Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Waving the (Red &) White Flag

The flag controversy in Newfoundland appears to have blown over, as Danny Williams re-hoisted the Canadian flag over provincial institutions in the province yesterday.

There was a heated debate in the Globe & Mail last week between Premier Williams, Margaret Wente, and various readers over this issue of oil revenues and equalization payments. A host of different figures were thrown about, most of which pointed to the fact that Newfoundland has long been a recipient of equalization payments and other grants from Ottawa. The gist of the messages containing these figures was that it is not fair for Newfoundland to want to have its cake and eat it too, by receiving equalization payments after becoming a "have province". There is certainly room for debate on this point. This concept could be defended as being a means of helping Newfoundland truly recover from years of economic devastation, much along the lines of letting welfare recipients still receive some payments while they are getting started in new jobs. It could also be depicted as being pointedly unfair to the other provinces, which are getting no such special treatment.

An issue which is generally being overlooked here, apart from a few lonely voices on the letters to the editor page, is that Paul Martin promised this deal to Newfoundland in the heat of an election campaign, in an effort to protect Liberal seats there. To attempt to weasel out of this promise by arguing the logic/justice of his new position is disingenuous. He made the promise, and should in fact be held to account for it. I don't think he should have made the deal, and personally feel that some form of limitations should be imposed on it. But the fact remains that he did make this promise, and deserves to be flayed alive in the media for it. It is just very unfortunate that the manner in which Danny Williams chose to express his anger was to lower the Canadian flag. It might have been a gesture that went over well in St. John's, but it diverted Canadians' attention from the central issue of Martin's doublespeak. I think it is unlikely that this focus can be redirected back onto Martin now. More's the pity.

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