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Letter: Of governance and criticism

“But criticism, real criticism, is the exercise of curiosity. It obeys an instinct prompting it to try to know the best that is known and thought in the world, irrespectively of practice, politics and everything of the kind; and to value knowledge and thoughts as they approach their best, without any other consideration whatsoever.” — Matthew Arnold   It was with great anticipation that I looked forward to the Lisa Moore/Alex Marland project on democracy. I have not read it all, but I feel that this is a worthwhile project, and one so badly needed — not only in Newfoundland and Labrador and in Canada, but as we see events unfolding worldwide there is little doubt of its universal application.

I would like to begin with what David Cochrane wrote in in his wonderful contribution to the Moore/ Marland project. I find much merit in his views with respect to patriotic incorrectness. I’m not convinced, however, that we are all quite as slavishly pro-government as David seems to imply. Furthermore, I would go a little further and identify what might be the source or sources of the ideas suggested by him that we are so badly in need of.

Before I do, I bow to those in the past and today, perhaps neglected by Cochrane, who took/are taking a firm and unambiguous stand against what they saw and see not only as bad, but as outrageous governance. 

Ray Guy comes to mind; J.R. Smallwood, I’m sure, would have expressed the greatest appreciation if he would have disappeared. Today “Uncle Gnarley,” David Vardy, Lana Payne, Cabot Martin, Maurice Adams and many others are taking a very firm stance against what they see as incredibly bad governance. 

And yet what David Cochrane writes rings true, especially when he tells us: “And good ideas require the courage and the intellectual leadership that aren’t always found in the legislature or from the caller on Line 3.” But I would ask further: where are the ideas to be found? 

It is my belief that some of the most intellectual spaces in our community are the campuses of Memorial University and yet few can doubt the veracity of David Vardy’s quip that Memorial University is punching well below its weight with respect to commenting on the Muskrat Falls project.

Why? Why is it we hear so little from the intellectuals at Memorial on any topic? Except for a few with close ties to the environment and/or economics, the university seems all but voiceless with respect to the issues that are the very lifeblood of our culture. I don’t believe for a moment that I’m being naïve when I suggest that the brightest among us should be able to contribute to the flow of ideas mentioned above by both Arnold and Cochrane.

Yet it could be that the “best that is known” — the greatest ideas — are to be found in other countries with a much more robust democracy and/or with a type of democracy that wears a different coat, so to say. There are many countries much further advanced than our own that might have a lot to teach us and have ideas that we’ve not even dreamed of. I would ask the reader: have you ever wondered why a petro state like Norway has salted away more than a trillion dollars (U.S.) while we, with all our vast wealth, are moving much closer to the conditions of Venezuela? So much to learn, indeed.

And please don’t neglect our people. Thousands out there struggle every day to make their own dreams and ours a reality, in traditional as well as in new and innovative enterprises. They are much more than a resource to be called on only at polling time. I would suggest that these same business people in our community can and must contribute much more to the flow of ideas.

If ever there was a community in need of criticism – in the Arnold sense – it is Newfoundland and Labrador. I can fully imagine what would happen should we ever find our way. Oh happy day.


Wayne Norman
St. John’s

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