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Art by Gordon Little.

The Patient’s Progress, Part 1

in Featured/Longread/Satire by

Diagnostic Category: Repetitive Rural Loss Trauma Disorder  (RRLTD)

Case study: Patient has recently moved from a depression over the loss of rural life to what appears to be an hallucinatory state in which rural Newfoundland and Labrador is flourishing.

Day 1 Out-patient Progress notes: The Eggroll Parliament

Therapist’s notes: Some background is necessary here.

Patient believes that in the election of 2007, Danny Williams’ government was just barely elected.

A controversy over the impending death of rural NL led to Williams’ near-defeat.

Two weeks later, the Williams government fell.

Patient insists Muskrat Falls never happened. Patient believes that instead, billions were invested in rural projects, infrastructure and transportation, as well as the inshore fishery, species conservation, affordable rural housing, medical facilities, rural immigration, daycare, arts projects, libraries, and local agricultural sustainability.

In his mind, Rural Newfoundland and Labrador now leads the world in innovation. and has brought the province into a dizzying new prosperity.

Patient claims there are others who share his view of reality. He is adamant there is an ‘alternate universe’ in which this has already happened.

Details of the Fantasy:

Patient has very detailed version of events and claims that it all began in October of 2007.

He gives a concise history of the remarkable changes that took place during what he calls ‘The Great Rural Awakening’ in Newfoundland and Labrador in the 12 years since the election of October, 2007.

I ask the patient how it happened.

He replies:

“Well, Doc, it all goes back to The First Awakening. Or The Eggroll Parliament, as we called it—after the provincial election on October 9, 2007.

As you know, it was a shock when Danny Williams’ government narrowly missed defeat. Eleven months earlier he had been riding high and seemed absolutely unbeatable. His approval rating by the Newfoundland and Labrador people was at eighty per cent.  But when the people left the polling booths, the House of Assembly stood at Liberals 20; Progressive Conservatives 20; NDP 7; Independent Conservatives 1.

Therapist’s note: At this point the patient’s face comes alive. He jumps to his feet and continues in a very animated voice:

“The seeds of that near defeat had been sown during the election campaign when the Williams government was repeatedly stung by criticism about the impending death of Rural Newfoundland and Labrador.  Williams ignored this. Many rural voters took this as a profound blasphemy.

Williams moves quickly after the election and gains the support of the lone independent member. And so  Lieutenant Governor Ed Roberts calls on Williams to form a government.

On October 16, 2007, six days after the election, the House of Assembly is called into session.

They end up arguing over procedural matters for 12 hours straight. At 11:30 PM, the session is adjourned for the day and fourteen of the government members go out to the Magic Wok Restaurant on Water Street, which management has kindly kept open.

The 14 Progressive Conservative MHAs arrive at the restaurant only to discover by coincidence that 16 Liberal MHAs and 3 NDP MHAs are already there. The Liberals had apparently arranged an informal meeting with the NDP to discuss the possibility of forming a full coalition government. (Leader Lorraine Michael was notably not present).

At first the three groups are cool to each other. Then, sporadic conversations break out after one of the MHAs points out that all the members in the room represent rural districts. They soon begin to refer to themselves as the Rural Caucus. They discuss how, as one member put it ‘the outports have been the backbone of the little country for 500 years and as soon as the first oil windfall comes our way we are ignored.’ (This was reportedly said by MHA Clifford Hayden-Guest [Port Kirwin-Southern Shore] and written down  by Magic Wok waitress Vicky Goodland.)

Therapist’s note: The patient highly recommends Vicky’s wonderful book about that night called “Hansard on A Placemat”—and its brilliant foreword by Ray Guy.

Someone else in the Wok points out that there are enough MHAs present to make up a quorum of the provincial legislature, and that Calvin Brehm, Speaker of the House, is among them. The Sergeant-at-Arms is sent for. He arrives with the mace and they declare the House to be in session. Within an hour they have formed the United Rural Benevolence Party of Newfoundland and Labrador.

They telephone Lieutenant Governor Ed Roberts to request his permission to form a government, but Roberts furiously refuses to recognize the legality of the body. (Ed actually coins the popular name when he shouts at Calvin Brehm that “I’m not about to put our future in the hands of some eggroll parliament!”)

