For as long as anyone can remember, some people in Newfoundland and Labrador have had a love of conformity.
They loathe discussion and debate.
They dislike democracy.
The Inconvenience of Democracy
Discussion and debate are essential in any thriving democracy. If people debate, they must disagree. They take different points of view and argue about them. It’s a normal part of human behaviour. It certainly isn’t the end of the world.
Our political system, like our legal system, runs on the basis of disagreement, no matter how trivial. Indeed, as we’ve noted repeatedly over the past few years, our whole legal and political system is set up to create a debate as a way to find the right answer to a problem.
With that context, consider the latest cry to do away with debate in the province. Local businessman Charlie Oliver has a few bucks to spend. Rather than take a run at the provincial Conservative leadership last year, Charlie decided to create a website. He held a news conference to announce the thing and went off to central Newfoundland to deliver a speech about something Charlie’s marketing agency has dubbed thinknl.
Apparently thinknl will “challenge socio-political issues with bold, factual and unbiased solutions to inspire change in Newfoundland and Labrador.” Charlie didn’t explain how he proposes to “challenge” an issue, but that’s another issue. Charlie did explain, though, that this thinknl isn’t a think tank. It isn’t a political party and it isn’t a movement of some kind.
Whatever thinknl is, there’s nothing benign about it.
The Enemy Identified
Charlie Oliver thinks there is a great menace to Newfoundland and Labrador. “We are … seriously challenged from myriad perspectives threatening our social, economic and cultural fabric,” Oliver writes in the “About Us” section of his website.
The answers to all our problems are right there in front of us, Oliver said. The threat to our happiness is debate and discussion. “It is time to put aside [the]polarity of politics,” writes Oliver on his website. We must “seek solutions rather than engaged debate on the problems and who really caused them.” [Italics added]
There’s lots of jargon on the thinknl website. Solution. Metrics. Due Diligence. There’s also a lot of mangled English grammar and sloganeering that is a hallmark of modern business gurus and other bullshit artists.
The first thinknl tweet had it all:
The time has come to step back from criticism, cynicism and complain-ism.ThinkNL initiates proactive, positive, no blame approach.
Oliver plans to find a few “experts” and come up with “solutions.” We don’t know who these experts are, nor do we know why we should listen to them, let alone believe that their plans will not be biased. in some way or another.
Charlie Oliver is just another of a long line of demagogues from the local business community who have come forward with the arrogance to believe their genius will solve all our problems. He has imagined a threat, this time from debate, that is as imaginary as the ones the last demagogue used to rave about when he ran the province toward the debt precipice between 2003 to 2010.
Like all those other demagogues, Charlie claims to have the magic bullet solution to everything that is wrong. All we have to do is accept his word and follow along blindly.
The only difference between Charlie Oliver and the other demagogic Newfoundland politicians is that Charlie’s enemy isn’t a foreigner with evil designs on our precious bodily fluids. He thinks the problem is what Charlie calls the “polarity of politics.”
The Problem with Being Negative
Regular readers will understand that Charlie’s claim could only hope for the depth of Walt Kelly’s remark. Kelly was, by the way, talking about the way our recklessness was poisoning the water and killing off plants and animals across the globe.
Charlie Oliver isn’t pushing anything quite so profound, not by a long shot. It’s all too familiar, as anyone alive in Newfoundland and Labrador more than 10 years will quickly recognise.
First, Charlie is just offering yet another version of the line offered by members of the local elite. Everyone is too negative. Criticism, debate, all this discussion. That’s the problem. Banish them and all will be well.
Back when he was running the place, Old Twitchy used to bitch about all the negativity. He’d stand in front of reports, his shoulder twitching uncontrollably much the same as Captain Queeg used to roll marbles around in his hand when stressed. Old Twitchy would gripe about all those people who just interfered with his great plans by daring to ask questions or point out the problems he was having or causing. Huge distractions to His Gloriousness, apparently..
We’ve heard it all before. The complaints about debate and discussion and division and free speech and other democratic principles holds no more weight now than it did coming from Dobbin, Williams, Marjorie, or Minnie or any of the others.
Second, Charlie Oliver’s Crusade against discussion is based on a completely ridiculous premise. Our problems aren’t caused by political divisions. All the parties in the House just reduced the public’s democratic representation. It took them less than a week. They haven’t disagreed on any matter of substance in a decade. And yet we have a record public debt and a provincial government that spends beyond the public means.
What’s more, they all know the “facts” Charlie has been tweeting about. They know about the demographic crunch. They know about the population. They know a lot of other “facts.” And yet, for all the lack of debate – exactly what Charlie is looking for – we have a political mess.
The situation in Newfoundland and Labrador is a far cry from the kind of hyper-partisan gridlock that you will find in places like the United States Congress. CBC’s Azzo Rezori can try all he wants to link Oliver’s anti-democratic ravings to moves in other places to end needless political divisions. The fact is that locally, there’s actually no real difference among the three political parties. You can’t slide a sheet of paper between them on most things.
So Charlie Oliver’s diagnosis of the problem that besets us is, like his solution, merely so much low-grade horseshit. He’s a bit like the politician who used to edit the Independent newspaper before it went bankrupt a couple of times. He used to talk about telling it like it is and telling the stories no one else dared tell.
The fact was that the Independent with Ryan Cleary at the helm peddled the same fairy tales about Evil Quebec and Evil Ottawa that all the other blowhard politicians and politician wannabes have been ranting about in Newfoundland for decades.
What’s worrisome about Charlie Oliver’s War on thought is that it coincides with the attack on the House of Assembly by the province’s politicians. They’ve managed to reduce the House of Assembly to the point where some people think it is irrelevant to their lives while another bunch are so hostile to politicians that they want to get rid of them altogether. They are basically spreading the same message another group of politicians spread in the 1920s and early 1930s.
No, Azzo, we don’t mean Weimar Germany.
We are talking about Newfoundland, ironically from around the same time.
Right before the politicians, having bankrupted the country, voted the House of Assembly out of existence while too many prominent citizens cheered at the idea of a holiday from democracy.