A great man once said, "Politics is inherently stupid." That great man was me.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

We Could Talk, But Money Talks So Talk Mo' Bucks

Bumped for Update: The very first comment received regarding this post started "Spoken like a true welfare bum" (I guess that's what they call medical students nowadays) and ended with the commenter telling me (in caps, no less) that my province and I could "go F***" ourselves. I don't think he got my point.

"Pay us like you owe us for all the years that you hold us
We could talk but money talks so talk mo' bucks" *

I am sad to say that I was wrong about Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Back in 2004, I attended a campaign stop at the "Star of the Sea Lounge" in the riding of Avalon, which was at the time John Efford's constituency. It was a bit of a drive to get out there, but I was very interested in seeing Harper so I didn't mind the long trip. I remember how he praised Newfoundland and Labrador and promised us great things - among them, he reiterated his promise that not one cent of our offshore oil and gas revenues would be clawed back under equalization. He was quite adamant about this fact, especially in light of the fact that (then Prime Minister) Paul Martin and NDP leader Jack Layton had made the same promise already. I remember how, as he passed by and shook my hand, I shouted above the din at him "Don't let us down like the others!" At the time I fully believed he wouldn't. Here was the dawn of a new era in our Canadian federation. Here was an end to the politics of regionalism, where one province was played against another for the gain of federal political masters.

Boy, was I wrong.

In hindsight, it was quite naïve of me to believe that things would be different under Stephen Harper. I always believed that a tenet of Canadian Conservativism was mutual respect for all of the provinces in this federation. In fact, I defined it as such in my first post ever on this blog. I truly - and foolishly - believed that this was something that separated us from the Liberals. All of that has changed now. During the equalization battle with Paul Martin and Stephen Harper I've heard the most shocking comments from fellow Blogging Tories members about my province. I've read comments on many of these sites saying the most despicable things about Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. I have seen a premier who has done nothing less than fight for his province called "Danny Chavez" for his tenacity in getting nothing less than what is the going rate from intransigent oil companies. It was a rude awakening for me. I understand now that no matter what political stripe a federal politician wears, Newfoundland and Labrador - a province of Canada - will never be treated as anything but a minor annoyance, and will never be dealt with fairly. We had to fight Paul Martin in order to get him to do something as simple as honour a signed promise. And now, we have to fight yet another Prime Minister in order to do the same. During the last election, Stephen Harper wrote a letter to the Telegram promising that no province would be adversely affected by any changes to the equalization program. I had hoped he was telling the truth, but in Newfoundland and Labrador we know quite well that central Canadian politicians have a short memory when it comes to things they promise to us. My political sources in Ottawa tell me that in an entire year only a cumulative(!) four days are spent minding the concerns of this province. Full and equal partner? Who are you trying to kid?

Many of you have likely read Right Side Up by the esteemed Paul Wells. In it, he talks about how Stephen Harper was supposedly once astonished at suggestions by the National Post that he was wasting his time trying to appeal to Quebec and that he should just give up on the province. The idea here is that Harper supposedly was shocked that someone would suggest he write off a province, a full partner in confederation, like it wasn't even part of Canada. It makes for a good story, but like so much that politicians say I suspect it's just so much spin. For someone who allegedly loves each and every one of his provincial children, Harper has shown a remarkable disdain for Newfoundland and Labrador. Indeed, he is content to leave it as scorched earth for his party because we simply do not matter to him. What are three Conservative seats in Newfoundland worth to him when he has 75 juicy Quebec seats to chase after?

So now our situation is this: a spineless Rodney Macdonald has refused to fight for his province and has instead caved to a government that refuses to do the honourable thing and keep its word. Their heads have been bowed, but Newfoundland and Labrador is not going to play that game. The truth is, we no longer care about the opinions of the Federal government or the rest of Canada. We are done with you. In an economy powered by oil, we are the gatekeepers of our own destiny whether or not the federal government cooperates. In a few years, the province will more than likely no longer receive equalization - not that the small amount we received was ever anywhere even near the billions of equalization money thrown at Quebec, the true beneficiary of the program.

So Prime Minister, you want us to come crawling to your table?

We could talk, but money talks. So talk more bucks.

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