The Small and the Slightly Less Small, A History Boy, 03/01/2014

I’ll probably still update sporadically until late next week, because I’m still in Newfoundland and will be until January 9. As with any vacation, my days will be busier than when I’m at home working. There are meetings with family and old friends, and some shopping trips for gifts for friends back home in Ontario. I’m listening to VOCM’s Open Line show, a decades-old call-in radio show in St. John’s, where people are voicing their anger and frustration over a series of rolling blackouts throughout Newfoundland.

This is the most intensely political morning I’ve had in a long time. Newfoundland has a low population, and the rolling blackouts are apparently to save strain on the electricity grid. Although more snow has fallen on the island than the average winter, there seems to be no reason why demand for electricity is suddenly exceeding supply. In all the 25 years that I lived in this city, there was never any such situation. There were catastrophic blackouts caused by damage to infrastructure from bad winter weather. But in a province with such a low population, there has never been a situation where Newfoundland itself generated more demand for electricity than there was supply. The province is a power exporter. There seems to be no problem with the power that is sent to other provinces; only that for Newfoundland and Labrador itself. And this in the coldest winter the province has experienced in some time.

Kathy Dunderdale's Bill 29 effectively destroyed press
freedom to critique the provincial government. No non-
NLers outside NL know anything about it.
On Open Line and in personal conversation, I have heard frustration and thoughts of conspiracy. The Dunderdale government has been desperately trying to convince the province’s population that the new hydroelectric development at Muskrat Falls, Labrador is necessary to meet the province’s future power needs. But the provincial government has avoided all transparency about the project. Facing public concerns about massive cost overruns on the Muskrat Falls construction, the Dunderdale government passed a secrecy act, Bill 29, that gave her cabinet discretion to define which documents are exempt from Freedom of Information requests. If a journalist or a citizen asks to see the actual costs of the project’s construction, the government can simply refuse. 

This affront to democracy and the concept that a government should be accountable to its citizens is only part of an issue that has consumed the politics of my home province. There is no issue in Newfoundland and Labrador more important than Muskrat Falls and the corruption of a government who would prevent its people learning of that project’s true nature. It is a sign of the size of this project, but also the small size of Newfoundland.

This is one hydroelectric development project, one dam. Its goal is to transmit power down the eastern seaboard. Compared to the massive power grids of the United States and mainland Canada, the contribution of Muskrat Falls would be minimal. That a government would put its people through rolling blackouts in the height of the coldest winter in years, that it would pass a bill that literally castrates the press’ ability to criticize the government’s energy policy, is a sign that they take Muskrat Falls to be the defining project of Newfoundland. It is a sign of how petty Newfoundland politics always are and will be.

I’ve long heard that Toronto believes itself to be the centre of the universe in Canada. My girlfriend, who grew up in Scarborough, jokes sometimes that this is true. But when you compare Toronto to the rest of the world, it isn’t all that much compared with the global power and influence of cities like New York, Berlin, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Los Angeles, Rio de Janeiro, and Mumbai. I’ve lived in Hamilton, Ontario since 2008, a city that never believed it was the centre of anything except perhaps a plume of smoke from the steel plants. As tough as the last year has been for me, I’ve never been happier anywhere else. 

But when I see the shenanigans and anti-democratic manipulation of a population’s misery and suffering to justify a shady hydroelectric development, I think another place thinks of itself the centre of the universe. Newfoundland, St. John’s, and the leaders of the province’s Progressive Conservative party. My Utopias project involves how personal ideological visions can oppress and destroy people, that the material needs of people can be sacrificed to an idea. Even though I write philosophy for a living (or at least hope to), I understand how petty that is.

Joey Smallwood once made a legendary
documentary about his waiting days for a
meeting with Fidel Castro, which he conceived
as a summit between leaders of two island
nations. Smallwood was too small-time.
The pettiness of politics in this province is just one aspect of why I am sick of this place, and why I have been for a long time. There is nothing that depresses me more than the sight of other Newfoundlanders who go other places to pursue ambitious careers, but spend their time pining for the streets of St. John’s or their smaller outport hometowns. They think St. John’s is so beautiful, but like its politicians, the place is small, petty, self-absorbed, and with a disastrously inflated opinion of itself. It has a government that believes a single power plant in Labrador is worth stomping all over democratic values and plunging its people into a frigid, suffering, cold. Newfoundland is a place of outsized ego and self-obsession. 

When I get back to Hamilton late next week, my days will return to the routine I had established shortly before leaving. I’ll work at my editing job for a few hours each morning, then after lunch work on my research before making dinner, and relax with my love before some before-bed reading. Under the Trees, Eaten will be released late this Winter, and I aim to have a multimedia promotional circuit for it: touring around southern Ontario, managing a companion blog, among whatever else I can think of over the next couple of months. I’ll finish the next revision of my Ecophilosophy project over the same period and prepare to shop it to publishers. I’ll keep doing what I can. I’m one person, and that’s all I can do. There are some places where I can accomplish more than in others. I’ll be back in one of those more fruitful places next week.

No comments:

Post a Comment