Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Newfoundland and Labrador BC (Before Canada)

In the twenty-four years between the birth of my father and the birth of his son, this land we call home was reborn into a new history. In the year of my birth Canada was already celebrating its centennial.

In the year of the Centennial Newfoundland in Canada, Labrador in Canada, less than two decades. My country’s last leader, my country’s first Premier was still the current Premier and would be for another five years. This allowed me the unique opportunity in the history of a province to be alive during the leadership of every Premier that has ever governed. And I am not an old man. When we sit with our grandparents and elders and discuss the old times we speak of growing up in a foreign country. We speak of arriving in – a foreign country. Such is the history of my Newfoundland and Labrador.

It is perhaps difficult for a Toronto-centric middle Canada to comprehend, let alone empathize with this perspective. When my elders speak confederation with Canada they are not recounting stories from generations ago that were passed to them through a spoken heritage, they are recounting a history that they in fact lived. Our history in Canada is but a grain in the sands of time.

What of that history ending in 1949? The lost races, Maritime Archaic, Dorset Eskimo, and Beothuck. The Inuit, Innu, M├ętis, and Mi’kmaq. The arrival of the Scandinavian Vikings, and later the Europeans. The first permanent settlement by Europeans in Cupids in 1610. The generations of loggers, farmers, fishermen, that struggled to survive those first winters.

So what’s the deal with Newfoundlanders? What’s the deal with Labradorians? We are grounded by our history. We are at once marred by and grounded by the lives of those before us. Our hearts are wounded by the story of the Beothuck. We carry with us the loss of those countless men and women who are lost to eternity in the icy depths of the Atlantic on the Ocean Ranger, the fishermen, the merchant marines.

Our relationship with mother Ottawa is brand new. Just fifty-eight years. A relationship that has seen Resettlement and Centralization. A relationship that has seen the collapse of our cod fishery. Fifty-eight years that has seen inequitable contracts like the Upper Churchill deal with enormously unbalanced profit division. Fifty-eight years that saw the once proud and strong people of Newfoundland and Labrador reduced to its perceived welfare state. Fifty-eight years that has seen constant debt. Unemployment unequalled in the federation. Out-migration unequalled in the federation.

And if Newfoundland dears to question the Terms of Union it is seen as treason, conspiracy to separation. If Labrador looks for equity it is dismissed as a sparse population of complainers.

The history of Newfoundland and Labrador since 1949 has seen an unparalleled evolution of character in Canada. It has turned Newfoundland and Labradorians into Canadians. Through the looking glass of Central Canadian imperialism the Newfoundlander and the Labradorian wears rags like Dickens’ lost boys, with their hand-out for another cup of gruel. It has seen the emergence of a new class in Canadian society – the Newfie, Canada’s Jigger Nigger. Although in this province we are intensely aware of the rock and salt water that has brought us into being there are far more looking through that looking glass than those of us standing behind it.

The message to the mainland media rags and political spin doctors. Write whatever you wish, we are not defined by your words. We know who we are.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Blame Canada (at least Harper's version of it)

Equality is a funny animal isn’t it? It’s truly a noble concept of democratic society, but it’s such an elusive beast. Look at Canada’s Equalization Formula. Has this fundamental Canadian policy leveled the playing field across the federation? Is the health and education of Nain equal to that of Toronto? Could it ever be? Should it ever be? Can we expect resource rich Alberta to prop the rest of the country? Should we expect population rich Ontario to pander to the whims of Rural Newfoundland and Labrador?

It’s a double-edged sword this whole equalization thing. On the one hand you have the argument that says “why should Newfoundland and Labrador be allowed to achieve "have" status while still receiving funds from equalization? (I hate that term "have" because it necessitates the term "have-not" which is horse shit, anyway...) It’s a hard nut to crack and a difficult one for us to ask for. The fact remains though that two of the more recent Prime Ministers of this country agreed to it. Why?

Therein is the other edge of the equalization sword. Given that a region with significant resource potential can be allowed to grow, be invested in, with a minimal investment it can become a strong and contributing member of the federation. On equal terms with its sister provinces. Equal – there’s that elusive concept again.

Where inequality exists we go back to the principals of the great philosophers who have argued these points hundreds of years before we were ever conceived of being conceived. Kantian ethics tells us to be charitable, that the more well to do among us should contribute to the less fortunate. It is this type manner of thinking which separates the third-world dictatorships from a modern country such as Canada. Much of the third-world is stained with the inequality that sees people living in tent cities across the water from mansions and towers. The true test of a great society is how its less fortunate citizens live.

The unfortunate thing about Newfoundland and Labrador is that we have always been perceived as the tent city to the North and East. At this point in our history and so many times in the past opportunity has come in the form of a handout. At least that is the perception in the land of the Towers on the coast of the Great Lakes. Money for a Rolling Stones concert in Toronto is a boost to a city that had taken a slap to its tourism from SARS. Money for Bombardier or Quebec Ad agencies is an investment in the country's future, in Newfoundland and Labrador it’s a hand-out – C’est la vie.

When our sister province of Alberta is cited as an example the Ottawa-Communications Machine (OCM) is quick to tell you that Alberta was not build on hand-outs from Ottawa. It’s a mute point. The fact is this province was allowed to grow into its present state as a financial powerhouse of Canada through people who believed in it’s potential. The fact in Newfoundland and Labrador is that we are historically similar to the pre-oil days of Alberta. This goes to the heart of why “Equalization” is such a big deal to us in this province. The fact is that the promise made by Harper, and Martin before him would have allowed Newfoundland and Labrador to realize some of its enormous potential. To push it up to the ranks of our older sisters Ontario and Alberta and at long last given us a seat at the table of the big guys.

And that was within our sights... it was promised to us... we banked on it!

But this is a country of equality after all. We can’t allow that poor adapted bastard child Newfoundland and Labrador to reach the status of Ontario, it’s just not right. It goes against equality, it flies in the face of the principles of equalization. To allow an unequal opportunity for a province is unheard of in the 140 years of this big country.... Except of course that the Auto-Pact was negotiated with The States that allowed a tremendous industry for Ontario. And the national capital is in the province of Ontario. And Bombardier has received countless millions in Quebec, not to mention the generous support to Quebec Ad agencies. And there is the fact that there are provisions which allow for seven extra MPs for Quebec beyond what they would get from population alone. The other Atlantic Provinces get three extra MPs. Newfoundland and Labrador gets only two. That’s fair right? Of course Alberta, BC and Ontario get zero, so at least we aren’t on the bottom of the scale there. There may be a few more in-equalities in the federation... like three Supreme Court Justices from Ontario and Quebec as a requirement while Newfoundland and Labrador has never had a justice sit on the Supreme Court of Canada. All fair - all equal right?

But I digress – other than these and a couple hundred more inequalities among the people of Canada this country is built on Equality. An equality that ensures that Canadians from coast to coast to coast feel the opportunity and sense of belonging that this greatest country in the world allows its citizens. It is great to know that in this country a young Inuk growing up in a community with a perpetual boil order and the highest suicide rates in the country has the same opportunity to meet their true potential as a the Torontonian who receives a Jag as a graduation gift. All things being equal.