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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A Tale of Two Realities

Today I can’t help reflecting on that oft quoted line from that great masterpiece, A Tale of Two Cities.

“It was the best of times it was the worst of times.”

Could this have been a prophetic statement about the province of Newfoundland and Labrador I wonder?

The province’s economy is on a meteoric rise and statistics show it will lead the country in GDP growth once again. Wonderful news one would think, until you stop to consider the thousands of poor disenfranchised souls lined up in the cold for hours on end in a desperate attempt to find a job, any job, anywhere and at any time. I believe one local reporter noted that the scenes he witnessed just last week were reminiscent of the long bread lines of the great depression. I’m a little young to recall those images but it certainly reminded me of the stark news footage broadcast during the final bleak days leading up to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

When Newfoundland and Labrador joined Canada in 1949 it brought with it one of the richest fisheries in the world. It also brought vast mineral, oil and gas reserves. Massive deposits, like the iron ore of Bell Island, were known at the time of confederation but much of the province’s resources, from gold on the island to uranium in Labrador is only now beginning to be unearthed. Several oil fields offshore have come on stream in past years yet they are believed to represent only a fraction of the available reserves yet to be discovered. Forests abound, hydro electric generation capacity is massive and the scenic beauty of the place is a tourism operator’s wet dream. Yet the province can’t support a mere half a million people and it remains a “have not” area. Newly minted ghost towns spring up everyday, highways are congested with departing U-hauls and the population is slipping forever toward some as yet unknown point, a point where the meager services and necessities required by those remaining will become unsustainable.

I won’t go into my personal thoughts on why the province finds itself where it is today. I’ve gone down that road many times. Suffice to say that surviving as a resource rich colonial outpost is not easy, especially when the local overseers are more interested in re-election than renewal. That aside, something needs to be done to rectify a desperate situation before it’s too late, if it isn’t already.

Some will suggest that the province can only survive by regaining control, and the primary benefit, of the resources it brought into confederation. Others will call for federal support to move forward on such issues as fallow field legislation or wheeling hydro power across Quebec. We need to ensure that all secondary resource processing happens right here someone will shout. Another will call for a complete overhaul of the federal parliamentary system, a system that allows two provinces to wield more political power than the other eight combined. Where does a system like that leave for a province with less than 2% of the seats in the House they’ll moan.

There are many things that need to be done but none of them will ever happen, not without something else happening first. As I see it, the first step has to be convincing the provincial and federal governments that a problem exists. You wouldn’t think that would be difficult with the facts on the table as they are, but it is. The issues that abound and the root causes of them will never be addressed unless someone in a seat of power decides to stop, take a long hard look around and say loud and clear, “the province of Newfoundland and Labrador is dying.” The ship is listing to forty degrees, the lifeboats are over the side but the band plays on and is somehow oblivious to the water swirling around its ankles.

I wouldn’t wish for anyone to see the heartbreaking images many in Newfoundland and Labrador witnessed this past week. No longer are we seeing tens or even hundreds of people searching for work in other provinces. Newfoundland and Labrador, unlike most other provinces, isn’t seeing workers migrate out and others arrive, as can be expected in any free country. The province has now reached a point where thousands, even tens of thousands, of men and women are flooding recruiting drives held by companies from out west. Mothers and Fathers, with small children in tow, their dazed expressions providing a glimpse into the life altering, or perhaps life shattering, decisions they face, fill out forms and hope in quiet desperation to be the one chosen for a better life. If anyone can witness these sights and still believe that the province’s economic situation is improving they need ponder their understanding of improvement.

Provincial coffers are indeed in better shape than they have been for years and yes our GDP is on the rise, but what does any of that mean to a man or woman who must leave their family behind simply to ensure they have food to eat, a warm bed to sleep in and a roof over their heads. Pure economics don’t translate into a hot meal any more than the provincial GDP translates into jobs. When you consider that a large percentage of the economic improvement, or GDP growth, is related to the export of oil and minerals, with little or no processing taking place inside the province, it isn’t hard to see the disconnect.

“It was the best of times it was the worst of times.” Now that I think about it, maybe this doesn’t represent the reality in Newfoundland and Labrador. The economy continues to grow while the lineups of sad, yet proud, men and women stretch ever longer. I guess in reality the best of times are already over and most dishearteningly the worst of times are still to come.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

The lure of big money is tugging at people from all over Atlantic Canada,not just Newfoundland and labrador.

I know of cases where card carrying union members are looking for travel cards so they they can chase the lucrative money in Alberta, while companies back in N&L are crying out for workers. On top of that, these workers go back home after a stint in Alberta and sit on their duffs collecting EI until the next stint in Alberta, all the while padding their bank accounts. This is wrong, it has to stop. It is all about beating the system and greed.

Edgar said...

Excellent article Myles, probably your best yet.

WJM said...

Some will suggest that the province can only survive by regaining control, and the primary benefit, of the resources it brought into confederation.

What does that mean?

The province never LOST "control" over mines, forests, hydro, etc. in the first place. The government in St. John's that had jurisdiction over those resources before 1949, has had jurisdiction since 1949.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't matter what you WJM....it's always easier for Patriot to blame someone else for all Newfoundland's woes.

