It is with a heavy heart that I write in response to Thursday's commentary by Margaret Wente, "Oh Danny Boy, pipe down." As Premier of the great and proud province of Newfoundland and Labrador, I found Ms. Wente's column to be more than insulting. I found it very, very sad.
If people around the country wonder why we removed the Canadian flag to protest against the treatment of our province by the federal government, I suggest they look no further than Ms. Wente's column. Her comments perfectly demonstrate why Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have to take such firm action to get the attention of the people of this country. Her paternalistic and condescending attitude serves only to further ignite the passion of our people at home and abroad.
While Ms. Wente goes on at length to speak of federal moneys flowing to our "vast and scenic welfare ghetto," she fails to mention the resources - human, cultural and, no less important, vast natural resources - that our province brought with us to this federation, such as our fishery, our forests, our farms, our clean hydroelectric resources, our iron ore, nickel, copper, cobalt, gold and other minerals, and our oil and gas.
Yes, Newfoundland and Labrador has benefited as a partner in Confederation, as has each and every other province and territory. That is what Confederation is about, after all. But make no mistake: This country has reaped untold billions from our natural and human resources as well. Ms. Wente may be tired of hearing us complain about how the federal government mismanaged our fishery; being sick of hearing about it, however, does not make the reality go away. Canada permitted foreign overfishing off our coast to continue, to our detriment, in order to secure trade agreements that benefited other regions of our country. Great for the rest of Canada, but certainly not great for the tens of thousands of fisheries-dependent Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who left our province - their homes - to live and financially contribute to the economies of other provinces.
As you read through Ms. Wente's column, it also becomes very clear that she is completely uninformed on our province's position. She says, "If you should make the error of suggesting that people might have to become more self-sufficient, your political career is dead." I only wish that Ms. Wente had been paying greater attention to what I have been saying for the past six months. Our government's primary goal in pushing the federal government to implement Prime Minister Paul Martin's commitment of June 5 (100 per cent of our provincial offshore revenues) is to provide our province with the necessary tools to finally become self-sufficient: a strong, contributing partner to the federation.
That is what this is all about, Ms. Wente. It is about the province of Newfoundland and Labrador finally achieving our true potential - the potential that comes from having some of the most precious, bountiful natural resources in the world. We are not asking for the federal government's share of these resources - a share that accounts for more than 50 per cent of total government revenues. We are asking only for our provincial share. We are asking only for a chance. A chance we deserve.
Ms. Wente wants us to stop complaining. Maybe we will stop complaining about being a victim when those who share her opinions recognize and address the historic pattern of abuse and mistreatment we have suffered. We are a proud people. Proud of our "quaint and picturesque" communities. Proud of our resilience in difficult times. Proud of our giving and kind-spirited disposition that comes so naturally. And we are proud to support other provinces and territories that benefit from the largesse of the federal government. But we are not too proud to demand from the same federal government that they fulfill the clear and unequivocal commitment of the Prime Minister.
When Ms. Wente faults Canada's "hallowed policy of siphoning money from the haves to the have-nots, so that everyone can be equal," she forgets Section 36 of the Constitution, which obligates Canada to promote equal opportunity for all Canadians in all regions. Throughout Canada and the world, the Maple Leaf symbolizes fairness, justice, compassion and co-operation in the quest for equality of opportunity for all people. Our province removed the Maple Leaf, not to reject those values, but to draw attention to the fact that the Martin government's broken commitment to Newfoundland and Labrador frustrates those values.
While it is true that we have only seven seats in the House of Commons and barely more than half a million residents, we are an equal partner in Confederation, and we have a small window of opportunity to turn our bountiful petroleum resources into long-term opportunities for our people and our province to stand on our feet. We do not deserve to be accused of wanting the fine people of Scarborough, Ont., to subsidize us, or being compared to "deadbeats."
We are equal partners of a great country that accepts and supports our province's aspirations to achieve equality of opportunity and self-reliance. You should be ashamed of your comments.