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Monday, March 09, 2009

The Butcher, Baker and Candlestick Maker

Much has been made of Senator George Baker’s recent comments identifying a growing discontent in Newfoundland and Labrador and the potential for a new “bloc” style federal party to emerge in the province.

The federalists, most notably the Harper Conservatives, jumped on his comment as a promotion of separation. I believe they even came perilously close to calling the Senator a “traitor”.

Never mind that Mr. Baker spoke of a party that would defend Newfoundland and Labrador’s interests in Ottawa and never said anything about separation. Why would he in the federal context? After all only a provincial party, not a federal one, can make such a move. This is why the Bloc Quebecois never held a referendum on separation, the provincial party in Quebec has done so in the past, but not the federal one. It can’t

In this case, once again, political expediency and the automatic attack instincts of the PMO took over and when that happens everyone knows that reality takes a back seat.

A week after Senator Baker’s comment perhaps it’s time to take a step back, put aside the rhetoric and political hyperbole for a moment, look at the facts behind his belief that there is growing unrest in his home province and what the situation may lead to.

Most Newfoundlanders and Labradorians don’t need to be reminded of the long list of reasons for their discontent but for the benefit of Canadians living outside the province here is a short and by no means complete, list of grievances.

1 - Questions still linger, even after 60 years, about whether or not the referendum that led to NL’s confederation with Canada was valid or not.

When Newfoundland and Labrador ceded power to Britain in the 1930’s the people were told they would one day be given back their autonomy as an independent Dominion. This was never done. Many believe it should have been done before the people were called upon to take part in a referendum on becoming part of another Country.

Most people don’t realize it but there were actually two votes held on Confederation.

In the first vote three options were presented on the ballot and Confederation with Canada DID NOT win that vote. As a result a second vote was undertaken the following year that offered only two options. In that vote Confederation won but by the narrowest of margins, just over 50%. A number that would never pass muster today if NL were to hold a referendum to exit Canada.

Also, as a side note, when NL entered Confederation it may not have been in the best fiscal or economic position but it had a financial surplus. Now, 60 years later it struggles under the highest per capita debt in the Country.

2 - In the late 1960’s Newfoundland and Labrador undertook development of the massive Upper Churchill hydro facility. Canada’s constitution guarantees the free flow of goods across provincial territories. In this case however Quebec refused to allow the province to wheel power across their territory and Ottawa refused to enforce their Constitutional duty by making them permit it.

As a result, Newfoundland and Labrador was forced into signing a ridiculous long term contract to sell the power to Quebec. Although NL still owns and runs the Upper Churchill power system it has made just a few million dollars in all the years that followed. Quebec, last year alone, made $2 Billion in revenues from Newfoundland and Labrador’s power and will make this or more every year from now until 2041.

3 - For 500 years visitors and settlers in Newfoundland and Labrador depended on the Atlantic Cod fishery as the mainstay of the economy. When NL joined Canada in 1949 Ottawa assumed control of fisheries management. By 1992 that 500 year old fishery had been mismanaged to the point of total collapse. This resulted in 15 – 20 percent of the province’s population being thrown out of work.

The fishery has still not recovered and is showing no signs of doing so. Foreign trawlers are still plying the spawning areas and Ottawa refuses to enact custodial management actions to protect them.

4 - The massive oil and gas reserves off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador are not controlled by the province but by Ottawa.

When NL entered Confederation 60 years ago it was standard practice for nations to have a 50 mile limit in the oceans around them (remember, NL was once a separate state), years later Countries around the world began adopting a 200 mile zone.

This means that had Newfoundland and Labrador not entered Canada the people of the province, not Canada, would control those reserves and receive all the benefits from them.

Essentially NL brought those reserves into Canada yet, unlike Alberta or Saskatchewan who control the oil beneath their soil, NL does not control the oil beneath its waters.

For clarification, recent battles related to the Atlantic Accord have nothing to do with equalization. They have everything to do with whether Ottawa or NL receives the most benefit from those oil and gas resources, not all the benefits, just the majority of them.

The Atlantic Accord was an agreement intended to ensure that the people who brought those resources into Canada would benefit the most from them. Recent unilateral moves by the Harper government have ensured that the agreement was watered down the point where it is practically worthless and that the benefits to Newfoundland and Labrador are severely limited.