The rural group goes back to their meeting. With total disregard for the Canadian Constitution, Ed Roberts is removed from office by the Eggroll Parliament’s newly declared premier Hazel Penashue-Hutton (MHA Labrador/The Mountains). Governor Roberts is replaced by Leo Puddister, who totally by chance was walking by the Magic Wok on his way back from an early morning visit to Chafe The Tailor. A message is left on Danny Williams’ voicemail; he does not check his messages until 7:30 that same morning, after which the session is over.

Therapist’s note: His appointment over, the patient returns to his job. He is employed as a high school teacher, and it seems that this fantasy version of NL actually improves his work and his life. He has indicated that his wife and children accept his version of reality. He insists there are hundreds of others who also live in this ‘alternative universe.’

I will report the continuation of  his strange hallucinations tomorrow. But I request anyone reading this, to report to me in writing if they too live in such an alternative universe (or have any patients who share in this ‘rural awakening hallucination’). Please send me your versions of events.

Day 2 Out-patient Progress notes: The Fortune Cookie Bill

Therapist’s note:  the patient walked into my office and instantly began talking. He could barely contain himself.

Then, Doctor, on October 17th 2007 at 11:00 AM, the Rural Benevolence Party members triumphantly enter the House of Assembly and declare themselves to be the new government. After two hours of shouting and at least three fistfights, they stubbornly refuse to declare the previous night’s proceedings to be illegal. As a compromise they agree to re-introduce and ratify the legislation passed in the restaurant the night before. MHAs Danny Williams (Humber Turnpike); Crystal Ottenheimer (St. John’s Overpass); and Wilf ‘Winnie’ Woolfrey (Argentia Barrens) are the only dissenters.

Williams repeatedly tries to trigger confidence votes against the usurpers, but is voted (and shouted) down by rural members over and over again. He finally agrees to step aside in favour of Hazel Penashue-Hutton and agrees to go to the Lieutenant Governor.

Since it is angrily and repeatedly pointed out by Wilf Woolfrey that the Lieutenant Governor can only be appointed by the Prime Minister of Canada, Ed Roberts is grudgingly re-affirmed to be the legal Lieutenant Governor. Leo Puddister protests loudly from the visitors’ gallery, forcing Speaker Calvin Brehm to reluctantly expel him from the chamber. Chaos ensues. In order to restore order and avoid a constitutional crisis, Danny Williams makes a cell phone call from the floor of the House to Canadian Prime Minister Ben Mulroney, who agrees to ask for Roberts’ resignation and install Puddister.

Therapist’s Note: I asked the patient to outline the events that could have led to the appointment of Ben Mulroney as Prime Minister. He reported that after the bizarre disappearance of Stephen Harper—last seen one night in August 2007, when a gas station cashier in Kamloops was warned by a nude and frantic Harper to “heed not the call of the Dying Bees” as he vanished into the forest—there was a quick by-election victory by Mulroney and he was subsequently appointed Prime Minister. Ben Mulroney is of course the son of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and host of the Canadian Idol Show . I urge anyone who may live in this alternative hallucination to write in and tell  how this all happened.

After the issue of the Lieutenant Governor is dealt with, the House of Assembly, under the guidance of Premier-to-be Hazel Penashue-Hutton, tables “Bill Zero.” (It was also known as ‘The Fortune Cookie Bill’—because it had been conceived after the meal in the Chinese Restaurant the night before.) The Bill instructs the Treasury Board to take a few billion dollars the Williams government apparently had earmarked for some ‘hydro thingey.’

Of course, as we know Doctor, that one billion dollars has since been repaid three times over by the new prosperity that has come from the revived economy in rural Newfoundland and Labrador.

Gaylene Buckle of the Cow Head Theatre Festival is asked to chair the fund’s allocation committee. (“No one can do more for less than the artists of the province,” points out Premier Penashue-Hutton). Gaylene hires Danny Williams as her assistant. He agrees and by ten o’clock that morning the fund is nearly exhausted as they invest in everything from permaculture farms and food security to rural medicine and small-scale wind and hydro projects. There was even a coastal community bus-and-boat service, and talks of bringing back the train.

But the Eggroll Parliament has just begun. Over the next weeks and months they will change the face of politics in this province, Doctor. Some would even say the world!

Therapist’s note: The patient could not recall all of the rural enterprises that were invested in. I urge anyone who lives in this alternate reality to please send me a list of recuperative rural programs that apparently revived rural NL.

Art by Gordon Little.

Read Part 2 here.

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