Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Newfoundlander in Canada

My father was born a Newfoundlander. His first child was born a Canadian. Growing up a Newfoundlander in Canada is an ambiguous journey. In school, the textbooks were largely American, TV and entertainment was largely American. I'm not sure I understood that Canada was a separate country from the US. With an adult eye, I'm still not sure there is a great distinction. When the realization of the geopolitical relationship of Canada and the US was finally resolved in my mind I remember feeling disappointed. With the realization that Newfoundland was not a part of The States and that in fact Newfoundland was the adopted child of the Canadian Dominion - disappointment was the closest feeling that could be conjured up.

For the young Newfoundlander in Canada the fact that we had no affiliation with the US and that in fact we had only been with our present country for a couple of decades... It reflected on my own sense of identity. It meant that the childhood heroes; the writers, artists, movie stars, rock singers... were all part of a culture that was not your own. It made the dreams of becoming rich and famous like them suddenly unattainable. Who from Newfoundland was known in Canada, let alone the US? The greater dreams of fame and fortune were suddenly like catching moonlight in a box. It was perhaps the first time that the reality of my future was chiseled in the foundation of my psyche.

So given that I wasn't an American, I wasn't even in my country’s eyes a true and equal Canadian. I was a Newfoundlander, we did not become rich and famous. I was unlikely to become a Walt Disney or Elvis Presley. We came from labourers and fishermen, farmers and loggers. We worked on the sea, in the mines and in The Mill. My father, his brothers and their father worked in The Mill. My future was a flat-topped wooden lunch basket with a sandwich, a tea bag, a Gerber bottle of sugar and a spice bottle of milk. That was my reality. Falling asleep from shear physical exhaustion after supper, thick woolen socks covered with tiny pellets of wool. In steel toed shoes for ten hours of confinement. I don’t know of a ten year old who dreams of that. My pride in my father, my uncles and grandfather now is from a very different perspective than it was then.

Canada was 100 years old when I was born; The province of Newfoundland in Canada a mere fledgling at 18 years. My baby picture has grey centennial coins inside the frame, a goose, a rabbit, a dove. A boy of ten can perhaps be forgiven for not knowing the place of Newfoundland in Canada. Not only did we read American and Canadian books but Canada itself was celebrating its 110 birthday. But Newfoundland only joined in 1949? Canada has had a long history without us; our joining is a footnote.

That is the context of growing up a Newfoundlander in Canada. When Arthur Scammel wrote “The Squid Jiggin’ Ground” as a school project he received a poor grade. Not because it wasn’t a marvelous ditty, a fun reflection of the time and place – but because it was a reflection of his time and place. Newfoundlanders did not write about Newfoundland. Children should write about going to buy candy at the corner market or painting picket fences – not about getting ink in the eye from a Cephalopod. But he did and the song became one of the most recognizable ditty’s of Newfoundland and Labrador culture.

Without a lot of heroes and role-models, without learning our history, our place, despite all of the formal schooling to the contrary I am proud of this place. I am proud of the people who worked hard with smelly wool socks, flat topped lunch boxes and calloused hands. I am proud of the people who fought and died. I am proud of the Rhodes scholars, the artists, and writers who live in Newfoundland and Labrador. Although much of the true context of being a Newfoundland and Labradorian had to be discovered on my own; I am none-the-less grateful for it. Walt Disney never had it so good.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Danny and The White Moose

(This is a bit in the style of Rex Murphy)

The stuff of legends; the genetic anomaly that is the white moose. This albino was once thought to be a fallacy. A mis-identified caribou or the resulting exaggeration of an inebriated outdoorsman. In these days of technology when cell phones have cameras and the world is connected via streaming bits of information from a variety of media, there is not much that can remain concealed. The Giant Squid - the Kraken, The coelacanth and the white moose have all been brought out of incognito. Beware 'Nessy' and the 'Sasquatch', it's just a matter of time.