5 - Newfoundland and Labrador, with less than 2% of Canada’s population has consistently provided about 10% of Canada’s military forces yet even with it’s strategically important geographical location (covering most of the nation’s Atlantic Coast) there is no appreciable military presence (or related jobs) in the Province.

As previously noted, the preceding list is by no means complete but it serves to show that although Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are often labeled as “whiners” or “malcontents” in the national media there are valid reasons for discontent to exist and grow.

So, the next question is what can be done about it?

This brings us back to Senator Baker’s comments.

Whether or not specific individuals in the province would or would not support a “bloc” style party just about everyone knows the situation as it currently exists. That situation is as follows:

Newfoundland and Labrador has no voice in Ottawa and nowhere to turn when serious concerns, like those identified above, come to pass. Under the status quo the province is essentially impotent.

Newfoundland and Labrador has only 7 federal seats out of the 308 in Parliament.

The vast majority of federal seats exist within Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, etc. As a result any federal action must, for purely political reasons, ensure that the voters of the larger provinces are served first, last and always even if that means harming smaller provinces like Newfoundland and Labrador.

Whether it’s a question of wheeling power across another’s provincial jurisdiction, finding more money for vote rich areas, keeping peace with foreign fishing nations so not to upset trade deals that benefit central Canadian auto, textile, aerospace or candlestick makers, or any number of other issues, Newfoundland and Labrador has been, and always will be, less important to federal political parties than central Canada.

The senate, which has problems on so many fronts it would take volume of books to recite, is neither equal nor effective. If it were then each province would have an equal number of senators and the senate would have the ability to do more than rubber stamp legislation. They do not.

The senate, as it was intended, is supposed to be the chamber of “sober second thought”.

Thanks to their long term appointments (remaining in office until the age of 75) senators are supposed to be immune from having to concern themselves with how their decisions might impact on their personal or party political futures. After all, if you don’t have to run for election you don’t need to pander to popular positions and are free to ensure that things are done fairly.

That may work in theory but unfortunately it’s not the case in practice.

It’s common practice, and considered quite acceptable in political circles, for elected party leaders to pressure and control the actions of senators who are members of their party. How often have you heard Stephen Harper, Michael Ignatief and others say something like, “He can’t even control his Senators”.

How independent and immune to political games can the senate really be if comments like those are considered appropriate?

With all of this in mind one can easily see why discontent is growing every day in Newfoundland and Labrador and why Senator Baker (though it took some guts to do it) said what he did.

The facts are clear. With all the problems the province has experienced, and continues to experience in Canada, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador have four options in front of them and only one that has any potential to provide some relief.

They can either:

Stay in Canada and sit quietly by as abuse after abuse is heaped upon them with no hope things will ever change. This is not an option anyone should be faced with or should even consider accepting in a democracy.


Stay in Canada and desperately try to change the federal system, knowing full well that there is no political will in Ottawa to do so because the system works pretty well for highly populated and vote rich areas that politicians need to win elections. In other words Newfoundlanders are faced with another option that offers no hope of improving the situation.


Determine, through an independent feasibility study, if separation really is a truly viable and reasonable alternative. Since a study would require provincial government approval, perhaps even assistance in gathering information from Ottawa and would likely take quite some time to conduct if it were ever undertaken, this options does nothing to help in the short term if ever.

Or there is the option put forward by Senator Baker.

Support a “bloc” style party that can voice Newfoundland and Labrador’s concerns in Parliament without concern for the political interests of MPs from other provinces. Those “bloc” style MPs would hold 7 votes that might be important enough during a string of minority Parliaments that old fashioned horse trading could very well serve to see at least some of the province’s concerns addressed going forward.

It’s really the only option that has any merit.

Since he made his now infamous comments Senator Baker has been butchered in the mainstream media across Canada and ridiculed as a dottering fool.

I wonder who the fools really are?


Anonymous said...

As I read through the options that you presented, I came to slightly different conclusions as to the options that are and could be available.

Regarding the first option, this is essentially the status quo, with the exception being that any attempt to be other than quiet, results in the situation that Senator Baker confronts. That is, personal abuse.

