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Letters to the editor: In for a dime

A recent political fuss by the official opposition in the House of Assembly relating to the expenditures on furniture for the historic Colonial Building on Military Road in St. John’s ranks up there for at least a bronze consideration in the arena of yellow journalism. It is fine to read about how tax dollars are spent, and shake a head wondering if there is not a greater use.

However, to see a comparison in one CBC article (CBC News 12/21) of the cost of the four chairs to that of the starting salary of a general practitioner in a time of our health crisis is a writer’s pen turned rouge, planting a seed of mud slinging on social media, open line, etc. Yes, the $136,000 to have four chairs resembling Victorian era furniture is a lot of money but where do we start? We certainly do not start by knocking on doors in historic St. John’s looking for handouts. I’m shocked that the official opposition spokesperson did not mention maybe the garage sale route. One never knows what a coffee and a drive on a Saturday morning will reveal on a curb. Has the provincial opposition in desperation now entered the ‘nickel and dime’ era?

Maybe one could suggest looking next door, also on historic Military Road. What about Government House where our seasonal Lieutenant Governor resides? Maybe, just maybe, the Lt. Governor needs a light bulb changed. Does this go out to a request for proposals (commonly referred to as a RFP)? Or is it something that can be handled in house by the Lt. Governor. Perhaps kitchen staff?

We would both agree if Government House fell off the radar it would not be missed. The Colonial Building, Government House, Her Majesty’s Penitentiary and the huge mansions along Forest Road in St. John’s all represent a colonial era with aspects of a dark historic period which most Newfoundlanders and Labradorians would sooner forget.

Generations of outport NL fisher families toiled on the brink of bankruptcy, neglect, abuse, disease and starvation. Generations of families lived in servitude to ledger books commonly referred to as the ‘truck system’. The handouts of salt, flour, hooks, line, and yes, tobacco and a drop of rum, all had to be accounted for in fish and fur at the end of a season – a cashless economy of servitude while the St. John’s establishment, the fishocracy, backed by the established churches, basked in their colonial glory.

Stories still loom in the lore of the dust from the 1894 bank crash where fishermen received 20 cents on the dollar while the Water Street fishocracy took a lion’s share at 80 cents. Ever wonder why Great Granddad toted the little suitcase?

The opposition party has missed the mark on this one. Besides, wouldn’t it be nice when visiting this historic building to be able to take the load off your feet to rest a little on one of four $34,000 sofas while reliving the echoes of a former premier, and last father of confederation – Joey Smallwood’s infamous stand to protect a Prime Minister, poker iron in hand, as rioters crashed the Colonial Building doors? Something like an annotated version of the French Revolution marking the end of Newfoundland independence as a nation?

Newfoundland was broke in 1932. Newfoundland and Labrador is broke in 2021. While the optics of spending another $132,000 on four chairs looks terrible, it will not fix our financial crisis. If this is the best our political opposition can do, if this is the case, then many things are going well for the present government.

I would have to agree with the Minister Steve Crocker (CBC News Dec 12/21). It is an investment in provincial tourism. The province committed to the $22 million to renovate the Colonial Building. It is money very well spent. Let’s finish it and be done, including the chairs. The Colonial Building is a critical piece of historic infrastructure.

Now, Government House? Well that’s a whole different story.

“In for a dime, in for a dollar.”

John Spencer Channel-Port aux Basques

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