27 November 2010

Talking to Canadians

For the past couple of decades, Rex Murphy has made a comfortable living by talking to mainlanders. 

What appears to catch their ear, let us not forget, is his ability to speak in subordinate clauses.  The crowd who watch his commentaries seem impressed by his use of words and sentences that, because they are lyrical, appear to be intelligent.

That is not to say they are ignorant but that Murphy is not only smart  - he uses big words, after all - but his subordinate clauses sound smart. 

At times, though, one must wonder if, after all this time, Rex continues to fool them into believing that what he says is true.

From time to time, Rex likes to talk about the place he comes from.  Like the land from which any expatriate comes from, Rex’s Newfoundland is not so much a real place with which he is intimately familiar as it is a memory distorted by distance and emotion.  

Take for example, the way he speaks about Williams’ patriotism.  It is fashionable among a certain crowd to claim for Newfoundland and Labrador some sort of Brigadoonish fairy quality that suspends the laws of nature, time and man. None but Newfoundlanders, supposedly, can understand pride of place and origin. 

This is, to put it crudely,  nothing more than crap. It is exactly what Rex claims it isn’t.  It is entirely a conceit, a fabrication, a convenient assumption that allows an otherwise ridiculous claim to appear plausible.

No successful premier could be unaware — and it is the key to those moments Thursday morning when with a trace of mist in his eye he spoke of Newfoundland’s future and the merits of her peoples. It is common to us all — this strange, sometimes extorted affection we Newfoundlanders have for our place. And therefore it was not odd that Mr. Williams could address the whole of the community, speak as he spoke, say even that “I love you all”; whereas it would be odd if, not perfectly impossible for, say, Dalton McGuinty were to attempt a like hail. The elements are not there, either in him or in Ontario. 

Those words, hastily scrawled in Williams’ own hand across the bottom of the text from which he spoke, are as bizarre in St. John’s as they would be anywhere else in the country coming from a politician.

Danny Williams did nothing if he did not bring to local politics an intensely personal quality it seldom has had. it more typically manifest in what Murphy dismisses as a periodic excess.  In truth, Williams never knew a cheap personal smear he would not make.  He seldom spoke on any disagreement except in a disagreeable way. And just as surely as Williams was perpetually bitter toward anyone, he was also quick to claim a deep personal grievance if anyone expressed an opinion contrary to his own.

In that context, Williams profession of the most intense personal affection for a raft of people he did not know is doubly odd. Coupled with the understanding that Williams spent so much of his time massaging public opinion toward him and one starts to appreciate that his “I love you all” was as impersonal as the sign-off for a television show. 

Make no mistake:  there is an ease and a friendliness in Newfoundland and Labrador that allows one to pass a complete stranger on the street and exchange pleasantries.  But what Williams’ scribbled words conveyed was more akin to what one might see on an American reality television show.

Murphy’s political obit for Danny Williams also contains some fairly obvious foolishness beyond those things.  he writes, for example, that some “boost of assertive spirit, perhaps even a touch of overcompensation, did not go astray in Newfoundland during the latter part of the ’90s.” 

Williams did not enter politics until couple of years later – he got the party leader’s job in April 2001 -  as things were clearly on the upswing after a deep recession and the cod moratorium.  Williams likes to claim the place was on the skids before he arrived but that, like many of the tales of Williams’ exploits are sheer fabrication. The gobs of cash he spent came entirely from energy deals signed before he took office in October 2003.

But when Rex writes stuff like this that you have to wonder:

Brian Peckford talked about it. Clyde Wells talked about it. Brian Tobin certainly talked about it. But it was Mr. Williams, belligerent and unwavering and finally triumphant Williams, who got it.

The “it” here is a deal to develop the Lower Churchill.  Now mainlanders are a sometimes gullible lot but even they should be fooled by last week’s announcement.  What Danny Williams announced was a vehicle for his resignation, not a way to build a hydro-electric power plant. Even the most lazy reading of a newspaper or a website about the event would show that up.

A few years ago, another Newfoundlander made a decent living by talking with Americans and exposing their abysmal knowledge of the world outside their borders.  Unlike Rex’s version of the same idea, Rick Mercer knew that the name of the prime minister he used or the events he described to the gullible Yanks were made up.

- srbp -