So there it is, a gosh darn larger-than-life white moose, grandiose and unforgiving of itself. You have to wonder about this living embodiment of Nature's satire. It has none of the stealth of its brethren, unable to disappear into the road-side brush like the stealth bomber of the Central Newfoundland interior. Old 'Whitey' is more in-your-face, he need not cower into the cover of foliage, he may as well just stand in plain view proclaiming "Here I am, I'm not going anywhere, yes I am a Friggin' White Moose and I couldn't give a rat's ass what you think of that."

There is certainly a great risk in being so highly visible in a place where everyone wants to take a shot at you. The parallel can be made between Whitey and our Premier Danny Williams. Danny has gotten more media attention in his short term in office than any premier in the last few decades. Not since Joey Smallwood's telling recitation of a night after eating bad lobster in the song "Like 'e Would" has a premier captured the minds of the public psyche. Like Newfoundland and Labrador's Trudeau, Danny has been seen doing his pirouette all over hell's half acre. He has been on Larry King Live, the New York Times and has been quoted in every two-bit rag from Too-Good Arm to Tumbler Ridge. When Danny dares knock on the granite doors of Big Oil the mainlanders really start to take notice. Aaaah yes Oil, Black Gold, Texas Tea. Everyone uses it, everyone wants it, and Newfoundland and Labrador has it. Apparently taking on big oil is something akin to trying to get an audience with the Pope. Big, powerful and lots of people who will stand up for it, with few daring to stand against it. Danny "the white moose" Williams has dared poke his foot into the door of big oil's boardroom and announce to all "Hey buddy, what's the deal with Hebron?"

He has been compared to Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chevez as if he is a one man show in a province of subversives. Perhaps though if you were to look past Danny you just might catch a glimpse of a herd of half a million. You might be more surprised to see how many white moose there are in that herd. Necks out coaxing him on. "Give-er Danny", we will not hide in the shadows any longer. The white moose is here to stay.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Quality of Character

Apparently there is a high level of financial retribution that is necessary to entice a certain "quality" of person to public life. At least that is what we are told whenever a person in public life needs to justify their pay and perks. There is something about the term "quality" though that I find uncomfortable. If a person has a quality above and beyond another there is an implication that there are people of lesser quality. Similarly the word "intelligence" doesn't sit well in my arse pocket of terms. If quality and intelligence are indeed qualities of a person that can be quantified we become something in the way of cattle, don't we? Pressing through a job interview with a B.Sc. or B.Ed branded on our hip or wearing our income level on a badge that reads "Hello MY NAME IS __ I MAKE __ A YEAR". Of course there are many who would welcome it, but they'll have to be content with having an initial after their name or by wearing their peacock display of bling. Not to devalue anyone's pursuits, acedemic and career goals are noble quests indeed; but success, experience, and education are contexts of your character; not your quality.

We do pay for quality in a person's work though; we choose our dentist, our restaurants, our contractor based on a price and an expected quality based on that price. If we accept the idea that there is a price paid for quality, can we expect that $100 000 - $150 000 for an MHA's salary (along with all the magnets and pins one can load into their Escalades) would produce for us some nice prime government officials? What we get instead are a selection of thieves and rogues who cry out of the left side of their mouth when hospital beds close in their riding but puff Cuban cigars out of the right.

These, hopefully rare few, do so with the kahunas to say they represent us. Paid by each of us. Paid well with incentives and perks because that is what this quality of person deserves. What sort of guarantee I wonder comes with a Grade-A rogue? So What do we do about it? A public inquiry? What do we get for our cash from a public inquiry? What did we get from Gomery? Some well paid lawyers, perhaps an extra Jag or two in Ottawa. Some months of repetitive news distracting from the more important issues of the day. Who really gives a rat's ass where the finger points at the end of the day! The finger should be pointing to the cash! The hands should be holding someone by the feet shaking the change from their pockets.

I want my money back... and at least a fridge magnet for my troubles.