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PECKFORD: Calling Newfoundland from Ottawa

Larry Peckford has had a varied career in Newfoundland as a public servant and community volunteer. He maintains a seasonal residence in the Codroy Valley. You can e-mail Larry at:

Years ago CBC radio carried a radio program that originated in Great Britain. It was produced by BBC which, like CBC, is the country’s public broadcaster. The program emphasized Newfoundland’s connection with the old country as it was regarded as Britain’s oldest colony. I recall little now about the program content but the host always started the broadcast by saying, “Calling Newfoundland.”

Well if you will pardon this analogy I am calling Newfoundland from Ottawa. That’s no big deal in this age of seamless telecommunications but considering current circumstances in this city I feel it is a big deal. Ottawa’s central core, including what is known as the parliamentary precinct, is under what some people call a siege by protesters and it is now well in to its third week.

On its face I don’t really care what you think about the issue that generated this event, but what I do care about is that a lot of ordinary folks are caught up in the mayhem and chaos of it all. It is estimated that in the area of the protest as many as 15,000 residents are impacted by the noise and intrusion of large trucks that comes with the occupation. This event is prime time for the protesters who have centre stage by being parked at the foot of Parliament Hill and at the seat of those institutions that mark Canada’s democracy.

As the residents of Ottawa have found out, being the capital city of the country brings lots of things – the good and not so good. Maybe Ottawa should have known this could happen at some point. It is not that there has not been some warning when one recalls the tragedy at the War Memorial some years ago. And maybe, too, others will recall other protests, but in my memory this one gets top billing.

Hopefully in the days to come things will settle down and life will return to something like normal. What Ottawa should not do is let this event go unexamined. There is a lot to be learned here and we need a serious look at all that occurred leading up to the occupation by protesters. I have long felt that there is a passivity in Ottawa about a lot of things. A 100,000 strong bureaucracy in a capital city brings a certain smugness such that this cannot happen here. Well it can and it has!

Ottawa’s city council (not unlike in other capital cities) has a feel of dependency about it as the city seems to rest in the knowledge that the bedrock of its economy is irreversible. Government jobs are pretty secure and not always subject to peaks and valleys of the marketplace. In some respects, the drive that comes from competition and a strong business culture is absent here. This environment extends to many aspects of the city’s functioning and creates a false sense of security. Whatever the case, sleepy Ottawa got a jolt this past few weeks. Out of the chaos and disturbance, there may be an upside. And that is not a bad thing.

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