17 October 2007

The cult of personality meets political hegemony

The Telegram is fairly predictable, at least when it comes to chastising other newspapers in the country for editorials that attack the premier of the moment. Undoubtedly one could hunt through the archives and find telly-torials defending Brian Tobin, Brian Peckford or Joe Smallwood with the same vigor used lately to uphold the national honour of Danny Williams.

In the past couple of weeks, the Telly has taken to task both the Globe and Mail and, in today's edition, the National PostThe mainland papers are criticized for being out of touch or, in the case of the Post, for what the Telly termed "straightforward character assassination."

The Telegram editorials are also fairly predictable - at least on these issues - when it comes to getting it wrong for the most part;  take for example one point the Telly makes, namely the Danny Williams ads last year didn't say "Vote ABC".  This is so small a point as to be insignificant, given that the ads came in the context of Williams' campaign to encourage Canadians to vote for anyone but Conservatives. 

On the only substantive error of fact in the Post editorial, the Telegram is correct. The Post claimed the Nova Scotia deal on Equalization is better than the current Newfoundland and Labrador situation. It isn't.

The Post editorial makes its core point in the last sentence of the first paragraph:  "While his [Williams'] militant schtick has proven wildly popular in Newfoundland --he won re-election on Tuesday with nearly 70% of the total vote -- it will prove toxic to his province in the long run."

There's absolutely nothing new in this at all.  Many people in Newfoundland and Labrador and elsewhere have made the point that ceaselessly attacking the foreign demonios or blaming outsiders for everything is an approach that will ultimately work against both the Premier and the province.

The Post also makes a fairly obvious point, obvious that is to anyone who takes a few minutes to consider what is at the root of the whole Equalization racket between Williams and Stephen Harper, for example.

Williams came to office claiming and he continues to claim that his goal is to make the province economically self-reliant.  In the recent provincial election, Williams and his team members proudly declared that the province will become a "have" one within two years. 

At the same time, Williams major achievement from his first administration was to secure - wait for it - an additional $2.0 billion in federal transfer payments.  His feud with Harper is about - wait for it - continuing federal transfer payments to the provincial government, potentially as he originally sought in 2004 after the province no longer qualifies for Equalization. In other words, after the province becomes "have", which by definition means no longer qualifying for Equalization, Williams has been looking for ways to keep the federal hand-outs flowing.  So obvious is this logical contradiction in Williams' argument that Bond Papers noted it in 2005 in a post titled "The Independence of Dependence."

Ultimately, the shortcoming of both editorials is that they focus on the personality involved rather than on the substance of the policies involved.  This is almost inevitable given that Williams has become the personification of politics in the province.  And if the Telly editorialists missed this other really obvious point, Williams views himself as the embodiment of the province and its people.  As he told Rex Murphy, Williams believes that his party is so popular because he represents in his heart and soul, "the hearts and souls of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians."

The cult of personality has already seriously distorted public debate in the province on any issue of substance.  Given the political hegemony resulting from the recent election, the people of the province will have to see if any genuine alternative points of view arise.

If the Telegram editorial pages are any indication, it is unlikely that local news media will be willing or able to fill a very obvious need.