A handful of readers objected to last week’s column (“More proof politicians are clueless”), about former finance minister Cathy Bennett’s brazen hypocrisy in whining about being bullied by assorted fellow Liberals.
A word limit of 750 rather than the weekly 650 would have allowed for mention of the fact that just because Bennett is female does not mean criticism of her must be softened, nor does it mean such criticism is automatically sexist or chauvinistic. Word-limit requirements usually entail leaving out the obvious.
Jump on the poor-Bennett bandwagon if you choose, but don’t condemn those independent-minded Newfoundlanders who are content to watch it speed past without shedding a sympathetic tear, let alone leaping onto it.
The allegations by several MHAs that bullies roam the halls of the Confederation Building are mostly surprising because of who is being — allegedly — bullied. Politicians are usually the bullies, not the bullied.
Newfoundland has a 500-year history of bullying. It started the day the first cod was caught, and the ship’s captain ordered a peasant sailor, “Gut that fish for me, and bring it to my quarters.”
So began a culture of bullying that has thrived for more than five centuries, from the fishing admirals to the fish merchants to the Water Street merchants to the St. John’s Board of Trade and the N.L. Employers’ Council.
It is a line of succession that befits royalty. It permeates all aspects of Newfoundland life, and infects every level of politics.
Most popular is the shut up and obey school of bullying. It usually works vertically, from the top down. In the current scandal roiling the House of Assembly, bullying has taken a different tack by working laterally — high-end colleagues bullying each other, or not, rather than bullying their docile underlings, i.e., the nerdy Newfoundland citizenry.
A heckler at the back is demanding proof.
Ponder, sir, how for years people who questioned the need for the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project were dismissed as “naysayers.”
That bit of bullying cost Newfoundlanders $12.7 billion and counting, although it must be said that the nerds willingly presented their chins to the bullies’ fists.
Political bullies don’t see their actions as bullying, preferring to describe it as “making hard decisions.”
It must have been a particularly hard decision to close dozens of libraries across the province in order to save a relatively paltry million bucks. That action was so egregious, the bullied fought back and won a temporary reprieve, a rare occurrence in the Newfoundland schoolyard.
Far worse was the über-bullying provincial budget of 2016 — “pulled straight from the 18th century,” as I wrote last week — that introduced an archaic poll tax, increased some taxes, introduced other taxes and generally bullied the populace.
The bully who produced and defended this political abomination was, of course, Cathy Bennett, who, two years later, is being praised by some as a brave heroine for condemning … bullying. Contemplating the sheer hypocrisy makes you dizzy.
I’m always open to other interpretations, and so will share this missive from a devoted reader: “Re your latest column, I am shocked and appalled at your attack upon the 18th century, the best century ever. Great men were produced in that century, sir, men we could use again in this our unhappy province’s desperate hour, sir. Bullying was unknown in that century, sir. People of Quality were respected then, sir, by their social inferiors, sir. Gentlemen wore powdered wigs, sir, high heels with buckles and stylish frilly shirts and toasted the King, sir. When come such days again to this our Royal Newfoundland, sir?”
Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at email@example.com.