Thursday, August 23, 2007

Asking the questions

In lieu of recent comments from certain media about the nature of bloggers critical of Danny Williams (ie. They all must be Liberals and work for communications firms therefore are biased and wrong) I’ve been waiting for someone to try that bullshit on me.

They haven’t, and there are any number of reasons for that. I don’t live in the province anymore. Nor is this a straight political blog. I would likely go mad if I only wrote about politics all the time.

But the most important thing is that I am no Liberal flunky. I have a long history of criticizing Liberal governments in Newfoundland. I raked poor Roger Grimes over the coals. I thought Brian Tobin was a slick tool. I danced the Dance of Malicious Glee when Beaton Tulk had his fall from grace.

Hell, I cut my journalistic teeth criticizing Clyde Wells. Which I highly recommend. Nothing quite sharpens you up so much as trying to question someone who is clearly not only more intelligent than you are, not only more intelligent than 98% of the population he is leading, but who also clearly knows he is.

This is the thing that drives me nuts in Newfoundland right now. And it’s not just the Hebron MOU (and MOUs are like pixie dust. You can scatter them everywhere and people think they’re cute and meaningful. But they can blow away awfully fast if the wind changes), but anything to do with Williams government. This howling reaction of outrage whenever you ask basic questions to the premier.

Are Ed and Simon, to give but two examples, diehard Liberals? Of course. To say otherwise is foolish. But to dismiss the points they make because they have a Liberal background is even more foolish. They are smart men with enough communications and policy wonk experience on them to choke a horse. They’re going to notice things that the average person, and the average journalist, might miss. To ignore what they have to say is silly. To question their desire to see Newfoundland thrive is idiotic. Their desire to see Newfoundland prosper is greater than their desire to see a Liberal government in power. Never doubt that.

People who dismiss Ed and Simon are missing a very basic, very simple point. It is your duty as a citizen of Newfoundland and Labrador to question everything any government tells you. Not just the Williams government. It was our duty with Tobin and not nearly enough did it and the result was him scurrying away before people caught onto the mess he made. We treated the word of Smallwood as Holy Script and look where that got us. It’s also our duty with any future premiers.

There’s nothing wrong with asking hard questions and demanding answers. If your leader can answer a question to your satisfaction, great. But there are always other questions and you should never stop asking them.

That why I like Ed and Simon. They never stop asking questions. They never stop doubting. And when the answers aren’t forthcoming, they dig and try to find them. This is good because amidst all the glee over the Hebron MOU, there are a lot of questions to be answered. And hell, I might even be willing to give Williams the benefit of the doubt on confidentiality agreements and needing to get things locked up first so we can’t get into specific details if he had done this a year ago. But he didn’t. He made this announcement mere weeks before an election for which this is clearly going to be a main plank in his campaign.

Look, I don’t care what your political loyalties are. There is simply no way any leader can stand up and announce they have a deal that will fundamentally alter the province for a generation or more and give only the most vague details. And when people ask for more information go, “Nope, sorry I can’t tell you until well after you reelect me. But trust me, it’s great.”

Nope. No way. No chance in hell. There’s no human way you can let a politician get away with that. I don’t care if the guy has the recombinant genetic structure of Gandhi, Lincoln and Nelson Mandela. There is no way you can let him get away with that. It’s like putting a sign around your neck that says “I am a sucker. Abuse me.”

To reiterate a few points for those slow on the uptake: I sincerely hope the deal is as good as Williams is singing. And of the three party leaders in the province right now, Williams is by a large margin the most qualified to run the place. But that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t be asking lots of questions and getting of answers in return.

And if Williams doesn’t answer them, then just keep asking again and again and again. If he doesn’t answer them, then you might ask why that is and keep it in mind when going to the polls. Because this is too important to not have answers. If you wait until after the election and then discover you don’t like the answers, well, too bad, eh? And you get what you deserve.


nadinebc said...

Great minds...

just blogged along those lines myself, though not as eloquently.

When we can't question things, we know we are in trouble.

Dale Kirby said...

An incisive commentary.

Anonymous said...

Good commentary. Although I disagree with 90% of his blog. I think it is very important to take in all sides to make an informed decision. What people find most frustrating about Ed (more so than Simon) is that is he is so over the top partisan his message can get lost in its delivery and as a result people just chalk it up as the words of a liberal hack (which is too bad). I think that Simon has more credibility because he tones it down alot and still gets his points across. And he is not negative on the PC's 24/7.

Edward G. Hollett said...

Craig, I appreciate your eloquent defence.

It would be nice to know who that anonymous commenter is, if for no other reason than I have really no time for people who make critical public comments but don't have the stones to put their name behind them.

In my not so humble experience as a humble e-scribbler, the only people who characterise my comments and observations as partisan or, in this case "over-the-top" partisan, are Tory partisans themselves.

It's generally known or assumed that the current administration doesn't like Bond Papers and their supporters have had a very hard time dealing with Bond Papers other than to launch some form of personal attack on me.

When I see a phrase like "I disagree with 90% of what he says" that makes me curious.

First of all, taking in all the information but dismissing it because it comes from someone some perceive as "over-the-top" and partisan likely means you actually aren't taking in all the information in the first place.

Secondly, while the 90% comment is hyperbolic, there have been almost 2400 posts in 2.5 years. 90% is a lot of stuff to disregard, especially when none of the stuff likely being referred to is really partisan at all!

These include links off to other peoples' comments, news stories, backgrounders, and other information not generally known about but publicly available.

