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BOB WAKEHAM: One jeer, one cheer

Brendan Paddick, chair of the Nalcor Energy board of directors, at the Muskrat Falls Inquiry in St. John’s on Tuesday.
Brendan Paddick, chair of the Nalcor Energy board of directors, at the Muskrat Falls Inquiry in St. John’s last week. — Telegram file photo

There’s an expression used in the world of professional jocks, in particular, called “piling on” — the description of a team well ahead in a game deciding to really lay it to their opponents, “running up” the score unnecessarily.

So, given the fact that Nalcor board of directors chairman Brendan Paddick has been justifiably booed in The Telegram and elsewhere for his head-turning and ironic plea to the Newfoundland public to start cheering on the beleaguered Crown corporation, I run the risk here of piling on in the criticism that has come his way since those ludicrous remarks at the Muskrat Falls inquiry.

But, hey, what can I say? No. 1, I was in the woods trying (rather unsuccessfully, as it turns out) to substantially reduce the Bay d’Espoir area of mud trout when Paddick basically (and foolishly) begged all of us, those souls stuck with an enormous bill we’ll be paying forever and a day, to cut Nalcor some slack; by inference, at the very least, he was saying we should try and bury the memories of the political and bureaucratic arrogance that has put the province in a financial hole from which it may never fully recover.

So, I’m a little late to the editorial fallout.

And No. 2, there are times when a public figure makes such outrageous comments that no amount of column inches or air time is too much, and Paddick’s painful attempt to convince us to start cheerleading for Nalcor, to “put the jersey on,” as he so simplistically put it, certainly falls easily into that category.

So, there is plenty of evidence to account for this belated attempt on my part to squeeze some more editorial juice out of the Paddick pickle.

I think what grieves me the most about Paddick’s call for cheers is that a prime reason for Newfoundland having gotten itself into this incredible mess in the first place is that the word went out very early on, when engineer Danny Williams blew the whistle to start the Muskrat train moving, that anybody who didn’t get on board with his vision was a traitor — not a real, bonafide Newf — and should be hove onto the tracks at the first opportunity.

People like David Vardy, Ron Penney, Cabot Martin and company were metaphorically tarred and feathered.

So, no, Mr. Paddick. We’ve engaged in quite enough cheerleading for politicians and their Crown corporation appointees, and others in positions of trust here in Newfoundland, thank you very much.

And, yes, some members of the media, as well — not all, mind you, as a few journalists swallowed the Williams Kool-Aid from the outset, and eventually choked — were torn to shreds for daring to question the project. Traitors, we were, for not turning ourselves into cheerleaders for the Newfoundland team, not prepared to stand on the sidelines with pom-poms and shout ourselves hoarse:

Danny Williams, he’s our man,
If he can’t do it,
Nobody can.

This kind of subservience to authority, an all too common Newfoundland trait for way too long (exacerbated after we willingly gave up our independence in 1934, and then in 1949, when we were coerced into placing our heads on the Canadian bosom) had been given a solid kick in the arse by a new generation of Newfoundlanders who were eager to challenge the status quo, to demand truth and transparency from our politicians, to call out our decision-makers.

And then along came Muskrat Falls, and we fell into the same trap that had snared so many of our ancestors. Just trust our leaders. They know best. Be the obedient little Newfs you always have been.

So, no, Mr. Paddick. We’ve engaged in quite enough cheerleading for politicians and their Crown corporation appointees, and others in positions of trust here in Newfoundland, thank you very much. Give me some strong-willed skepticism any day of the week.

But let me make mention of another form of cheerleading that took place last week as I was trying to cast my line through the rain and wind while bobbing around a lake in a 12-foot aluminium boat, and that being, of course, the sendoff for my former colleague and forever friend, Debbie Cooper, after 30 years of hosting “Here and Now.”

Debbie Cooper at a charity fundraiser, 2011.
Debbie Cooper at a charity fundraiser, 2011.

I’ve not been infallible during my journalistic career, far from it, but I most certainly made no mistake in hiring Debbie in 1989 to co-anchor the evening newscast, a job that entails more pressure than anyone outside the broadcasting world could possibly imagine.

But Debbie handled her responsibilities with aplomb, class and warmth, and the viewers in this province have let her know during the past couple of weeks just how much they appreciated her performance night in and night out, year in and year out, decade in and decade out.

The accolades were well-earned.

But one point worth making is that Debbie was a survivor, a consistent face during the endless alteration in vision and mandates CBC management forced on its journalistic employees over the years, including all those people involved in the supper-hour news programs.

Debbie Cooper had a strength of character that allowed her to withstand the upheavals, and to remain that respectful and respected nightly visitor to our homes.

And she maintained her sanity as well.

See, I can cheerlead when it is earned.

Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwakeham@nl.rogers.com


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