Saturday, February 8, 2014

Newfoundland Politicians and the Three Wise Monkeys

Experience is not what happens to you; it's what you do with what happens to you. - Aldous Huxley

Whenever a man has cast a longing eye on offices, a rottenness begins in his conduct. - Thomas Jefferson

There is a long-told story of three wise monkeys by the names of Iwazaru, Kikazaru and Mizaru.  You may know them best as “speak no evil”, “hear no evil” and “see no evil” respectively.

As I observe the political circus taking place in my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador, I can’t help but notice how those three characters can be applied to the three leaders of the Provincial political parties.  However, instead of three wise monkeys, we will examine their behavioural opposites since wisdom is often a matter of perspective.

Speak No Evil

Former Premier Kathy Dunderdale who, through a number of poorly executed communication blunders, managed to cast the entire party as indifferent and apathetic to the people of the Province.  In addition, the behavior of many of the elected members of the party appeared to be above the law or at least beyond the scrutiny of the people (at least as perceived by the politicians), thereby reinforcing such feelings within the electorate.  Meanwhile, the Party is moving on to select a new leader, acting as if the damage produced by the current government leadership never happened and that suddenly they are the party of the people.  

Even the leadership selection process has become a source of intrigue with many insiders staying away from the job.  What does that tell you about what they perceive as success potential?

Hear No Evil

NDP Leader Lorraine Michael who, despite going from first to last in the polls practically overnight as a result of a leadership and team collapse, insists that she is not concerned with the past and current events within the party.  I am reminded of Alfred E. Neuman from Mad Magazine who never worried about anything even when everything was collapsing all around him. 

The interesting thing is that I don’t hear a lot of people clamoring to join this party.  Maybe it is time to worry, Ms. Michael.

See No Evil

Liberal Leader Dwight Ball who indicated that everyone is welcome in the Liberal Party no matter what they have done in the past.  This includes if they were accused of rigging polls for a political party or were solely responsible for gutting their party and creating the calamitous fall that subsequently ensued. 

The party appears to be evolving into the party of the opportunist and the self-interested with people coming out of the woodwork to run for the party.  What does this say about the desperation and self-interest level of not only the party but of the leader as well?

So the ballot for the next election looks like this.

NL Election Ballot

There is a fourth money, Shizaru, who symbolizes “do no evil”, but somebody got to him and paid him off before he embarrassed anyone.

Truthfully, there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot that separates all three parties.  Oh sure, they all talk about unique values and the like but under the facade projected to the people they are bound by a common tie …… the notion of “what’s in it for ME?”

Maybe the Newfoundland and Labrador government could actually be compared to a hockey farm team where the team captains and other key players use their experience in the junior leagues as a preparation for a position in the big leagues.  They do what they want, how they want, to whom they want and when it all hits the fan they step out of one league, supposedly in disgrace, only to reappear suddenly in the big leagues where the rewards are far more lucrative.

This could be said of many who have walked through the swinging door that is the Newfoundland and Labrador Legislature with the exception of Danny Williams who was larger than Life when he entered and even larger than Life when he left.  While he didn’t need to move on to a bigger league (being already there), he sort of fits the mould by actually buying a real hockey team.  Well played. :-)

So Where Does That Leave the People of the Province?

I have no idea.  Politicians come and go with such little accountability that no one holds them responsible for what they have done or didn’t do as promised and come election time, the cycle repeats itself.  Memories are short in the Province, it seems.

Ironically, if one reflects on the backroom wheeling and dealing (some would suggest skulduggery) of the pre-Confederation negotiations, things don’t really appear to be that much different today than they were more than 65 years ago.

So how does one fix a pattern that predates Confederation?

For starters, it takes more than expressing unhappiness in coffee shops, frustration on call-in radio programs and the like.  To do so emphasizes a truth as expressed in a great line from the Buddy Wasisname and the Other Feller’s song “Old Wooden Shack” where Ray Johnson sings:

Empty wishes leave a wanting man sore.

While passion and a desire to make things better are important, what is equally if not more important are the actions that come as a result of that passion and desire.

Because without action that is intelligently and strategically carried out and without demanding accountability, responsibility and transparency from its leaders, the Province is headed for more of the same in the future as it has experienced in the past - a mix of potential, realized and missed, without fully unleashing what the Province is truly capable of producing. 

Meanwhile, the people who have architected the mixed results move on to an amazing, lucrative future with little care of the trail of mixed results left in their wake or the people who are left behind to pick up the pieces.

Past performance is the #1 predictor of future behavior and results.

If the people of the Province recreate yet again what they have suffered from in the past, I wonder who the monkey is then.

In service and servanthood,



For the local writer in the Province who has felt empowered to lift my blog content lately and pass it off as her own, I wish her well on the success of her next article.  Success is a team sport after all. :-)

Addendum – February 9, 2014

A few readers reached out to me yesterday and asked me why things don’t change and why people won’t stand up for something better.  When I replied that more people need to speak out against what is not working, they replied to me that this wasn’t possible for them because they had too much to lose.  As I pointed out to them, “legitimate” reasons such as theirs were exactly why change wouldn’t take place – that many who want change are counting on someone else to create it.  The response wasn’t received well by any of them.

I wonder if the electorate breaks down into:

  1. Those who benefit from the status quo.
  2. Those who don’t like the status quo but are afraid to rattle cages.
  3. Those who have given up, resigned to the  belief that change is not possible.
  4. Those who for a variety of reasons (some reasonable) are braver in coffee shops and in the anonymity of social media and call-in radio programs than in the public eye.
  5. Those who are afraid to speak out.  This is related to the previous point but is worth noting separately because of what it says about democracy in the Province.
  6. Those who believe they have the answer to making things better and compete against others with the same belief instead of collaborating with them.
  7. Those who desire change confuse activity and productivity, not being strategic in their intentions and execution of those intentions and thus accepting any result as a good (or good enough) result.
  8. Those who make a lot of noise but in the end are complaining for the sake of complaining without really caring about results.
  9. Everyone else.

It would be intriguing to discover what percentage of people fall into each category.

What category do you fall into?

Addendum 2 – February 13, 2014

I just finished reading Greg Malone’s “Don’t Tell the Newfoundlanders” and there is a quote in the book that stands out. It is this:

This country [Newfoundland] has been so badly governed during the whole period of its history of over four hundred years that I think it is inevitable, and no matter how good a government may be, it is inbred in the people here to be always in revolt against the governmental authority.

These words were written by High Commissioner Charles Burchell to Norman Robertson (Department of External Affairs) in September of 1942.

They are interesting words that are just as relevant today, almost 72 years after they were written.

Should Newfoundlanders be disappointed or angered?

Maybe they should be both.


  1. Good analogy. I've also heard it said that if you put all the newfoundlandpoliticans in a bag and shook em up. You'd have a hard time picking em out by party.One thing I will sat is all parties are above the people; not just the PC's. It's the mold that's been set here over the years as a normal way of acting in office. I have never held such interest in politics as I have since I've moved back home. Partly due to more time at home than before..and the sheer disbelief of how this place runs.

    1. Thanks, Lee. I like your analogy also. However, it is the transparency and truth of your closing statement that grabbed me .... a statement that cries out for something better because the people deserve it!