Case Studies in Open and Closed Minds, Advocate, 20/11/2017

I was originally going to talk some more about Gilles Deleuze’s conceptual engineering today. But a fairly viral article in my social network of Newfoundlanders inspired a few new insights about the culture of my home province and the mess it faces.

The wreck of the Charcot in Conception Harbour, Newfoundland.
Certainly not a metaphor for the island's current economic position.
I swear.
James McLeod – who for the last eight years has been a stalwart reporter for The Telegram, the major newspaper for St John’s – probably doesn’t remember meeting me. We shared a few beers in Toronto when I first moved to Ontario, and I was visiting an old friend.

McLeod was just about to move to Newfoundland, a Torontonian going to work in St John’s. He did fantastic work at The Telegram and loved living in St John’s, but he couldn’t stay in the city following its economic downturn.

Newfoundland’s entire economy depended on high oil prices – government revenues depended on stupidly low offshore petroleum well royalty rates, and much of the rural workforce commuted to the Alberta tar sands. As the island has traditionally done, its leaders put all their economic eggs in one volatile, risky basket.

Right now, Newfoundland and Labrador is on the threshold of an even bigger economic crisis than the cod moratorium and the end of much of the inshore fishing industry. And those crises – the oil crash, the massive government debt burden of Muskrat Falls, the massively aging population – will drive a huge migration from NL to the rest of Canada.

What I find most illuminating were the different reactions to McLeod’s article in my social networks. It’s anecdotal evidence of wide social trends, but it displays a depressingly common cross-section of the attitudes about the future of my birthplace.

Solid headshot. The bow tie is pretty cool too.
One friend, when he posted the article, agreed with McLeod that the province was heading for an economic disaster – he was depressed that there seemed to be no way out, but resigned to another outflux of population. He has plenty of experience working around Canada and the rest of the globe, an open, progressive point of view.

Another friend was resigned to the disaster as well, but also expressed an incredible bitterness that any of Newfoundland’s leaders could ever handle it. This friend is a very perceptive man – I remember through the Williams years of the mid-2000s, he was very skeptical of his leadership.

He showed very little of the sad worship of Danny that swept Newfoundland’s culture in those years. There’s a kind of disgust at the province’s leadership – a combination of bitterness, resentfulness, and hopelessness. A loss of faith in any hope or optimism at all. I worry about that.

And another friend – a Facebook connection from having shared some friends and some conferences in the New Democratic Party back in the early 2010s – who expressed what I find to be a very sad and all-too-common attitude.

Go on back to the mainland. No matter all the time you spent here, no matter how much you came to love Newfoundland, no matter how much the island shaped you – if you’re leaving, then good riddance. You were never our friend.

It’s an inward turning. When resentment boils into contempt. When it’s in triumph, it’s the attitude of the Williams partisan – “How does it feel now, mainlander?” When it’s under a weight, it’s the spite of disgust – “Fuck off back to the mainland!”

The rocks will outlast the people.
Turning away, no matter what’s on offer. Whether it’s multiculturalism, true economic diversity, business and trade links, or even just inter-community friendship. Turn away. They’re not one of us. They don’t count – and they never did.

No matter how much McLeod contributed to my home province over the last decade, it’s the feeling that the province owes him nothing. No mainlander is worth respect.

I’m not a mainlander. I live in Toronto, and my spouse is Torontonian. I grew up in Newfoundland. But being Italian, I never really fit in – my name and the fact that I had a large extended family in Quebec made me a foreigner. Even though I was born at the old Grace Hospital in St John’s and lived there until I was 25.

The irony is that I’ve actually written for Cleary’s paper about the political and cultural insularity of Newfoundland’s culture. It wasn't the economy of Newfoundland and Labrador that drove me to build a life elsewhere. It was the insularity of so many popular attitudes that made my more open perspective feel unwelcome.

There was also the feeling that, despite having been born and grown up in St John's, that I never truly belonged, that my Italian heritage and my connections to Quebec kept me from being a real Newfoundlander. Well, if you don't want me, I won't come . . . .

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