Williams OK with changing province’s flag

‘Personally’ endorses Pink, White and Green
By JOHN GUSHUE
Special to The Telegram

Premier Danny Williams says he personally supports hoisting the Pink, White and Green as the official flag of Newfoundland and Labrador, although he cautions a change in government policy is another matter altogether.

“From a personal perspective, I have that preference,” Williams said Friday, responding to a new petition that calls for the Pink, White and Green to become the province’s flag.

“I have a personal leaning, but I would have to [gauge] the will of the people … It would be premature to say how we would do that.”

Williams, who made similar comments last week at a reception at The Rooms before learning of the petition, said he would want to “sound it off caucus and cabinet first,” and would be prepared to drop the issue if the majority of caucus rejected the idea.

To date, Williams said, he has only informally discussed the issue with a handful of his colleagues.

An online petition launched a week ago calls on the government to proclaim the Pink, White and Green ? which has been associated at various points in history with independence ? as the official flag.

If approved, the flag would replace the design created by Christopher Pratt and unveiled in 1980.

“It baffles me why it isn’t our current flag,” says Greg Pike, a Memorial University business student and web developer.

Pike developed a website (http://activelink.ca/pinkwhitegreen/) to collect signatures, and launched it last week.

The Pink, White and Green is rooted in bridging sectarian differences, and dates to the 1840s. The pink and green sections relate, respectively, to the English and Irish roots of Newfoundland’s settlers, with the white stitching them together.

“From my understanding, the flag went on to become a revolutionary icon,” Pike said.

“It’s been used as a sign of independence and it’s been a mark of rebellion.”

Pike stresses that his petition, however, is not meant to argue for separation or independence.

“I’m a proud Canadian as well,” Pike says.

Williams says the symbolic importance of the Pink, White and Green was brought home to him this winter, after he ordered Canadian flags lowered from most provincial government buildings. Sales of the Pink, White and Green exploded.

“What I felt is that there is a real sense of attachment and pride,” said Williams, who adds the design may need to be amended to incorporate an element related to Labrador.

The flag’s meaning has evolved over time. A symbol of the campaign for independence in the late 1940s, when Newfoundlanders ultimately ? and narrowly ? voted for Confederation with Canada, the Pink, White and Green has been the subject of a resurgence in recent years.

Pratt, in an interview this week, recalled the lengthy development of the flag as more of a bureaucratic exercise than an artistic inspiration.

“I was brought in as what’s called the show doctor,” said Pratt, who was recruited by a bipartisan committee of the provincial legislature, who were determined to create a new symbol for the province, then a part of Canada for only 30 years.

“I can’t call it a labour of love,” said Pratt. “It was a labour of loyalty.”

Pratt was given two directions by the politicians: a geometric design, and “not the Union Jack.” (The Union Jack had been designated as the province’s official flag by former premier Joseph R. Smallwood.)

Looking back on the episode, Pratt said, “I do think that flags are born, not designed … The Pink, White and Green had republican aspirations, when the flag that I designed was (intended to be) a provincial flag.”

The Pink, White and Green is easy to spot around the province, especially in St. John’s. Pike and his friends, for instance, have twice planted oversize versions of the flag on the Southside Hills.

In addition to licence plates, bumper stickers and even campus rings, the Pink, White and Green is often seen on T-shirts declaring the “Republic of Newfoundland.”

Dave Hopley, owner of the Living Planet shop in downtown St. John’s, says sales of Pink, White and Green products surged during the “flag flap” over the Atlantic Accord.

However, Hopley believes many customers are less interested in political independence than in getting something off their chest by putting a flag over it.

“People [see it] as a symbol of what’s perceived as a better past, when it was an independent country,” Hopley said.

“(But) it’s simplified and romanticized … I think a lot of people who buy it are not going to get involved in a political way.”

Pike says he will run the petition campaign as long as necessary.

“I see a new Newfoundland pushing forward into the new millennium with a different attitude,” said Pike, who has not yet contacted Williams.

“It represents our future and that’s what I want it to be a part of.”

Meanwhile, Pratt says he knows what he will do if his design loses its official status.

“I’ll fly whatever it’s changed to. I’m a Newfoundlander.”

Copyright John Gushue 2005. Published in the St. John’s Telegram on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2005.

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