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Politicians & Voters: The Good, the Bad and the Stupid

Less than 50% of people voted in BC’s provincial election. Less than half, which means that everything could have changed had more people voted. I’ve always said, if you don’t vote, you can’t complain. And really, an apathetic acceptance of whatever is thrown at you is no way to foment change. There are countries where not everyone has the vote or where they’re even losing the right to vote. People should not treat the liberties we have so lightly.

Granted some people are disenfranchised because these days one politician is like another, just in a different suit. What matter be it Liberals or Conservatives or NDP, they will all make the same promises? I’m not saying I believe that completely but it’s obvious some people do. And on top of that, there is the aspect of political campaigning that has got down to name-calling and trying to take down another’s character to change votes, even if it’s obfuscating the truth or the facts.

People are becoming tired of politicians denigrating each other, and it is a very important element in negating voter turnout. This week the federal Conservatives have taken out ads to discredit Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff. Not ads on what they’re doing, nor on concerns for our country but just another smear campaign against the enemy. That’s money well spent. Politics has gotten down to this. Don’t talk about what you can do but talk about what the other guy is not doing. I’m very tired of that.

Voters also see a lack of charisma in our potential leaders. Where is our Barack Obama? The truth is that there are few completely charismatic leaders. It takes a special blend of hubris and confidence, intelligence and eloquence, theatrics and honesty. I’ve mentioned this before but some notable orators (the one element a charismatic leader must have) have been Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, Pierre Trudeau, Barack Obama, Brian Mulroney.

Brian Mulroney, you say? Yes. I don’t like him, never liked him as a PM and I believe he took the Conservatives to overwhelming defeat (and stuck Kim Campbell in as the fall guy/girl). But in recent years as Mulroney has been investigated for the airbus scandal and the Hans Schreiber affair (receiving envelopes of cash and storing them in safety deposit boxes, making them untraceable, which somehow the lawyer side of him just didn’t think looked suspicious), I’ve heard his voice on the radio. The man has a deep and well modulated tone.

I’m sure he was/is a very good lawyer because it is obvious in the way he speaks that he understands the drama of words and how to stress particular words and concepts. Were his tears real or alligator tears this week when he broke down in giving testimony, I don’t know. And I must be careful of what I accuse or Mulroney will make a pre-emptive strike on me too and sue as he did in the airbus scandal. No person is without a range of emotions, nor are they completely good or evil. I’m sure he does care deeply for his family but I also believe he would pull on anything to manipulate a situation, being a good lawyer and all. And his spokesman (publicist for a retired prime minister) was there at the inquiry to jump up and accuse two big bad journalists for making him cry. Poor Brian. Sounds like he’s getting his money’s worth from his publicist.

Without knowing the end of this inquiry I can predict accurately that Mulroney will get off scott-free, whether he is innocent or not. And why, because he is a great speaker and actor. He’s a master manipulator and will use that to his advantage. Besides, it’s his word against Schreiber’s, a guy trying to avoid extradition to Germany (for fraud and bribery) by any means possible, and it’s two men forgetting a lot of things so in the end, conclusions will be…inconclusive even if Mulroney hid his money in safes, didn’t record receiving it and didn’t consult his accountant, even though he claims everything was on the up and up, in receiving those fat cash envelopes. Can I conduct affairs like this and what about tagging him for income tax evasion?

Were voters swayed by his voice to vote for Mulroney when he ran? Yes, just as each of those other men I have mentioned gained popularity at one point because they could put thoughts together well, speak them with conviction and relate to the crowd (and they had great speech writers). So, voters want charisma and drama and maybe not so much honesty.

But voters, as I’ve said before, are fickle and have short memories. They believe the promises too easily, yet also cynically believe nothing at all. Here are two comments I heard in regards to our recent provinicial election. One person said, “They gave me a hip, I have no complaints.” Although it’s been many years since this person received a hip and the government (and the issues) have changed a great deal since then. It was naive to think everything is the same and that even the government is the same so that this person didn’t have to vote. Someone else called into CBC and said they didn’t vote because they were dissatisfied and until every vote counted there was no point in voting. So, why didn’t that guy get out and vote for the single transferable vote, which would have made every vote count?