Second, and more pointedly, would that bunch of stuff the commenter disagreed with include:

- the discussion of demographics and the impact on the province, all of which have been largely ignored by politicians of all stripes for the past decade, the current crowd included?

- the revelation that aspects of the Green report will not come into effect until after October 9, although not a single politician of any political stripe pointed it out or - as we learned from some - even realised it?

- the analysis of general overspending in the House of Assembly, confirmed by the Green report?

- the analysis of oil revenues and Equalization, based on public domain information that typically has been confirmed by others?

- support for the government's efforts to develop the Lower Churchill by exporting the power but pointing out problems with the approach?

- long-term financial trends in the province that obviously played a role in the urgency of getting a deal on Hebron?

- the assessment of the 2005 offshore deal that certainly didn't follow the government line but which - curiously enough - turned out to be accurate since they were based on an analysis of publicly available information?

Thirdly, I doubt very much there is a way to express disapproval or to criticize a particular policy or approach without actually expressing disapproval or criticism in such a way that people who already like the policy or approach would like to hear and readily accept the criticism.

Seems obvious to me, but some people take that view. If they could explain their point more clearly, then maybe I could see their point.

At the same time I do have to note that one of the things that has made Bond as well-received as it generally is - admittedly to a relatively small audience - has been the bite and the edge.

While I have toned it down, somewhat, strongly expressed opinion is intended to be that way in order to get attention and not be simply lost among the flood of comment that is like a wishy washy Telegram editorial from the bad old days of that paper: yeah; there's an issue and something will have to be done about it but we won't suggest what cause we can't actually figure out an idea.

Lastly, if I can be forgiven for the length of this comment,let me finish with three examples of the sort of stuff I see as examples of people who have closed their minds before they even started to read Bond.

First, the Premier took a couple of potshots at me last fall and winter presumably over posts on his family charity.

If you actually read what I wrote - and as others pointed out to me in calls and e-mails after his comments - I actually gave advice on how to restructure the administration to avoid having people who want to take cheap shots from taking the cheap shots. D'uh!

Second, I take it the Premier read or was briefed on my post on Hebron and the likelihood he'd have to compromise in order to get the deal.

Well, again, he made that comment and then proceeded to describe - as it turns out - a variety of compromises that ultimately got the deal done. D'uh!

But the deal is done and that's good and I said so publicly locally and nationally. Then you get the guy who called Open Line to criticise me for not saying the current deal was "great".


Third, I don't recall Danny Williams or any of his supporters ever pointing out favourably the extensive critique of the federal Conservatives on issues near and dear to the province and clearly of interest to the Premier and which turned out to be pretty much what they turned out doing or not doing, as the case may be.

Anonymous said...

As Nadine stated "when we can't question things, we know we are in trouble". That includes questioning what Ed writes about. I agree he is insightful and provokes many useful discussions. However, as stated I disagree with much of what he says. What is that you say on your blog about "dissent" Ed. I remember, don't confuse dissent with disloyalty. As a "loyal" Bond Reader, I took those words to heart upon reading your response. We all have to think critical and that includes sorting through the information Ed presents, what it means to us as voters and distinguish that from what Ed is trying to craft his message around.

I guess dissenting opinion only applies when he is critical of Williams. It does not apply to his own writing. shame..

I applaud him for his hard work and doing much of the investigative journalism that he seems to be at the forefront of in our town. That said, it is not a crime to disagree with our "glorious " humble (not by half) e-scribbler. I did agree with 10% Ed. That is 250 posts. And some of those were things that you mentioned in your response. It was good work plain and simple Congrats!

Regarding Ed's mention on anonymous comments. I think he forgets that democracy is based on people commenting on an anomymous basis. It is called voting Ed. Or would you rather have it done like in the union halls. Stones indeed!

Edward G. Hollett said...

Interesting that you didn't deal with the main thrust of my comments, anonymous, namely that your accusation that I am "partisan" tends to come from a readily identified corner.

As for the bit on anonymous comments, I have to say that you completely miss the point.

Secret balloting is a key part of our democracy and you add nothing to your argument by dodging off the point of your first one - about my being partisan - and then bringing in a complete red herring.

At no point has our democracy tolerated people slagging others personally, spreading lies and otherwise engaging in reprehensible conduct particularly from from behind what I call the coward's cloak.

If you want to make a comment - particularly one like your first one - have the courage of your convictions and identify yourself. At least respect your audience enough to indentify yourself.

It's a pretty basic idea and it has absolutely nothing to do with dissent or your right to vote your conscience.

The point about dissent - which again you completely ignored - was the reference to the number of people who have attacked me personally and suggested everything from violence to having me locked for merely questioning the current administration.

That's a far cry from what you are talking about and a far cry from anything I've ever said about anonymous comment.

As I've noted on other blogs, ironically ones that defended anony-slagging and then imposed censorship when the comments were directed against the blogger and his or her associates, Blogger gives you the option of typing a name or other means of differentiating yourself from other people commenting.

"Anonymous" is a conscious choice which, I'd venture says more about a lack of commitment to genuine dissent and free speech than anything else.

Simon said...

Thanks very kindly, Craig, for your contribution to this discussion.

I know (by reputation, mostly) that you are a hardcore curmudgeon who calls it like you see it. That's makes your assessment even more valuable than most.

For reasons best known to him, Cleary has decided to include me (and others) as bit players in his ongoing conspiracy theory. I never thought the threshold for operating a newspaper could be that low.