In the jargon of the marketing business, The Rooms is seeking an Agency of Record (AOR).
Recently, the allNewfoundlandLabrador business news website reported that The Rooms plans to “build off the success of its Beaumont Hamel exhibit”. The work involves a range of tasks “from marketing and campaign strategy to creative development, online content [and] social media”.
The allNewfoundlandLabrador article describes The Rooms as “the institution that safeguards the province’s arts, culture and history…” Then, too, The Rooms is identified with another role: as custodian of the military history and memorabilia of members of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.
Located on The Rooms’ website is a Question and Answer page offering “responses to RFP related questions or clarifications” for those assessing whether they qualify for (or have already been disqualified from) employment as the Agency of Record. A query, specifically item #12, reads:
Can you please give an example of a client or industry that can be considered a conflict of interest in “the rooms” POV?
This is The Rooms’ response:
As a Crown Corporation of the Provincial Government, it would be improper for The Rooms to enter into a contract with a firm that is working in direct conflict with the provincial government.
For example: It would be a conflict of interest for The Rooms to work with an AOR that represented a lobby group protesting Muskrat Falls, or a group or industry actively and/or openly working in conflict against the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Did The Rooms say that it would be “improper,” that it would constitute a “conflict of interest,” to deal with a group who embrace democratic values and refuses to ignore them when to do so is convenient to the powers that be? Even against a “boondoggle” — that threatens our economic and cultural survival?
The boldness with which The Rooms sets out its warning suggests that it is a place already corrupted by unwarranted influence; that it is well past having any pretense to institutional fairness or integrity. The disturbing fact elicits a series of fundamental questions. Here are some:
Has the corruption exhibited in the Humber Valley Paving affair under the Tories been extended, under the Liberals, to any who would possess activist tendencies, though legal and, as some might suggest, an appropriate manifestation of responsible citizenship?
Are all the picketers who protested environmental contamination with methylmercury disenfranchised thereby from participation in publicly funded initiatives — even in something as innocuous as advertising work? Even those who have already or plan to protest over a virtually submerged Mud Lake community or the potential collapse of the North Spur, too? Or those who have paraded in front of Nalcor?
Do job offerings and promotions at The Rooms carry a similar precondition, explicitly or implied?
Will applicants submitting RFPs be required to submit proof of their political leanings or evidence that they have never criticized, objected to the government, or ever exhibited a smidgen of the courage of the men and women of war whom The Rooms pretends to celebrate?
For our curators of culture and history, does kowtowing to the spineless and the ignorant outweigh rightful — and necessary — expressions of disfavour towards ruinous public policy?
From where did such an edict arrive?
Is the caveat a demand of the Minister responsible for The Rooms? Is such narrow-minded arbitrariness also a reflection of The Rooms’ CEO, who presumably authorized the publication of the RFP?
In short, how far have governance practices regressed in this province after the last decade of persistent institutional rot?
A fundamental tenet of democracy is the right, without fear of retribution, to criticize one’s own government. And while this basic right ought to be embraced in every one of our institutions, when any one of them fails it should fall not just to the Courts or to courageous citizens to apply brakes to the self-serving.
It is one thing for The Rooms to be a custodian of history and artifacts, but it would be unfortunate if that institution let bad politics obscure the sacrifices of our forebears or the values for which they fought. Perhaps The Rooms’ leadership needs reminding that our society is afforded democratic freedoms because of those forebears, and that amongst the principles for which they fought was the right of protest, including against the government.
The minders of things that reflect our political and cultural values, the ones who have been given a duty to be vanguards with a sacred purpose, ought to at least maintain the pretense of that responsibility. While Joey Smallwood long exhibited disdain for the partisans who did not support him and utilized the programs of the state to reward and to punish, as he saw fit, he was cognizant enough of his own corrupt value system to never put such offense in writing!
Some assurance is necessary that the CEO of The Rooms is not just another servant to the shameful excesses and arbitrariness of his political masters.
Else, in future, in place of values, history, ideals or remembrance, we shall think of The Rooms as a mere purveyor of trinkets and sideshows.
The Rooms’ CEO has some explaining to do.