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Monday 25 July 2016



On June 13, the Telegram published a letter I had written under the heading: It takes a province to stabilize the economyIn that letter, I expressed the opinion that “we are facing a critical period for the next few years, and our MHAs are mistaken if they fall into the mindset that only they have the sole obligation, right, and expertise to solve the problem.” I added that “it can’t be done in four years. It may take four times four years, and even different colours of government.”  I also noted that “the people of Newfoundland and Labrador have indicated clearly that they also get it; they understand and recognize the need to tighten belts, cut back on programs and find more efficient ways to run essential elements, and they even realize they have to pay more taxes.” They just seek less draconian measures!

On June 18, the Telegram kindly published a sequel to the June 13 letter in response to readers who had asked for details on how the public could be involved in the economic crisis, under the heading: Involve the people in the process. I suggested a four-step process which called for a meeting of the minds (and bodies) of the Premier, the Opposition Leaders, and the Independent Member of the House of Assembly to establish a dedicated Task Force “which would focus solely on our fiscal and economic challenges in order to develop a long-term strategy for getting rid of our untenable burden of debt while nurturing reasonable (not “mega”) but steady economic growth.” 

The other three steps suggested a summer session of the House of Assembly, where members could discuss the economic challenge from the perspective of their own constituents; the establishment of a Task Force which would draw heavily on the resources of economic, business, labour, and social sector expertise which is readily available in this province through the public service, Memorial University, NGOs, and the private sector (secondments wherever possible!); and a process of consulting with the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and reporting back to them through the House of Assembly on a regular and timely basis.

Last Monday (July 18) Uncle Gnarley made a very generous reference to my letters and to my own modest contribution to the provincial Strategic Economic Planning process in the 1990s (I had the privilege of chairing the process, but I was dwarfed by the level of expertise around the table!).  Gnarley opined that while my current proposals were a serious attempt at offering a prescription for dealing with our economic crisis, my suggestions were “far too idealistic.”

Sadly, my old friend Gnarley may be right, if political pragmatism prevails.  I know that he, like myself, in years gone by has waded in the shallow murky waters of political campaigning with the ubiquitous but provocative calls by (well-meaning!) back-room gurus to ‘take the gloves off”,” hang tough”, “spin the message”, “get the message out”, “don’t break ranks”, and “stay the course”.  In the cut-and-thrust of legislative politics, the media moment is the objective, and the next election the long term goal. There’s not a lot of discussion in party caucuses of principles, people, or programs. The underlying passion is for power, either getting it (opposition) or keeping it (government). In this respect, we are by no means alone; it is a universal malaise and we only have to look south of our Canadian border at the moment to see it working in its infernal splendor.

So why am I so naive to be “idealistic”? Because I believe that we need to bring virtue to the noble calling of politics, which is held in disdain by electors not only here in NL, but around the world. It has become an epithet for greed, scandal, chicanery, obfuscation, nepotism, “spin-doctoring”, incompetence, and oppression. Who in his or her right mind would want to offer oneself for public service if the “returns on investment” were sleepless nights, constant abuse, and insults or threats to one’s family? The only answer, in the public mind, is to “line one’s pockets”. Nothing else makes sense.
There is an alternative. There is another paradigm. And while the pragmatists may scoff and jeer, I am proudly foolish enough to suggest political ethics, honesty, sincerity, openness, accountability, and civility as guiding lights for those who are brave enough to aspire to success in public service in the future.  And I am still naive enough to believe that the Members of the House of Assembly we elected last fall are concerned Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who will put their constituents first and foremost above the crack of the party whip in traditional politics. 

I believe they can work together in our current crisis to enlist the best brains we have (and we have a lot of them in this province; I’m sure the current Independent Appointments Commission could find them!) to develop a long term plan for economic stabilization and prospective growth with reasonable and proportionate fiscal restraints which may well extend beyond the mandates of current and even future governments.  

With this dedicated strategic plan in place, responsible to the House of Assembly (and the people who elected the members), the Government and Opposition Parties can get on with the job we expect them to with the everyday challenges and needs of the province and its electorate. And that is a full time job!
Unity of purpose is not a bizarre concept. It happens all the time in crises. And I submit that we are facing a socioeconomic crisis which will take the will and work of all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to overcome. There are no “saviours”, no magic bullet. No “new parties”.  No time for hubris or parochialism. It is up to the current MHAs, our elected representatives district by district, to decide whether or not they can work together for their province outside of partisan interests. Or, risk being dismissed by their electors eventually for breach of faith. In other words, be celebrated as part of the recovery now or condemned as part of the repercussions later.  
“Idealistic”? I hope so!  If we don’t get some ideals and ethics back into politics, we are doomed anyway. I have seen too many principles fall to the sword of political pragmatism for far too long. And if all the above falls on deaf ears and my children and grandchildren (and yours, gentle reader!) are doomed to pay off the debts we have incurred (or worse!), at least I can take solace in the Greek proverb:  “Society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit.”

Thank you, Uncle Gnarley, for this opportunity to share my views and for all you have done, and will do, for Newfoundland and Labrador          
Editor's Note:
Edsel Bonnell
Edsel Bonnell’s lengthy public and private sector experience spans careers in journalism, public relations, politics, and public service. His career in journalism began in 1953 as a reporter with The Telegram and he worked in radio and television, first for VOCM, and later for CJON (now NTV), and as a public affairs panellist with CBC Radio and CBC TV in St. John's.

As a Director of Newfoundland Public Relations Company Limited, he became Newfoundland's first full-time professional public relations consultant. Following many years in private business Bonnell, from 1989 to 1996, served with Premier Clyde Wells in the combined roles of Chief of Staff and Senior Policy Advisor in the Premier's Office. He chaired the Strategic Economic Planning Group that developed the Province's Strategic Economic Plan in 1992, and the Strategic Social Planning Group (1992-1996). Following Premier Wells retirement as Premier he returned to private practice.

Edsel Bonnell is a celebrated Newfoundlander having been recognized both locally and nationally. His numerous awards include six national Awards of Excellence from the Canadian Public Relations Society.

Newfoundlanders and Labradorians know him best for having been awarded the Order of Canada in 2001, as a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Medal, and for having been awarded the Honourary Doctor of Laws degree from Memorial University of Newfoundland. He has been an inspiring educator for decades most notably through the Gower Youth Band which he founded in 1973 and which he continues to serve as Conductor and Musical Director.

Edsel has served on a number of Boards and within community, church, and charitable organizations. His long standing dedication to the enhancement of the social, political, and cultural life of the province shows no sign of waning. He is truly an inspiration to every citizen.

I have known and respected Edsel Bonnell for a long time and I am very pleased he has offered his views at this time of crisis in our province both in the Telegram and here. I truly hope today’s article is just his first contribution to the Uncle Gnarley Blog.