04 July 2005

Bob Benson - ink stained, maybe but unsullied by facts

Yesterday's Telegram had yet another column by retired journalist Bob Benson on the plight of Newfoundland and Labrador. You can find the column here, but I'll also append it to the end of this post so it won't disappear in the bowels of the Telly's abysmal website. Look under columns, then Sunday and then Bob Benson.

Ray Guy, who used to write for the Telly when Bob first put fingers to typewriter, likes to call reporters ink-stained wretches; I always took that as an affectionate reference and personally, I look on all reporters as being a gaggle of oft-misunderstood people.

Benson has been pumping out this stuff for years but since he retired, the Telly has given him a ready platform for his pseudo-nationalist rants.

The one yesterday made me wonder why he is writing in the Telly and not for the newspaper where he'd feel much more comfortable: the fact-challenged weekly known as the Independent.

Here's the first chunk of the column with my comments in square brackets:

"Losing our future

Two days after the celebrations of Canada'’s 138th birthday on July 1, this province has yet to find its place in Confederation.

To be brutal about it, union with Canada has failed to produce the new Jerusalem that was promised in 1949.

To be sure, Newfoundland and Labrador has benefited immensely from the largess and handouts of federal transfer payments in areas like Canada Pension, Old Age Security, health care as well as employment insurance and social assistance payments. Then there are the industrial bailouts like the $3 billion which went to support rural Newfoundland after the 1990s northern cod fisheries collapse which was mainly due to federal mismanagement in the first place.

Lost resources

Federal mismanagement, and Ottawa'’s failure to control offshore overfishing by foreign, as well as Canadian, fishing fleets is one of the factors, but not all, that have resulted in the decline of rural Newfoundland."

[Rural Newfoundland is changing. It is only declining if one accepts that the notion that what existed before 1992 was the peak or was preferable. Bob needs to go back and have a hard look at the hard life of people in the fishery before he suggests that the current situation is a decline. Benson also doesn't dare suggest anything bold, like following the Icelandic model of fish management. Nope. That might force him to stop being yet another promoter of the "victim" school of local history.]

"In addition, two rulings by the Supreme Court of Canada in the 1980s denied us control over our natural resources. One ruling said we did not have the right to change the one-sided Upper Churchill hydroelectric contract which made Hydro Quebec the main beneficiary. The other ruled the province doesn'’t own offshore oil and gas on the Grand Banks even though they were brought into Canada because of Confederation. True, Ottawa has permitted us to keep 100 per cent of the royalties but that is only crumbs compared to what it would be if the province had outright ownership."

[Ok. These are favourite bits of nonsense that are not made suddenly true by the constant repetition.

Bob conveniently forgets a few things. First, the Upper Churchill case was basically a ruling against the government attempting to change a contract unilaterally by its own legislative powers. It was a contract law case and the ruling essentially reinforced the notion that one party can't change a contract using its own extraordinary powers without the consent of the other party.

He also doesn't point out that the provincial government bought out the local end of the contract from a private company. The wisdom or folly of that decision has yet to be chewed over by anyone.

Second, on the offshore, there were two rulings. The first upheld a decision by the Supreme Court of Newfoundland that the provincial government didn't have legislative jurisdiction over the offshore. People like Benson like to ignore the decision by the local court. The second decision was on another reference and concluded the same thing.

Of course if Bob relied on facts to back up his opinions he'd never be able to go on an bitch about the fact that noone from this province has ever sat on the Supreme Court of Canada. It actually wouldn't make a difference, Bob, since people usually make decisions based on facts.

Third, and this is really the big point, Benson is simply full of crap when he claims we are getting a pittance from the offshore and that amount would be greater if we had "ownership".

The provincial government claims 100% of direct revenues from the offshore which is exactly what would occur if the province actually "owned" the fields; not "sort of" or "approximately" but EXACTLY.

Bob's pittance is actually enough this fiscal year to push the province off the Equalization rolls. This year - 2005 - the province will become a have province for the first time in its history and we will hold that position for the foreseeable future.

That fact alone makes Bob's lede complete foolishness.]

Here's the rest of the column and again, my comments are inside square brackets.

"Passed over for high court

By the way, why is it that not one Newfoundland and Labrador judge has been nominated to a position on the Supreme Court of Canada? With the exception of Arthur May who served briefly as federal deputy minister of Fisheries and Oceans in the mid 1980s, why hasn'’t a person from this province been appointed to a senior civilian public policy-making and administrative position in the federal government? The answers to these questions would be interesting indeed.

[They'd be interesting solely because Bob would have to stop writing drivel.]

"But after 56 years of Confederation, we still have the nation'’s highest unemployment rate which is stuck at 16 per cent. The average annual income in rural Newfoundland of $20,000, well below the national average except for Prince Edward Island.

Above all, the province'’s youth is leaving in droves to find employment in other parts of Canada.

An alarming statistic

In the past decade or so, more than 30,000 people have moved away because they couldnÂ’t find employment. Even more worrisome is the fact, according to information from the recent symposium on rural Newfoundland held in Carbonear, that 28 per cent of young people in rural areas live on some form of income support.

Our youth is our most precious resource and once they are gone, we lose everything.

Just last week, I received this e-mail from a young reader: '“As a 23-year-old recent graduate of Memorial University, I am finding myself, like many others of my age, being drawn to the mainland for bigger opportunities. However, it is only recently I began to realize the plight of Newfoundland and its impact on me.'”

But he is proud of his identity as a Newfoundlander and this bodes well for the future.

'“I know from visiting many people across Canada that we are a rich and recognizable people,'” he wrote.

Mainland commentators and critics fall into the trap of thinking this province is a haven for whiners and, to use a good old Newfoundland expression, '“slingers'” or idlers and loafers."

[When all the mainlanders see is stuff like yours Bob, then you can understand why they come to their conclusions. When they see stuff like Hard Rock and Water, how can anyone think anything else?]

"But all we want is control over our own destiny and to make this province a decent place for all of its citizens to live in. If we have to rant and roar to achieve this, so be it."

[We already control our own destiny, Bob. If we'd stop ranting and roaring, i.e. shooting off our mouths while uttering idiocies, and start addressing the issues on a factual basis, we'd be much better off.]

"Bob Benson is a St. John'’s journalist. He can be reached by e-mail at