The second option is no option at all, seeing that the system is constructed to most effectively maintain itself, which is generally the case with any political system, regardless of whether it's conservative, liberal, radical, socialist, fascist or dictatorship. This is a fundamental feature of all political systems. Radical change almost never evolves, it requires a cataclysmic series of events, which is unlikely.

The last two options however are not mutually exclusive, and should not be considered as such.

Miles, you make two assumptions with regards to a federal study.

First, the assumption that such a study would require federal approval. Why? Is it so that the study would effectively be sanctioned? Making the absurdly optimistic leap of faith, that the government would sponsor such a study, would a conclusion that it was impractical be accepted anyway? Or would a finding that it was indeed practical ever find the light of day from the federal bureaucracy? The answer to both questions is no, so a federally sponsored, funded or sanctioned study will not occur and will not work if it did.

The only governmental unit that could ever sponsor such a study would be the provincial government, with or without federal cooperation. That is worth investigating.

But a more likely option is a privately undertaken study, begun if necessary as a voluntary community of people who really do want an honest answer as to whether it can be done, should be done, and whether the result would be a better life for the people of Newfoundland. If you had an objective study that you and others had confidence in how would that affect the current situation? How much would you still wish for "freenewfoundlandlabrador" especially if it showed it would be to the social,cultural, economic, and political detriment of the people of Newfoundland?

Just as, how would it make the large majority of people in Newfoundland feel if it showed that it was to the social, cultural, political and economic benefit to separate?

Secondly, the assumption that since it would take a relatively long time to complete it would never occur. Why not? The conditions which foster the injustice will likely continue unabated, which will provide the driving force to those who would see Newfoundland have true self determination. And to put it simply, it ain't gonna fix itself.
The one thing you have is time, not because you have nothing better to do, but because there is NOTHING that is BETTER TO DO!

Which brings up the last option. If you really want to see things start to change, then take Baker's statements, support him and translate them to a set of actions.

First, undertake the efforts to get federal representatives and candidates to commit to being a bloc vote in the federal government. The government will likely have a change sooner than any other action.

Second, start putting together the outline of what such a feasiblity study would contain, publicly, either here or in a site that you and others mutually contribute. Imagine trying to have a separation vote without this information being compiled. How easy would it be to discredit those who wish to go their own way? How hard would it be to convince those who don't really know if it's a good idea without this information.

Third, cobble together a provincial party whose primary purpose is to bring to the province a vote on separation.

Whether a separation vote actually occurs, is not the important part, it's the existence of the party and the feasibility study effort which will lend weight to efforts of Senator Baker, the efforts to see if it were truly feasible, and frankly result in more equitable treatment from Ottowa.

Anonymous said...

Why has the Federal Government created so much commotion around Senator Baker's moderated remarks that the electorate of Newfoundland and Labrador will probably send their 7 MPS to Ottawa in a Bloc to see if that method can be a little more effective? Apparently it is not even possible for such a Bloc to put a separation vote on the ballot? So it poses no threat to Canada, but it could give the Newfoundland and Labrador contingency a little more clout?

I see no threat of separation, only that we, the Newfoundland and Labrador electorate, will want more solidarity of its MPS so that they can vote in a Bloc format in the Canadian Parliament, where the total of the 7 Newfoundland and Labrador MPs voting ability only amounts to 2.3 percent of the overall picture.

What is the matter with that, I see it as a Newfoundland and Labrador strategy, since over the past 60 years of sending 7 MPs to Ottawa, the province of Newfoundland and Labrador has NOT benefitted one iota. Strategizing is not a novice idea in the Canadian Parliament, it happens all the time. And when the province of NL is competing against provinces which have 70 or more MPs, such numbers open up so many more ways to strategize.

I don't understand why the National Media on behalf of the Ottawa Government has made a circus out of Senator Baker's suggestion. It is traitorous and it is causing so many problems and so much hatred to be perpetrated on the people of Newfoundland and Labrador from the Canadian population, who, if they knew, what transpired for the province of NL to be so disenfranchised in the Canadian Nation, would, I think, be none too happy. But how does a province get information out to the overall population, when the voice of the National Media is controlled by the Ottawa Government and that Media prints only what it wants to print, nothing more?

