08 May 2013

The Re-birth of the Stupid Newfie

[A version of the following was published by The Telegram on 8 May 2013]

The Re-birth of the Stupid Newfie
Jeff Rose-Martland

The Dunderdale government likes to yammer on about investing in our future: hydropower and industry and jobs galore.  A future of resources and trade and high employment.  A debt-free future, according to their budget.  But do they care what kind of Newfoundlanders will live that future?

Harken back to the early- to mid-20th century.  Newfoundlanders were the butt of jokes throughout
Canada, if not the world - The Newfie Joke.  The jokes revolved around a central theme: the Stupid Newfie.  Sometimes, the protagonist was someone so dense that simple situations were beyond their grasp.  Most often, the Stupid Newfie had a great deal of common sense, but was ignorant, unworldly, and uneducated.  The character would attempt to apply this simple reasoning to complex situations.  Oh, the hilarity.

Those jokes had some basis in fact.  After all, Newfoundlanders during that time were, by and large, uneducated academically.  They fled poverty to distant locations for jobs.  Newfoundlanders brought our hard working nature, but also our tendency to dive in, even when over our heads, especially if there’s money involved.  Anyone faced with a brand-new situation is likely to say or do the wrong thing, and Newfoundlanders are an especially humorous people, so it is easy to see how comic situations might result.  But the Newfie joke quickly morphed into a vehicle of bias and intolerance, with the people of this province branded ‘stupid’.

We have had a long, hard fight against that reputation.  We object to the term ‘Newfie’ as offensive.  We are quick to point out the cutting-edge medicine, science and engineering being done here.  We boast of Memorial University’s rank as a top-notch school.  We push the message that the Stupid Newfie is no more.  We are winning, but have not yet won.

The Dunderdale government is going to resurrect the Stupid Newfie.  Amongst all the talk of resource projects and deficit reduction, the PCs are acting to turn us ignorant again.  And, with only limited objections, we are happily boarding the train with them back to Stupid Newfoundland.

Adult Basic Education – a program designed to help anyone who dropped out of high-school.  Not so many years ago, ABE had been handled by private institutions.  They dropped the program because they couldn’t make enough money.  It was government that moved ABE into CONA, to ensure the program would be available throughout the province to those who need it.  By dumping ABE back to the private sector, Kathy Dunderdale has effectively killed the program - it won’t be too long before private schools announce - again - that Adult Basic Education is not profitable.

Lack of ABE programs will mean more people stuck with whatever education they got when they quit grade school; low education is a primary qualification for the Stupid Newfie.

Then there’s the libraries.  We have 96 of them.  We need more because libraries are wonderful places.  First, everything is free – something one appreciates in this crazy world of unreliable income.  Second, libraries don’t just have books; they have videos and music and Internet.  The are one-stop-shops for entertainment.  Libraries also host courses, sessions, groups, lectures, readings – all sorts of ways to have fun and learn more. 

Also, the Librarian.  (That’s capitalized because it should be a title, not a job description.)  Librarians are rare people.  They not only know things, they know how to learn more about things.  They hold the keys to finding out anything you ever wanted to know.  They might appear to spend their time tidying the books and calling the overdue borrowers.  They may seem to be quiet people armed with date-stampers.  But Librarians are some of the most important people in our society.  Librarians are the guardians of all our accumulated knowledge. 

Disagree?  Go ask one a question.  Any question.  You’ll get the answer, in detail, with annotations and cross-references.  And an Librarian doesn’t care if you are 6 and in Grade 1, 46 and a doctor, or 86 and a war vet.  They will help anyone, free of charge.  Because a Librarian is your guide through the Kingdom of Knowledge. 

But Kathy Dunderdale doesn’t think that’s important.   She must feel that librarians are not important for our future, since she laid off 40% of them.  Plus support staff - assistant librarians and IT people.  And she cut the modest wages of those who remain, making this an even less-attractive field.  Libraries, we have been assured, will still have funding for books and will remain open.  How that is going to work?  There won’t be a Librarian to buy the books, nor assistants to man the counter and keep the doors open.. 

The system has already been scuttled; the Conservatives have rendered libraries unsustainable.  In five years, maybe less, government will be able to closing the doors, claiming lack of use.  Which there will be, as out-of-date materials, lack of programming, erratic hours, and, above all, no Librarians to guide people all combine to drive patrons away.

That doesn’t matter to the PCs.  After all, libraries don’t generate revenue.  Neither does sitting in a classroom - one need only look at the number of education cuts to see government’s view on that.  Dunderdale is promising jobs while slashing away at the tools we need to obtain that employment.  Are we to become janitors at Muskrat Falls?  General labourers for rich, Come-from-Away bosses?  Is she planning on making a personal fortune selling Newfie Joke Books?

If we really are concerned about our future, if we really want to excel and exceed, then we need to have smart, educated people.  The way to get them is to invest in education and libraries.  Learning needs to be available to all, not just those with funds.  Otherwise, the rich get educations and the poor get ignorant.

The Dunderdale Government says it cares about our future, but its actions are ensuring we will only have one role in it: The Stupid Newfie.


Jeff Rose-Martland is an award-winning author, member of the Newfoundland Writers’ Guild, and recipient of the Queens Diamond Jubilee Medal for his work advocating for veterans.


  1. So well said! It all appears, though, to be part of the Grand Plan: keep as many people as possible uneducated and subservient, and the Merchant system never really has to die.

