Jim Furlong: Democracy in Action

Jim Furlong: Democracy in Action

When I was “coming of age” so to speak politics was played a little bit differently … or maybe it wasn’t. 

We were a Liberal family. That means we had a known affiliation to the Liberal party. That was true until I was into my twenties and Smallwood was turfed from office. Then the P.C.s took over.

Liberal affiliation

How did that affiliation manifest itself? Well during elections dad always got work from a Liberal party candidate. It’s just the way it was. My mother also was an “enumerator” during federal elections; she worked compiling a voters list. She also worked provincially on election day at a poll location where votes were cast. For us it was Wesley Church basement. The work was much needed and was a little award not for voting but for being an active “Liberal”. 

When dad lost his job at Parker and Monroe another job was found for him down at the old General Hospital. The hospital, was in those days, a place of Liberals. It’s said you almost had to be for Liberal to work there . 

Many believe that all of that is harmless. It’s just part of the political game. Part of democracy. Rossy Barbour, a loyal Smallwood Liberal and a good constituency man as an MHA, said famously about patronage; “To the victors go the spoils.”

 That particular attitude did manifest itself in many ways. Consider fish processing. The geographic part of Newfoundland I am most familiar with is the southern shore of the Avalon from Petty Harbour up to Ferryland and beyond.  Fish plant processing licences became coin of the realm in terms of  looking after people. There was a fish plant in Petty Harbour, one in Bay Bulls,  one in Witless Bay, one in Tors Cove and Cape Broyle and Renews and Fermeuse and Ferryland. That’s the way things were. Not to say they were all patronage plants but …. how many fish plants do you need on one hundred mile long shore? I could write all night about these things.

Is it wrong?

Consider this.  When I badly needed a job after high school and my parents had passed away, a part time job appeared at a brewery, then at a government office, later at the development of the St. John’s Harbour (pick and shovel). The question of course is where this fits in the democracy. Is it wrong? 

When a Conservative government came to power, did it change? I don’t know the answer. I was all grown up then but I suspect it is all part of the process. 

What amazes me now and gives me pause is that it continues. Look at political fundraisers. During my working career as a journalist I covered many of those. Various firms will send someone to those fundraising  events both for Liberals and the Conservatives. They contribute to both sides. You have to have the bases covered. They will tell you they are just supporting democracy. Really I think they are applying for work as an enumerator or a driver on election day.

NTV’s Jim Furlong can be reached by emailing: jfurlong@ntv.ca

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