The heart and soul of Newfoundland and Labrador is the result of no mere short-term experiment, but an amazing product that has been centuries in the developing and its survival is left up to the people who live in and administer its many communities.
This was the message Rex Murphy wanted to drive home as he gave his keynote address to delegates attending the opening ceremonies of Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador’s annual convention in Corner Brook Thursday evening.
After warming up the hundreds of municipal leaders with some of his trademark wit, the well-known political commentator gave his perspective on how his home province is still dealing with the repercussions of the collapse of the fishery that literally put the place on the global map 500 years ago.
He compared the shock of 31,000 people suddenly finding themselves thrust out of the only lifestyle they and their descendents had known to the province of Ontario waking up one morning to learn that 660,000 of its residents had lost their jobs overnight. That, said Murphy, would likely be something the association of municipalities in Ontario would still be talking about even two decades years later.
“Do you know how savage an attack that particular (decision) was on the 450 years we have spent here?” Murphy asked rhetorically.
In addition to the economic blow of the fishery’s downturn, Murphy said every small town and village has seen its population dwindle and there is a cultural cost to the entire province for that.
“The drain has been immense and anyone in Newfoundland, whether you’re in the cities or you’re in the towns, you understand the culture we have built here and the way of life is a continuous dynamic,” he said.
The people who live in Newfoundland and Labrador already know how special a place it is, said Murphy, but they sometimes need to be reminded. He spent much of his time talking about the incredible generosity extended to stranded passengers during the 9/11 crisis and the amazement those accidental tourists came away with when treated in ways the people here thought were only natural reactions to such a situation.
The evacuation of the outports, the continued outmigration of some of our brightest and best but, most essentially, the cancellation of that great dynamic between deep rural fishing Newfoundland and its urban centres amounts to a nullification of one of the great projects of the entire western world.” - — Rex Murphy
“There is no pleasure in the world than doing the right thing” said Murphy, adding that “in Newfoundland, that is the default position.”
The collapse of the fishery has been tempered by the gush of offshore oil revenues that has since filled the provincial coffers. Murphy said that money cannot replace what the fishery means to Newfoundland and Labrador’s culture.
“Oil and gas ... is not the theme of continuity in this place,” said Murphy, emphasizing that not every part of the province is benefitting from the riches.
The challenge of the municipal councils of the province, he said, is to do what they can to protect the continuity of Newfoundland and Labrador’s cultural heritage.
“You know the DNA of this province better than anyone,” Murphy told them. “You’re all councillors. You are in the towns. You constitute the effective consciousness at the municipal level of what this society is.
”He implied that doing anything less would be a disservice to all of the contributions of generations past to Newfoundland and Labrador’s distinct history.
“The evacuation of the outports, the continued outmigration of some of our brightest and best but, most essentially, the cancellation of that great dynamic between deep rural fishing Newfoundland and its urban centres amounts to a nullification of one of the great projects of the entire western world,” said Murphy.