29 June 2009

Burn your boats!

Over at labradore there has been some delight in poking at an opinion piece that turned up in the weekend Telegram and over at NL Press.

That’s the one that started out with the really creepy metaphor over the whole Danny/Randy thing:

On its face, this question reminds me of the pushy, unappreciative parent who says, "Fine, you got 90% on the test. What happened to the other 10%?"

As we noted before, Randy Simms is apparently the province’s – or Danny Williams’ – demanding father.

Ordinary political discourse is now reduced to someone’s psychological demons if that metaphor is to be believed. 

Then there is the logical implication:  if Randy is everyone’s Dad, then we might also wonder who Jeff Rose-Martland would have as the June Cleaver in this lost episode of Leave it to Beaver penned by Rod Serling.

Perhaps, if the classics are more you speed, you might be considering the prospect that, with a bit more thought, Rose-Martland  could have gifted the writers of the annual Review sketch comedy shows with a local version of Oedipus for next year. 


The latest labradore post on the subject shows only a tiny example of how this defence of the Premier’s testiness is actually an example of the very pessimism, negativity and crap the Premier was supposedly ranting about.

The negativity part is easy:  that would be the first line in which Jeff Rose-Martland accuses Randy Simms of making his comments out of spite.

Anyone who actually heard Simm’s lead-in that fateful day  - Rose-Martland certainly didn’t - or anyone who knows Simms would appreciate that such an imputation is not only being negative, it’s being pretty bloody vicious. Simms doesn’t have a spiteful, malevolent bone in his body.

The pessimism permeates the opinion piece.  It really comes to the fore when the writer likens the fishery to a bog. One presumes he meant quagmire and not a colloquialism for toilet;  that isn’t a safe presumption though, given the whole things slips to the Freudian fairly early on.

The crap part is actually the line which labradore reprints:

Premier Williams looks forwards to a prosperous future where Newfoundland is a successful industrial society, free from the vagaries of nature, and is working to accomplish that.

Now before going any farther let us note the sentence is constructed as if Mr. Rose-Martland is speaking authoritatively on behalf of the Premier or has some firm knowledge of the Leader of The Province’s policies.

The vision held by the Premier, we are told, is of a Newfoundland (but not  Labrador, apparently) society that is not only prosperous but industrial and, as a result ,not affected by nature’s caprice.

Let us begin by establishing that the whole statement is crap, as in nonsense.  Danny Williams and his crew may not have devoted sufficient attention to anything but the oil industry in the eyes of many but at no point has anyone from the administration, Williams included, suggested consigning the rest of the economy to the bog.

But look at the phrase:

…Newfoundland is a successful industrial society, free from the vagaries of nature…

There’s something about those words which is familiar.

Really familiar.

Wait a minute.

Not exactly those words, but something really close.


That’s basically the Smallwood industrialization policy in the 1950s and 1960s:  everything from rubber boots to eyeglasses and ladies gloves, all as a wage-based alternative to the pre-Confederation fishery. Now to be fair, the policy embraced industrialization in the fishery as well but people don’t necessarily remember that, though.  They just remember what they think Smallwood said and the phrase that captures the idea: 

Burn your boats.

Rose-Martland’s understanding of recent history is clearly as off-base as his metaphors.  The current state of the fishery is not the result of the vicissitudes of fortune, the cruel hand of nature that sometimes delivers bounty and at other times starvation.

Rather, the local fishery in its current form is suffering from the combined impacts of at least two forms of human folly. 

The first is over-fishing perpetrated by the locals with as much zeal as the foreigners.  They decimated the cod-stocks, purely and simply.  Lest someone get a tad upset at that suggestion, let some enterprising person put the question bluntly to people like Gus Etchegary and not relent until he gives a straight answer on the fishing practices at FPI when he was there.

The other folly has been successive federal and provincial policies that have sought to keep the fishery organized as a social welfare program rather than let it develop as a sustainable industry.

Successive governments in both Ottawa and St. John’s have preferred, it would seem, to be engineers of a societal soul - with all its Stalinesque implications -  rather than allow the fishery to develop in such a way that the people engaged in it could earn a decent living by their own labour.  There have been impediments to progress, resistance to change that has come, as much as anywhere else, from politicians themselves. 

Those who seek change in the fishery and in other sectors of the local economy are not the people caricatured by Rose-Martland.  One can say caricature since his piece is built, for the most part on sheer invention.

The people about whom Simms spoke are those who are seeking to get beyond the current day, where government hand-outs make up the balance of a very meagre total income.

If Rose-Martland was actually paying attention to any current discussions,  he’d realize the only people hopelessly mired in the past when it comes to the fishery are the very people he claims are looking steadfastly to some supposedly idyllic future. 

The people talking about changes are the people in the industry:  processors, harvesters and plant workers alike.  The only people talking about stamping up the fishery workers, but only if necessary, to tide them over until maybe next year are the Premier and his fish minister. Both are currently out of the province.  One is on vacation.  The other is heading off to foreign lands as proof of how much he cares.  Well, that’s a paraphrase of the way his deputy put it.

The politicians and others trying to respond intelligently and thoughtfully to current economic problems should be troubled by the sort of endorsement that one finds in Rose-Martland’s piece for the current administration. 

Not only does his argument display an appalling  ignorance of the subjects about which he writes, it misrepresents the current government’s policy in the process.  There are enough people who believe that Danny measures the future in only barrels and megawatts, not in quintals and cords.  Rose-Martland doesn’t help matters with his self-confident assertions about what Danny wants, even if his assertions aren’t supported by evidence. 

The real political problems for the current administration come from the fact that - put aside all the money supposedly spent in the past five years -  the current provincial government has shown it has absolutely no idea about what to do with the fishery. 

Their policies have been a combination of status quo and  still more of the same, interspersed with a one-day gab fest that produced nothing meaningful and the break-up of Fishery Products International.  There may be people within the administration with new and good ideas, but thus far they do not seem to have impressed their colleagues  of the need for action. 

Even without any evident ties to the Tories, Rose-Martland the most ardent of Fans of the leader of The Province, the first Townie Premier in 80 years, will surely be taken as representing the way the townies are thinking about things out beyond the woods and the wilds.

The political problem is not that there are no ideas on how to bring about substantive change in the fishery, how to make it competitive and sustainable both for the stocks and for the people who depend on them.

The political problem is that the politicians seem unable or willing to bring about change.   If the fishery is a quagmire, it is a political one and only political leadership will avoid a disaster.

No good can come of just hoping the whole thing will pass away. Nor can any good come from what amounts to a work of fan fiction.  The Premier would be right to reject such a genuine mountain of pessimism, negativity and crap just as surely as he assailed Randy Simms for an imagined one.