Rex Murphy: What could be better than a Newfoundland election to take our minds off winter?

Sensing the population’s growing gloom during this anxious time, the Newfoundland government knew it had to do something to stir up morale

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Newfoundland is locked up tighter than Fort Knox these days. To get in or out, you need to be Houdini and have multiple passports. Arrival from other jurisdictions, even for the native born, means quarantining and all the slim delights that go with two weeks of solitary hibernation. There is some good news, though, as there always is in Newfoundland and Labrador, even during the worst trials and tribulations.

It is agreed by all that several trips a week to Costco or Walmart can refurbish the human spirit. Who among us has not enjoyed a quick chat with a masked Walmart greeter? Still, the subtle pleasure of staring at hillocks of discount vacuum cleaners and pallets full of paper towels is not inexhaustible. And there are only so many cartons of Vienna sausages one can store at one’s home, so there are days, sadly, when there is no need to go.

Sensing the population’s growing gloom during this anxious time, the Newfoundland government knew it had to do something to stir up morale. It was largely due to a concern with giving people something to look forward to, and to provide a source of engagement and entertainment, that an election was called. There was no constitutional uproar like in Ottawa. The lieutenant governor is placid and inviting. And besides, politics in Newfoundland runs on different grooves than in the rest of the country.

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Politics on the Rock has always been regarded as more of a recreational activity, along the lines of pro wrestling — or, in its more exuberant moments, and there have been many, no-holds-barred kickboxing or bull-fighting.

And what could offer a broader vista of joy and delight than an election campaign, during a time of plague, in the deep winter days of late January and the first two weeks of February? This is the period when the Newfoundland climate — which is a system that is totally divorced from all other weather patterns of what Sir David Attenborough likes to call our “blue planet.” In terms of climate, Newfoundland and Labrador is its own universe, the extremities and variabilities of which are unknown elsewhere in the cosmos.

Even within the province, a distance of two or three kilometres can, and often does, present the wildest alterations. It is widely accepted, for instance, that Holyrood, which is about 45 kilometres from St. John’s, either generates its own weather, or has it imported from somewhere far outside the province. There’s a five-kilometre stretch on the Trans-Canada near the Witless Bay Line that many suspect gets its pocket of weather from an alternate universe.

Placentia Bay, which was immortally christened by Newfoundland’s premier prose writer as “that far greater bay,” is immune to the science of meteorology. It is, to use a coinage, “unforecastable.” The Torbay weather office — which employs scientists, astrologers, necromancers and fortune tellers to attempt the mighty task of tracking the province’s weather patterns — simply blacks out Placentia Bay entirely.

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Parts of the west coast are different than they used to be. There’s a legend from long ago that some years, during the months of June and July, there were actually sightings of the sun in Corner Brook and Curling, and that people put their snowblowers back in the shed as early as mid-May. This can’t be confirmed, it was a long time ago. And you know the Newfoundland crowd: great storytellers all, and the lads on the west coast love to torment the townies on how much better things are out there.

The Great Northern Peninsula is another climate conundrum. But Labrador is the king. It’s the last pristine place on the globe. Great winters. Temperatures that would knock the marbles off a rhinoceros, and then to match, great summers, though the black flies do tend to block out the sun.

February is not a good month in Labrador. Neither, for that matter, on the island. You need the patience of a saint, the uniform of an astronaut, three or four spare wood stoves and more than a drop of the spirit to make it through February.

Thank goodness that the political class back home thought to throw an election to give us a separate misery to dwell on during these long, cold nights. A February election: just what we needed.

National Post

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