Furlong | Assigning blame for lost jobs helps no one

The pending closure of a supermarket stands in stark contrast to the endless hand-wringing in the fishing industry, writes Fisheries Broadcast host John Furlong.

Looking for a scapegoat only wastes energy

The Dominion SaveEasy supermarket in Churchill Square in St. John's will close Jan. 14. There's been a supermarket on that site for 55 years. But no more. Changing times, changing tastes, a bigger store at the old Memorial Stadium site.

The Churchill Square store just couldn't keep up with its parent company's expectations. Too bad.

That area is saturated with students and seniors, and many of them depend on a grocery store within walking distance. They'll now have to go further afield for groceries. Twenty-two people will be out of work.

So whose fault is that? Who can we blame for that? Earle McCurdy? Me? Martin Sullivan? Premier Dunderdale?

As long as we continue to look for someone to blame, a solution for the fishery may never be found. If not addressed, an industry that most of us care so much about could lurch from crisis to crisis for years.

That's the bad news.

The good news is what surely is the biggest story in the Newfoundland fishery in 2011: the call for change. A call that will undoubtedly get louder in 2012.

Lay down the rhetoric

The union might not like it, the people in Marystown might not like it, and the people in Port Union might not like it, but it's time to lay down the over-heated rhetoric, be in the vanguard of this change and do something constructive.

We all sense the uncertainty that people in Marystown and Port Union face. They've suffered a huge loss. It's almost like a death in the family. There's nothing any of us can say to ease that pain right now.

And all the name-calling and finger-pointing and hand-wringing aren't helping, either. We're in danger of again confusing romance with realism.

It reminds me of the outrage about the loss of our train, the Newfie Bullet. It was the subject of protests, petitions and open-line banter for years. It became a fashionable lament among the downtown artistes.

Change in the world of transportation wasn't easily embraced. Clouding that debate were the arguments coming from the people who never actually used the train. They weren't the ones inconvenienced by the 28-hour cross-island run.

Turns out, placed side-by-side, people much preferred the 12-hour ride on the much-ridiculed CN bus than the meandering trip on the Bullet, whose purpose — to open up the province's interior — had long been outgrown and forgotten.

Same thing with the debate over resettlement. The argument in the trendy bistros of St. John's that resettlement was a cultural genocide conveniently overlooks the poor health care and poverty and lack of education opportunities that existed in many of those far-flung communities.

Is that the kind of discussion we need about the fishery? Are we going to spin our wheels for another few years and talk about the way things used to be?

How many other stones are we going to turn over to see if we can find someone to blame? Are we going to study it again? Another report, another commission, another inquiry, another white paper, another cabinet committee?

Where's the leadership the fishery needs?

Plenty of blame to go around

We live on what used to be the world's richest fishing grounds. Year after year we turned out a fishery that was uneconomical, not very competitive and pretty well uninspiring. There's plenty of blame to go around to explain that.

For the 22 employees at that St. John's supermarket, there is no explaining their job loss. There is no union, no government department, no marches on Confederation Building that will change that.

It will happen more quietly, away from the media glare. There'll be no talk of common property resource. No occupation of the grocery store aisles by displaced workers. No talk of worker adjustment programs, or a round of make-work programs to stamp people up.

But it will be just as menacing and just as disruptive in their lives as it is in the lives of the fish plant workers.

The biggest difference is that the effects on the lives of more fish plant workers all around the province is not over yet.

Welcome to 2012.

About the Author

John Furlong

John Furlong is a host on CBC Radio One in St. John's.