I can begin to understand why there are dictators. I did put the good into the title but I’m not sure why. What’s good with a situation where people don’t care enough to vote or try to bring about change. Everyone should writer their MLA and MP if they have a concern. Change is never all-sweeping at first but incremental, by very small steps. But voters will continue to be disenfranchised and moreso if they continue not to vote and have no say or concern in what happens. So, what are you going to do about it?

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Happy Birthday, Newfoundland & Labrador

Sixty years ago, on April 1, 1949, Newfoundland and Labrador joined confederation. They were the last and tenth province to join Canada. Newfoundland has a rich and the oldest history of visiting peoples than anywhere else in the Americas.

Leif Ericson and his Vikings first came to the coastal shores in 1000 AD. How long they stayed and if they mixed in with the Beothuks and Mi’kmaq is unclear. But artifacts were found there nonetheless. John Cabot then rediscovered it in 1497 and it was claimed by Sir Humphrey Gilbert for England’s Queen Elizabeth I in 1583, making it the first overseas colony.

Governors were appointed through the 16 and 1700s. Whether it was a feather in their cap or a punishment is hard to tell. In 1855 Newfoundland was granted the right to government with its first prime minister Phillip Francis Little, a native of Prince Edward Island. They rejected confederation with Canada in 1869. For much of those years until 1890 Newfoundland was split along religious lines of Catholics and Anglicans with Irish and British colonialists. They were used as an example of why not to let Ireland self govern.

The politics finally changed to eliminate the religious aspects with Prime Minister Hugh Hoyles who worked hard to bring in both sides. In 1907 Newfoundland became a dominion. After the depression and a massive debt they joined confederation in 1949. Most Newfoundlanders will always mention Labrador as a distinct entity. It was in dispute for years as to who owned it, the French or the British. You will put yourself in good stead if you remember that Labrador is distinct too.

Some other aspects of Newfoundland are that it has the remains of a Basque whaling station in Red Bay dating from 1550. I have a friend in Washington who has a somewhat Spanish mix in him. He’s diminutive. When he and his wife went to Newfoundland they took a picture of him standing beside the Basque mannequin. They were of a height and very similar in skin tone and facial characteristics. There are three galleons and four chalupas under the waters around Newfoundland making it an underwater archeological site.

With a strong mix of Irish as well as Scottish and British in Newfoundland’s past, and being steeped in fishing culture, Newfoundland accents can be very strong. An old slang term for Newfoundlander is Newfie, or Newf. At one time it seems that it was derogatory and was used to indicate someone slow and of limited intelligence. Newfoundland was largely a religious and fishing community and an economically poor province for years. The term probably originate through those stigma. However, I remember my mother relating a tale. It was the end of the second world war and she was out with other friends, all in the military. One of the guys was from Newfoundland (at this time Newfoundland was not yet part of Canada). My mother naively called the guy a Newfie and the next thing she knew, he was trying to strangle her and several guys had to pull him off.

These days there is still a mixed feeling by Newfoundlanders as to whether it is perjorative or not. Make sure you know the person before using this diminutive. Newfoundland is also famous for its Newfie Screech, a locally made rum, reputed to be rough and high in alcohol. It’s probably smoothed out some these days. I have a tiny bottle that friends gave me and I’ll give it a try at some point soon. If you’re in Newfoundland, you can be screeched in, where you’ll drink a shot of screech, kiss a cogdfish (cod is somewhat rare these days to these may be dried?) on the mouth, and be asked, “Is ye an honourary Newfoundlander?” You answer, “‘Deed I is me old trout, and long may your big jib draw.”

Newfoundland is part of the rugged east coast. The geography is known to be beautiful though I cannot attest to this. Years ago I was working with a woman on a book of Newfoundland proverbs that she had gathered as well as true ghost stories. She was one of eleven children, a common size for families in the past. She told me some terrible tales of being in the small fishing village where her father ran the dogsled. The only phone was owned by the Catholic priest and her family was Anglican (or possibly Protestant) and how the priest would pull cruel revenges on the children. She suffered debilitating chronic fatigue, which the doctors believed was cause by the mercury in her system from all the polluted fish. These days the fishing industry, like so many other countries, is severely jeopardized and diminished. Newfoundland has lately reinvented itself and is prospering.

So bravo, Newfoundland and Labrador, for being unique, having a strong identity, reinventing yourselves and for joining Canada. We would definitely be a lesser place without you.

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