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I think I am glad I chose not to run down the Premier with my car.

Dead Skunk

While attending collage in the mid-eighties, a tall fellow with a big moustache from Quebec called me aside. “Sarge.” That was the nickname he had for me. “What’s the difference between a dead skunk on the side of the road and a dead Newfie on the side of the road?” I smiled and shrugged not having a clue to the punchline of this joke. When he told me the answer my smile had vanished. I looked at him in the eye and saw something I had never seen before, something ugly, he wasn’t making a joke, he was making a statement. I turned around and walked away wanting nothing more then to hit him back with my fist for wounding me with his words. Never before or since, have words so unbelievably stung. He believed I was worth less then a dead skunk just because of the place I was born.

There was a nagging little voice in the back of my mind telling me that just maybe he was right.

Yes, I was born in Newfoundland. Yes, the province was the poorest in the entire country. Yes, employment opportunities where not as abundant or lucrative. Yes, educationally we may not have had the same resources, enjoyed in other parts of the country. Yes, we were dependant on equalization payments and loans to cover budget deficits.  Yes, we ate seal. Yes, we were a “have-not” province. And yes, we were the brunt of jokes. So maybe that nagging voice was right, I didn’t deserved to be considered as good as everyone else.

Yesterday, Danny Williams announced he was stepping down from his role as premier of Newfoundland and Labrador and the province was stunned. A politician who’s approval rating approached 90%, it was impossible to find anyone with a bad thing to say about him yesterday. He was a man famous for his fights with business leaders, prime ministers and Beatles. During his tenure in office our province changed. Some of the changes he was directly responsible for, others he happened to be in the opportune place at the most opportune time. Regardless of the deals, the agreements, the victories, the money, when people ask me what I feel was the Premier’s biggest accomplishment for our province, my answer would have to be us.

We were always a proud people. We love to laugh, we know how to have fun anywhere at anytime. We are willing to help anyone; from the next door neighbours to the trenches of Beaumont Hamel, storming the fortress of Normandy to welcoming airline passengers on that unforgettable Tuesday in September. We were a people willing to stand with you in need.

Still we were the butt of jokes. Still we were considered idiots. Still we were put down, and still that nagging voice in the back of our minds told us to just be quiet and agree. Shut up and take it, because it was true, we were Canada’s last born sons, and we had to accept the hand-me-downs, leftovers and scraps tossed our way.

In the last seven years, things have changed. We are now a “have” province. We no longer need Alberta’s money, Ontario’s job’s, Quebec’s power corridors, though PEI’s potatoes are still welcomed; the better to make our messes with.

The Premier has presided over a number of beneficial changes but the greatest of all is in us. That nagging voice of doubt has been silenced. We now see that we can be so much more then what we were, and our past no longer has to holds us back. We can be the people we always knew ourselves to be.

If a Prime Minister believes we live in a culture of defeat we can let our victories prove him wrong. If a corporation believes they can steal our resources to line their pockets and there is nothing we can do but accept it, we can find new ways to get our resources to people who need them. If a guy from Quebec believes the difference between a dead skunk and a dead Newfoundlander on the road is that there are brake marks on the pavement leading only to the skunk, we don’t have to believe him. We simply have to believe in ourselves and when we do we can lead this country in anything we put our minds to.

Today a lot of the media is asking what is Danny’s Legacy?  I think years from now we’ll say he showed us to believe in ourselves and now nothing can keep us back.

That makes me glad of an instant decision I was forced to make on Duckworth Street in downtown St John’s back in the summer of 2000. The news was a buzz with the rumours that Danny Williams was considering taking a stab at provincial politics. Maybe that decision was heavy on his mind that sunny day, distracting him so that he wasn’t thinking safety first. He stepped out from behind a parked car onto the busy street right into the path of my oncoming vehicle. In that instant I was faced with a choice and only a split second to make it. Do I step on the gas or do I step on the brake?

I think I made the right choice that day.

And if that guy from Quebec had of been around, I would have  taken him back to that busy downtown street and showed him the brake marks left on the pavement.

-Brad Locke- 11.26.10

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