In Newfoundland and Labrador, Danny Williams can do no wrong. These days, he's more popular than God. Following his lead, the people of the Rock have banished the Maple Leaf from their dominion. Angry citizens are flooding open-line shows and threatening that, unless they get what's owed to them by Canada, Newfoundland should go it alone.
My grandpa had a saying for moments like this. He would have said, "Here's your hat, what's your hurry?"
I like Newfoundlanders. I really do. But their sense of victimhood is unmatched. And their flag protest isn't winning them much sympathy on this side of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In fact, the sensation on this side is of a deep and painful bite to the hand that feeds. Mr. Williams reminds me of a deadbeat brother-in-law who's hit you up for money a few times too often. He's been sleeping on your couch for years, and now he's got the nerve to complain that it's too lumpy.
The ins and outs of the current squabble between Newfoundland and Ottawa would baffle any normal human being. Technically, the fight is over the esoteric details of equalization payments and offshore revenues. But according to Mr. Williams, it's really about treachery, deceit and betrayal.
Peter Fenwick has a different view. Mr. Fenwick, a long-time Newfoundland political commentator, says it's about having your cake and eating it, too. "He's going to end up with a cake and a half," he says. "And he's got 95 per cent of the province behind him."
Over the years, those of us not blessed to be born on the Rock have sent countless cakes its way in the form of equalization payments, pogey, and various hare-brained make-work schemes. (Who can ever forget the hydroponic cucumber farm?) In return, the surly islanders have blamed us for everything from the disappearance of the cod stocks to the destruction of the family unit, because if people had to work more than 10 weeks before they could collect EI, they might have to move away.
This hallowed policy of siphoning money from the haves to the have-nots, so that everyone can be equal, has turned Canada into a permanently aggrieved nation, in which every region of the country is convinced that it's being brutally ripped off by every other region. No one is better at this blame game than the Newfs, egged on by generations of politicians. The only way to get elected there is to pledge to stop the terrible atrocities of Ottawa (i.e., not sending enough money). If you should make the error of suggesting that people might have to become more self-sufficient, your political career is dead. Politicians like to get elected, which is why things never change.
Newfoundland's population has dwindled to something less than that of Scarborough, Ont. Because of stupendous political malfeasance, it is at least $11-billion in debt. But it still has seven federal seats. And so we send more money so that people can stay in the scenic villages where they were born, even though the fish are gone and there's no more work and never will be, unless they can steal some telemarketing from Bangalore. Rural Newfoundland (along with our great land north of 60) is probably the most vast and scenic welfare ghetto in the world.
But who can blame people for wanting to stay put? Not me. No one will ever gobble down a plate of cod tongues and pen an ode to Scarborough. Scarborough is not romantic. It is filled with ugly high-rise towers of immigrants scrambling to gain a foothold in a new land far from home. The difference is that, when they do it, we congratulate them and call it enterprise. No one will ever buy a scenic picture postcard of a strip mall. But Scarborough supports itself, and Newfoundland does not, and I wish Danny Williams would explain why it's a good idea to keep picking the pockets of Chinese dry cleaners and Korean variety-store owners who work 90 hours a week in order to keep subsidizing the people who live in Carbonear, no matter how quaint and picturesque they are.
I like Newfoundlanders, I really do. Where would we be without Rex Murphy and Mary Walsh and Rick Mercer? On the other hand, they left.
As for you other people of the Rock, maybe we can strike a deal. You can keep all the oil and gas revenues. And you can pay us back all the money we've sent you since you joined Confederation. Fair enough?
I thought not.