and its purpose. And it also is exactly what the Harper government has been doing since 2006.

Defunding advocacy organizations the government doesn’t agree with; slashing funding for science and research. Hammering anyone who voices a different opinion.

Democracy in Canada is on a slippery slope, greased with insecurities and hyper-partisanship, divisiveness and fear.

The position of the provincial PCs in the polls suggests

Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are not going to just sit back and take it.

Lana Payne is the Atlantic director for Unifor. She can be reached by email at Twitter: @lanampayne Her column returns Oct. 5.

Organizations: Gander Chamber of Commerce, Trans-Labrador Highway.When, CBC On Point

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

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Recent comments

  • Cashin Delaney
    September 21, 2013 - 17:12

    Newfoundlanders will take it, because they are brokenup into 1000s of small factions, working hard to undo the others, yet remaining too civil to broach real active dissent. (afraid to piss off da bullies) Labrador men and women will take it because they are not unified in their cry for justice. They might not sit back, they might try to work within the legislative, judicial and elder scrools instead of lighhting treaty up on billboards and puting common law up against first nations codified ethics. When south coast men, metis men are out chopping down light poles, and their arguement against muskrat is the most sane, and concise, there is a big problem with democracy. Democracy must be blown to pieces. Alice Cooper blew up school and now we have nofail school. We have nofail vote now. Newfie men and women unite. Labradorians, you married these Newfie men and women in 2001, when the name changed. Thats it, you all sucked the face off da codfish and became Newfies, newfiedorians. What odds if were all little green dory men. Gotta forgive all the bad stuff and move on with life. We cant wipe away history, just learn from it. A lot seems to be made of race and sex issues in this paper. I'd like to remind you all of what is on the Fugio Cent, of the United States. One says Mind Your Business. The obverse says We Are One. This is as simple as Benjamin Franklin could put it. We like to blame each other, but in a marriage, it goes nowhere. So were all married to Canada ( dont ask me to explain this, ask rick mercer) and got to make it work. Give and take. The media has a huge role to play.

  • John Stamp
    September 21, 2013 - 09:57

    On could argue this continues at the Municipal level at least in Corner Brook

  • Pensioner
    September 21, 2013 - 09:09

    You are kidding yourself if you think people will forget your cut and slash actions while falling in with the business owners, throwing our money at a mill and TV show. Lets not forget the Muskrat money pit. Now you are talking about pensions. Well, you first premier and MHAs, you first. It's time for people to ban together to do something about you greedy politicians. As long as your pockets are lined and your future is bright the regular citizens of this province are expected to do with less. You might have covered up the building but we see through you. I know Danny was a hard act to follow but this is the government worst by far. Whoever leads the Liberals will be the next premier but that might be sad too.

  • Allan Moulton
    September 21, 2013 - 07:51

    Great Article... Again telling it like it is, this Dunderdale government has totally lost control, and the confidence of Newfoundlanders, add giving away OUR fishery to the list, despite telling workers diffirently during the last election campaign.. workers here on the Burin peninsula will never forget the Premiers Words... We Are Going To Resolve Those Issues, That Plant Has A Future, and I will Meet With You After The Election.. We All Know The Plant Permanently Closed, And Not As Much As Even A Meeting, With The premier... And OUR fish is creating elseware today... Shame On Them !!!!