  2. Well said. I would add only one other piece to this argument. Many of the cuts are impacting the rural areas. 2 or 3 government jobs cut from a community of 500 to 2000, is a terrible loss. Their is no private sector so to speak. There is the primary sector, but I doubt that going to work in the fish plant is much of an option for many of these unemployed all across the island. Thank you for your articulate points. Very well said.

  3. I think that many of these cuts are made from ignorance and because the Dunderdale government appears to have little interest in doing their homework. Everything is about "spin" and preventing the other side from being heard. The process for Muskrat Falls taught us that. The introduction of Bill 29, essentially gave a free pass to Ministers to avoid any question that might prove difficult or embarrassing to answer. The de-clawing of the PUB showed that yet again. Consider that the reason the PUB was formed was to have an arm of government that crunches the numbers for the people and the government both. The Spring budget showed a Finance Minister who'd recently been Justice Minister making cuts that showed little understanding of how various departments and agencies within the Justice portfolio operate. The Education cuts had a few eyebrows raised as well, and there were a laundry list of embarrassing moves made in the budget. The answer apparently, was to distract everybody with a clever ploy to make voters feel sympathetic to Nanny Dunderdale. Problem was, it was not clever. It backfired horribly! You could justifiably argue, that since the last provincial election, the Dunderdale PCs have made more poorly thought-out moves than the average Three Stooges Movie. We have a government where the leading party unanimously endorsed the Mrs. D, as their leader and she either is trusting the wrong advice or steering them full speed ahead for the nearest big iceberg.
    Mister T, surely pities us.

  4. Thanks for this - I am an interested party in this discussion and wanted to raise a couple of points which you have missed. I have to say I don't agree with much you have said but probably not for any reason you would expect. Arguing to support the public library system is like a beaten dog returning to its abusive master.

    Unfortunately the public library system in the province has not been sustainable for years. The libraries outside St. John's are run by high school graduates who, if the community is lucky, like books but probably never learnt much from them. They might be nice people but they are not information professionals. Meanwhile the St. John's branches of the system have long had a reputation as toxic workplaces and a frank discussion with any former public library employee will demonstrate that this situation has persisted for years if not decades.

    While ultimate responsibility for this resides with the province the entire system has been mis-managed into oblivion without any critical professional oversight. The humor of this is that in the past decade public library funding has grown by approximately 40% but there has been no appreciable change in the system. No additional branches, precious few new programs and in a system with over 200 employees only 14 or 15 professional librarians. The fact is that Newfoundlanders have been getting substandard library services for years. The question you should be asking is not how do we get the money back which was lost but what was benefit we derived from the increases in funding over the past decade?

    This is where I differ from you. I would say Newfoundland needs fewer libraries but staffed by trained professionals and with proper resources. A system of half the size could be practical but arguing that the current system needs to be expanded suggests to me you have not done a serious analysis of the challenges facing public libraries. Those challenges are great and with the media transformation going on it is debatable if there will be relevant public libraries in the province a decade from now.

    What you should have pointed out in your article is how the Dept of Education took a 3% cut in their budget but the public libraries which are run through that Dept took an 11% cut. In short the Dept. took from public libraries to cover cuts they didn't want to make in their own operations. This shouild give you some understanding of the place public libraries hold in the Gov't conciousness.

    It is upsetting to see public libraries cut back so irrationally and used by gov't bureaucrats so selfishly, however platitudes about the virtues of librarians and librarians cannot not replace serious analysis. The issue as you point out is building a critical and informed and engaged public. It grieves me to say this is something which the current public library system is incapable of - you should not be arguing to preserve this bankrupt mess but to reformulate into something effective.

  5. I have mixed openions on this ABE program. I am 100 % for it when it is used for the reason it was intended .Educate the student so as to enable a better job and lifestyle. Someone that will in time contribute to taxes and the welfare of our province. But to fund an older adult in late fifties or early sixties, until they reach retirement age, never to work again is wrong and robbery on the taxes of the working class. People realize this is your responsibility and not the governments.

  6. A well-educated Newfoundland is a prosperous, happy place to live. Education programs and libraries, at any level, help ensure Newfoundlanders have opportunities.

  7. By's I's tell yah. Now we gots to be honest here cause we know us Newfoundlanders are not the brightest bulbs in town. I came to Toronto many years ago and found tings up here much faster dan day were back home. One feller stopped me and dah street and we began to chat. He reconigned me accent and said you must be from one of dem Eastern Provinces? I said I was. He said you think you know everything about everything? I said what do yo mean? He said I found many from your area that come from a Province where no one had any education, and yet think they know it all . I said to him, by dats how Newfie hides his insecurities. We know we's not dat smart but like to have people think we are by dah way we talks. You see Sir, it takes a Newfie longer to figure things out then a regular person. We have to tink on it. Some of us have no education because of the mines, and some of us don't have much up there to work with. I see said the stranger. But ye fellers work hard dough? Yes we works with our hands and not our heads. Newfie have a lot of luck and one man from the Island once told me that what we lack in brains we make up for in luck, like the Iris.

  8. Never met a newfie before this summer and unfortunately live in very close proximity to this couple and child.

    Loud like blacks from the south. Huge inferiority complexes. Drink every day. Frequently fight loudly with each other in front of their child. Child is five and communicates with a series of grunts and screams due to his poor upbringing, he never had a chance to be normal. Do drugs around their child. Every other word is fuck. Very untrustworthy. Gossipers. Their friends are degenerates. Inconsiderate of their actions. Two-faced. Conspiracy theorists. Racist. Dirty. Unintelligent.

    I tried to get to knpw them but it just is not worth it. Bad influences. They surely all cannot be this way but now I have my guard up for future newfie introductions.