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Tidal waves


The Burin area was hit by a tidal wave on Nov. 18, 1929. It left nine people dead, along with considerable destruction to shoreline property. And the local fishing grounds were ruined for years. On May 29, 1949, all of Newfoundland was hit by another tidal wave that lasted until Oct. 29, 1971. That 22-year tsunami was not caused by an undersea earthquake like the Burin tidal wave, but rather it was the result of six straight election wins of Joey Smallwood.

The Burin area was hit by a tidal wave on Nov. 18, 1929. It left nine people dead, along with considerable destruction to shoreline property. And the local fishing grounds were ruined for years.

On May 29, 1949, all of Newfoundland was hit by another tidal wave that lasted until Oct. 29, 1971. That 22-year tsunami was not caused by an undersea earthquake like the Burin tidal wave, but rather it was the result of six straight election wins of Joey Smallwood.

There was no lost of life during the Smallwood tidal wave, but there were plenty of financial losses with millions and millions of dollars wasted on foolish projects such as the rubber factory at Holyrood, a linerboard mill at Stephenville and an oil refinery at Come By Chance that eventually went bankrupt. These and other financial blunders sent us spiraling into debt.

As well, there were individuals associated with financial scandals. Alfred Valdmanis, O.L. Vardy and John C. Doyle were infamous household names during the Smallwood era.

How could the many mistakes of the Smallwood era have ever happened? It is hard to grasp with the Smallwood caucus full of men whose education hit the levels of doctorate degrees and even a Rhodes scholar. Caucus MHAs included lawyers, educators, businessmen, labour leaders, engineers and one medical doctor. Why were these men (the first woman was elected in 1975) unable to challenge Smallwood on some of his outlandish schemes?

The Smallwood stranglehold on power finally started to list, not from outside forces, but from within. The revolt in his ranks was led by then Liberal MHAs John Crosbie and Clyde Wells. Both sat as independents at first. Wells later went back to the Liberals, but Crosbie joined PC party.

The Smallwood tidal wave was finally replaced by the Frank Moores tidal wave when he and his team cleaned out the Liberals in 1972. Brian Peckford rode his wave in 1982, and Brian Tobin had his wave in 1996. And now the Danny tidal wave has struck, leaving the opposition with just four seats.

Past political tidal waves have done little to alleviate our woeful economic plight. All the present demands on government, plus our $12 billion debt, are a testimony to the fact none of our premiers - Liberal or PC - have held the magic wand.

But unlike all premiers before him, Premier Williams has the good fortune of being in power when the provincial treasury is beginning to overflow from all the bubbling oil revenue.

However, the first signs of trouble in the new PC caucus, or a minister making a blunder, will be gladly greeted by those who can't wait to see chinks in the Danny armour. A government under fire is always a pleasure to be enjoyed by opposition parties.

Political parties were never held in much esteem by Will Rogers, who said, "There's no way in the world you are going to make a political party respectable unless you keep it out of office."

As if the established political parties aren't bad enough, Ontario voters were recently asked to vote on a system that would have even more political parties through proportional representation. Fortunately, Ontario voters rejected that idea and such a change has been rejected by voters in P.E.I. and B.C. as well.

Will Rogers (of Cherokee heritage) would have been delighted to know that his native cousins in Canada's north have rejected partisan political parties. Voters in the Northwest Territories on Oct. 1 elected new members to sit in their non-partisan legislature. A similar method of electing members is also used in Nunavut.

Newfoundlanders were decades ahead of our northern neighbours when back in 1946 all delegates to the national convention in St. Johns were elected on a non-partisan basis.

Political parties spend too much time and energy focused on getting and keeping power. Being petty and wearing winkers is synonymous with any party membership. The sooner we come to our senses and dump all political parties in our legislature, the better it will be for us all.

But it's the system of government we got for now. So best of luck Danny, for your government's deeds, the good and the bad, will be our joys or miseries for years, if not decades, to come.

The great Danny tidal wave is strikingly similar to the greatest Smallwood victory of 1966. And you don't need to be much of a history buff to recall that Smallwood's greatest tidal wave eventually turned on him, swept him out to the sea and to a political death.

Is there a Crosbie or a Wells lurking in the new PC caucus, ready to sharpen his or her sword to strike down an errant leader? Will history repeat itself with another political bloodbath with headlines to read, "Et tu Danny?"

The tide comes in and the tide goes out. The sea has no mercy and neither does party politics.

We live in interesting times. That's for sure.

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