The way that the National Media has reacted on behalf of the Canadian Parliament goes to show that the Federal Government and the National Media are destructive to the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Given what we have witnessed over the past week since Senator Baker made the statement; and as informed as we have become on how our province has failed to thrive under the Canadian umbrella, despite its great natural resource base and fine geographic location, for 60 years, is there any chance that the province of Newfoundland and Labrador can move forward under the Canadian Federation?

Every day there is an article printed or reprinted in the National Media attempting to lower the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, its Premier and its people to the lowest common denominator. What that media is trying to do is create animosity toward our people and province amongst the general population, that despite our very capable Premier, our province will be set back another 60 years in the Canadian Federation. Ottawa knows there is no chance that NL will have independence soon, since Ottawa ensured early on in the process of NL’s entry, that it would encumber the province of Newfoundland and Labrador in such a way, it would take an eternity to do anything about departure.

It is worth it to invest a few minutes of one’s time to read the articles on Newfoundland and Labrador which get printed and reprinted in the National Media and then read some of the commentaries to articles. One should take particular notice of the commentaries and notice how the National Media cuts off commentaries which contained questions that some of the commentators put to people, who they see as most likely implants working on behalf of the Federal Government.

Yes - When the National Media knows that there are certain questions asked which are detrimental to International Trade and Foreign Affairs, the commentary section is closed to avoid any possible damage.

The whole practise is very detrimental to the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. No other province in this nation is treated the way that NL is treated.

If things don’t change on behalf of the Federal Government and its instructions to sic the National Media to inflict damage with the power of the press, on a resource and location rich province, the province of Newfoundland and Labrador will always fail to thrive under the Canadian Flag!

So what options do the province of Newfoundland and Labrador have we have?

I think the first and most import thing NL must do is to tell the Federal Government, that it and its electoate have noticed the control and influence Ottawa has over the National Media and to tell them to cut it immediately.

Patriot said...

Anonymous 9:50 AM,

You presented some very valid points in most of your comment however I believe you misinterpreted my position on studying the feasibility of seperation. I was not, and would never, expect a federally sanctions study. Nor would I believe it.

My suggestion, like yours, would be for an independent one.

The reason why I noted that it would require federal and provincial participation was not for the sanctioning but for access to the information. This is where I see it being a problem.

In order for the study to be truly valid those conducting it would need to know the detailed information behind things like:

How much federal tax is collected in the province (income tax, GST, CPP, EI, everything that goes to Ottawa)

How much money is made by Ottawa for fly over rights to airlines

How much money does the province or the fed put into specific services in NL. Things like health care, education, roads or whatever.

How much does it cost to provide services to the province like ice breaking, policing, etc.

All of these things, and much more require governments at both levels to provide specific and detailed numbers.

That is why doing a valid study would be almost impossible.

Other than that point, which is a big one, your orverall analysis of what I put forward is pretty good.

Ussr said...

Bravo Patriot , very well said my Man !!!

NL-ExPatriate said...

There were actually three votes held on whether Newfoundland/Labrador would join confederation.

There was one held back in 1867 I think and NL'ians voted somewhere in the range of 87% not to join.

In part because at the time canada had lobbied the US to reject NL's overtures for a free trade deal with the US.

Also the only reason confederation was even on the 1948 referendum ballot is because Joey whined and cried and submitted a 5,000 name petition to the commission to have it included.

Originally the commission has voted to only put commission of govt and return to responsible govt.

NL-ExPatriate said...

It isn't the Upper/Lower canada MAJORITY Poll itical PUPPET parties we need to change it is our poll itical system of the TYRANNY OF THE MAJORITY that needs to change.

But because it works for the two principals ON/QU with their 66% majority via the inequitable poll itical system and their PROXY national parties they don't want it to change.

What we need is equal representation for all of the members of this federation.

8 non partisan bilingual senators, appointed from each province, by each province to represent each provinces morals, values, ethics, issues, concerns and disputes on an equitable and fair basis with respect and freedom from having to toe the TYRANNY OF THE MAJORITY party line.

Patriot said...

I agree NL-Ex but since we don't have the power on our own to change that we do have the power to do something in the interim. Elect our own representatives instead of ones who represent the Upper Canada parties.