Jim Furlong: What is Wrong With Us?

It was the day of the rate mitigation press conference that this odd feeling of déjà vu swept over me. We always seem to be in the middle of something that has us peering over the edge of a steep cliff. That cliff, often, is of our own making. I wonder if it is possible that we simply aren’t capable of running our own affairs. 

‘Spiteful patriotism’

We do live in a democracy. We elect people to govern and yet we are in a situation like this where, despite a hydro electric project that should be the envy of the world, we need help to keep our electric bills from doubling. How did we manage that? Screwing up like that takes real effort.  

Newfoundland, as Britain’s oldest colony, came to Confederation with Canada by a circuitous route that began when we voted in 1934 to end self government. We agreed to be governed by an appointed commission. We couldn’t run the place. We were in the hole. The Commission of Government was essentially a civil service committee answerable to England, not to the people of Newfoundland. It ran us from 1934 until 1949 because we couldn’t look after our own affairs.  

We can rant and rail about bad breaks and forces against us in that wild Newfoundland anger that Ray Guy called “spiteful patriotism” but is it possible we just weren’t fit?  You know I can’t think of another democracy that voted itself out of office to be run by bureaucrats. How have we done since we started running our own Newfoundland in 1949? You can answer that one. You don’t need me.

Broken dreams  

Now the road from there (1949) to here is strewn with the wreckage of  broken  dreams. It is a road filled with chocolate factories, greenhouses, third paper mills, boot factories and a bunch of other things, all of them, almost wonderful. This is a well-known and sad litany. All of this done by ELECTED governments.  None came to power by military coup. Tanks didn’t roll in the streets. Our elected governments, and forget their political stripe, did all of that and we let it happen! 

The great irony is that this world of dreams gone wrong is bracketed by two great power projects. Right out of the gate the Smallwood years brought the crippling Churchill Falls power agreement down on us. We are still suffering from that and we have spent millions of political dollars in the courts trying to get it overturned. Now here we are at Muskrat Falls, looking over the edge again with our caps in our hands looking for “mitigation” on our power bills.

Here is the ultimate question where I expect a significant number  of  readers will turn on me. Are we fit to run our own affairs? Could we give Muskrat Falls to Canada and just admit we can’t handle things? The frightening idea is that whatever is wrong with us is, when the dust settles, is still wrong with us. So, what’s next?

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