Fish­ing ad­mi­ral’s ail­ment

The Compass - - OPINION -

Re­cently I was on the phone with a jour­nal­ist I know. We were dis­cussing how we felt about each item on the list of im­pend­ing fi­as­cos stretch­ing out be­fore this prov­ince. The list was long, reach­ing the hori­zon and curv­ing down­ward, dis­ap­pear­ing from sight, stretch­ing to­ward in­fin­ity.

We were just fin­ish­ing our dis­cus­sion of the toxic mix­ture of un­car­ing greed, ma­nip­u­la­tion of the needy, and thought­less ac­cep­tance by the in­com­pe­tent and the un­con­cerned that seemed set to per­mit a sin­gle fish mer­chant to black­mail the en­tire pop­u­la­tion of this prov­ince.

The bait in the trap was a hand­ful of jobs in a place where pre­cious few ex­ist. If the gov­ern­ment, the gov­ern­ment that is sup­posed to rep­re­sent us, said no to the fish mer­chant’s pitch, then there would be no jobs. If they said yes, then … SNAP! the trap would close. In re­turn for that hand­ful of jobs, so des­per­ately needed by a sin­gle community, the gov­ern­ment would per­mit three quar­ters of that fish mer­chant’s share of a par­tic­u­lar species to be caught by for­eign­ers and shipped over­seas for pro­cess­ing. The sole ben­e­fit to this prov­ince could only be un­cov­ered by cut­ting open the fish mer­chant’s mat­tress.

If the gov­ern­ment said yes, the prece­dent would be set. For­eign­ers could har­vest and process our fish, not just this species, but all species, again and again.

The gov­ern­ment passed the buck to the union.

Nat­u­rally, the Fish, Food and Al­lied Work­ers were op­posed. Their hap­less leader, dis­play­ing all the en­ergy of a man who looked like he’d just fin­ished run­ning a dou­ble marathon, stared at his shoes and ex­pressed great re­gret about the hand­ful of jobs that the fish mer­chant would refuse to cre­ate if the gov­ern­ment did not agree to his plan.

We have to look at the mul­ti­tude of jobs stretch­ing into the fu­ture that will be lost by gen­er­a­tions to come, ex­plained the va­cant-eyed union leader. He wanted the tele­vi­sion au­di­ence to know that all cit­i­zens of this prov­ince were be­ing black­mailed by the of­fer of short-term gain for eter­nal pain.

How the poor man knew he was speak­ing to a tele­vi­sion au­di­ence I do not know. The cam­era op­er­a­tor could have left the prov­ince for all the union leader knew. He just kept on star­ing at his shoes. The fish mer­chant, the gov­ern­ment and the peo­ple so des­per­ate for the hand­ful of jobs had backed him into a cor­ner. He was beaten.

I was ask­ing my jour­nal­ist friend about the part that puz­zled me: what’s in it for the gov­ern­ment? Apart from some jobs in one community in one con­stituency, the gov­ern­ment would be mak­ing a mas­sive long-term er­ror if they said yes to ...

“Just a minute, Peter,” she in­ter­rupted. “I think I have your an­swer. An email just came in. A let­ter to the ed­i­tor for the news­pa­per. It is a glow­ing en­dorse­ment of Muskrat Falls. Not just the best thing since, but bet­ter than sliced bread.

Guess which fish mer­chant has signed at the bot­tom of the let­ter. Here’s a hint. We were just talk­ing about him.

I got the pic­ture. The gov­ern­ment and the fish mer­chant. As my fa­ther used to say, a case of “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.”

Since the day of that phone con­ver­sa­tion we have seen a bar­rage of the same as the gov­ern­ment has launched a Save Muskrat Falls at All Cost Pro­gramme. And quite a cost it is, too, with a 16 per cent in­crease, plus or mi­nus, be­fore con­struc­tion even be­gins.

This is the lat­est ex­am­ple of what I have been think­ing about for awhile, what I call “The Fish­ing Ad­mi­ral Ail­ment.”

Read­ers will know about the Fish­ing Ad­mi­rals.

In the early days of Euro­pean pres­ence in this prov­ince, it was for­bid­den to over­win­ter here. Each Spring would see a race from the ports of Eng­land’s West Coun­try for the coast of the is­land of New­found­land. The cap­tain of the first ves­sel to arrive in a given har­bour or bay would be pro­claimed the Fish­ing Ad­mi­ral for that spot. He had the best fish­ing rooms, the choic­est an­chor­age and the most pro­duc­tive grounds. His prime ob­jec­tive was to catch and make the great­est vol­ume of qual­ity fish pos­si­ble for the mer­chant back in the old coun­try who em­ployed him. He was re­spon­si­ble for main­tain­ing peace and good or­der and, though not likely versed in the law, was the sole ar­biter of jus­tice.

The ex­is­tence of this to­tally un­demo­crat­i­cally cho­sen and allpow­er­ful lead­er­ship has marked New­found­land and Labrador since the ar­rival of the first Euro­peans on these shores.

How? Let’s take politi­cians. To start with, they like a race. Not nec­es­sar­ily across the At­lantic in ocean-go­ing ves­sels, they call their race an elec­tion. Once cho­sen, they can do what they like for the du­ra­tion of their man­date. In the case of Fish­ing Ad­mi­ral, un­til the au­tumn when he sails home. In the case of the politi­cian, un­til the next elec­tion when he or she can join the race again. Not a sit­u­a­tion that en­cour­ages long-term plan­ning or re­spect for those you are ap­pointed to lead.

Let’s take fish mer­chants. Their mo­ti­va­tion like the fish­ing ad­mi­ral is to amass the great­est wealth in the short time avail­able, no mat­ter what the cost. The em­ploy­ees and the fish stocks are just two kinds of fuel to be used up in or­der to max­i­mize the profit. These prin­ci­ples ap­ply equally to other re­source gath­er­ing en­ter­prises. They, too, are af­flicted by the Fish­ing Ad­mi­ral’s Ail­ment.

The third group is by far the largest. It in­cludes ev­ery­body not named above. The ef­fect of Fish­ing Ad­mi­ral’s Ail­ment on the rest of us is still all-per­va­sive to­day. In an­cient times we learned to obey the au­to­cratic com­mands and ac­cept the un­just treat­ment of the Fish­ing Ad­mi­rals be­cause, in an iso­lated cove thou­sand of kilo­me­tres from home, there was no other choice. We are do­ing it still.

Maybe it’s time for us all to wake up, and start look­ing for an an­ti­dote.

Peter Pickersgill is an artist and writer in Sal­vage, Bon­av­ista Bay. He can be reached by email at the fol­low­ing:

Photo by Ni­cholas Mercer/the Com­pass

The Daw­son fam­ily of Bay Roberts were among those who dressed up and took to the streets Oct. 31 for some Hal­loween trick or treat­ing. They were pho­tographed on Cross Road early in the af­ter­noon. They are, from left, mom Wanda (Dora the Ex­plorer), two-year-old Cian (Spi­der-Man), dad Mark (Diego) and four-year-old Ciara.

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