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Saturday, August 06, 2005

Never a Dull Moment in Newfoundland and Labrador

One thing nobody can ever say about the province of Newfoundland and Labrador is that life is dull. Indeed, for anyone interested in politics and current affairs, there is never a dull moment in the province.

Even with the provincial legislature being shut down for the summer break, there is no shortage of fodder for commentary and no end to the open discussion and debate that are so popular in bars, coffee shops and street corners throughout the land.

The politicians may be out of the office, but the work of dealing with issues from every nook and cranny of the province goes on, not to mention the work of talking and writing about it.

A number of issues have grabbed the attention of most people over the past weeks. Issues such as:

The closure of the Abitibi mill in Stephenville and their paper machine if Grand Falls - Windsor, not to mention the power grab they are attempting with the provinces timber and hydro power;

The never ending battle for the survival of the air base at 5 Wing Goose and the survival of the town of Harbour Breton; and of course

The ongoing and ever increasing protests over cod fishing in the province.

While all of these things have been happening, I've been on a short vacation. This has afforded me the opportunity to travel to various parts of the island (I apologize to the fine folks in Labrador but I didn't get a chance to get up there this year). It also gave me the chance to see and chat with people from parts of the province where I don't usually get a chance to go. I have to say it was a pure delight and highly educational to boot.

Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are nothing of not outspoken and informed.

Most of the people I was fortunate enough to meet with during my hiatus were happy to bend my ear on all of the topics noted above and more, but the one topic that seemed to illicit the most emotional and heart felt comments was the recent cod fishing protests and the response of DFO to them.

It is simply impossible for most people in the province to understand how the feds can allow cod fishing in other parts of this country while banning it in areas of Newfoundland and Labrador. People are angry and upset that DFO has decided to lay charges against several protestors who took to the water recently while continuing to allow foriegn vessels to ply the same waters and catch thousands of tons of cod.

It is an issue that people in all areas of the province are interested in but one that seems to be of more than just a passing interest to the fine folks I spoke with in places like Conception Bay and Petty Harbour. Although I have to admit that in the latter, the production of the CBC series Hatching Matching and Dispatching in the town ran a close second.

To people in these areas this battle is a passionate one. One that will not go away simply because a few charges have been laid or because orders have been given in Ottawa.

A recent article by St. John's writer and lawyer Averill Baker clearly described the issue as seen by people in the province. In the piece Ms. Baker identifies the actual amount of cod fish that boats from other countries are allowed to take from Newfoundland and Labrador waters.

According to her article, countries like Russia, Japan, the U.S., Spain and others have permission from the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans to take hundreds of tons each from areas where individuals in the province cannot even catch a single fish to put on the dinner table. This is shameful and is completely unfathomable to anyone in the province.

The people of Newfoundland and Labrador do not give up a fight easily and I doubt they will give up on this one. As I have mentioned in past articles, the battle over fishing rights inside the provincial 3 mile limit is now winding its way throught the courts. Protests are growing and everyone is becoming more and more vocal. This is an issue that isn't going to just go away and in fact, regretfully, may become more militant.

Thus far, about the only segment not heard from on the issue are provincially elected officials. In fact MHAs in the province seem to be more quiet than one would expect them to be on any issue, especially such a hot one.

This unnatural silence is making some wonder why they are staying out of the fray. In fact, it is making the public speculate all sorts of mean, nasty and ugly things from conspiracy to payoffs (perhaps with a 2 billion dollar cheque).

Speculation can be a very bad thing if it is believed. I heard much of it in my recent travels and I worry about what can happen when people convince themselves that something is true without having direct evidence. Such things can lead to anarchy and chaos. Perception can become reality if it is left to fester. Perhaps its time for our provincial leaders to get behind the people of the province who elected them and take a stand. Better they fight along side their brothers than stand against them.

I like many others would love to see our politicians stand up and fight. They know how to do it, they've done it before on other issues.

I would like to say to everyone I had the opportunity to "jaw" with over the past couple of weeks, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You have been a delight.

Everyone from Port Aux Basque to Bishop's Falls, from Deer Lake to Arnolds Cove, from St. John's to Stephenville and all points in between. With the exception of Premier Danny Williams himself who turned down a chance to chat with me recently, I feel I've spoken with just about everyone I could have possibly gotten to in the time I had (Of course I will try to fit the Premier in should he change his mind).

To all of you, don't ever stop tugging on the strings of our leaders and don't ever stop sharing your opinions. Remember, It is not our leaders who foster change, but rather it is you, you and most especially you.

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