Anonymous said...

The above post should have read:

It doesn't matter what you say WJM....etc.

Anonymous said...

Newfoundlanders are flocking to Alberta for one thing only: BIG MONEY.
Once they get it they fly home to spend it all in Newfoundland and who cares about what that is doing to Alberta's economy.
They keep their adresses in NL and usually their families too, so where are their taxes going?? Newfoundland!
Well an economy which is based on this system is not going to prosper very wellin the long run. Alberta's biggest problem is not getting workers out there it's getting them to be part of the community and help contribute to the roads, hospitals and school systems that they are using.
When you work in a place and use up all it's services then turn around and say "but I actually live over there so I will not pay taxes here" ...that's what is shameful.
Seems to me it's the Newfies who are sucking up other people's resources for themselves.

If Alberta's did the same thing in Newfoundland there'd be hell to pay.

Anonymous said...

Nice one sided view WJM. The Hydro at upper churchill was lost because the fed wouldn't pressure Quebec on moving power through that province. That left the province with no choice but a one sided deal that saw our province lose control (for all intents and purposes) until 2041.

I know you'll argue that point but can you honestly tell everyone that the province has control of the offshore oil and gas or of fisheries resources? Those are controlled from Ottawa and you damn well know it.

WJM said...

Nice one sided view WJM. The Hydro at upper churchill was lost because the fed wouldn't pressure Quebec on moving power through that province. That left the province with no choice but a one sided deal that saw our province lose control (for all intents and purposes) until 2041.

No, the province had a choice.

It could have chosen not to proceed with the project until a deal was in place.

Instead, the province gave Brinco the rights to the site and got them into a position where they had to accept anything.

That is where it all went wrong.

Why should the federal government have intervened? Should the federal government intervene if NL "blocks" Hydro-Quebec from damming the headwaters of any of the five rivers? Why or why not?

It's funny how Newfoundlander nationalists want THEIR province to be more autonomous and have less supposed interference from Ottawa.... but would have it inflicted on Quebec in a second.

What a bunch of hypocrites.

I know you'll argue that point but can you honestly tell everyone that the province has control of the offshore oil and gas or of fisheries resources? Those are controlled from Ottawa and you damn well know it.

No, offshore oil and gas are jointly controlled by the federal and provincial governments through the CNLOPB.

As for fisheries... it's funny, but I didn't hear "joint management" or "provincial management" cross Tom Rideout's lips when he appeared before the fisheries committee today.

Why is that, I wonder?

WJM said...

it's always easier for Patriot to blame someone else for all Newfoundland's woes.

Same with all Newfoundland nationalists.

That, by the way, is why Chairman Dan has no interest in "joint management" of the fisheries.

That way, he'd no longer be able to blame Ottawa for everything.

Seriously: that's the reason.

GMT said...

So WJM have you found out why the airport landing fees are a lot more expensive in Labrador than the rest of Canada - or does your outrage of injustices only stretch as far as moaning about Newfoundland nationalists.

Anonymous said...

It's the fault of Newfoundland Nationalist's that Labradoreans have to pay higher airport landing fees!

Gordon said...

"Newfoundlanders are flocking to Alberta for one thing only: BIG MONEY."

Birds migrate for food and people migrate for money. There's nothing new here.

"Once they get it they fly home to spend it all in Newfoundland and who cares about what that is doing to Alberta's economy."

Well, by working in Alberta they are contributing to the Albertan economy. As for "once they get it they fly back to Newfoundland", my understanding is that there are companies who will fly people home after a certain number of weeks of work. Given that situation, would you rather fly home and be with your family in a house you may have already inherited or sell it at a low cost and pay a king's ransom for a house in another province? In any case, most Newfoundlanders who leave end up staying away forever. I recall Peter Fenwick, when he was the leader of the NDP in Newfoundland and Labrador, say that Newfoundland and Labrador would have had about 7,000,000 people had there been no outmigration (we have about 530,000 people now). I also recall Fred Rowe writing that approximately half of the people in New England who claim Irish ancestry are in fact of Newfoundland and Labrador ancestry. One can disagree with the numbers posed by Fenwick and Rowe, but the trend is that most people who leave our province tend to stay away. The same is true for most other parts of world. Come to think of it, had it been the other way round, the entire "New World" would be run by the people who have lived there since ancient times.

WJM said...

So WJM have you found out why the airport landing fees are a lot more expensive in Labrador than the rest of Canada

Than in the rest of Canada?

They are higher than some (not all) airports in some (not all) parts of Quebec, but I haven't seen anything yet to tell me (a) why that is, or (b) that they are higher than all of the rest of Canada.

WJM said...

It's the fault of Newfoundland Nationalist's that Labradoreans have to pay higher airport landing fees!

What's a "Labradorean"?

Not at all. But on the other hand, what have Newfoundland nationalists done lately about the substantially higher ferry rates that Labradorians pay for provincial ferries, compared to similar routes around Newfoundland?

Where is your outrage?

Anonymous said...

I agree a little with both sides of the coin. Newfouundland was the richest province in Canada at one time. We had the fishery, the oil industry, mining, hydro, and the people to make it all happen. Then we joined confederation. With promises from the federal government in Ottawa, we foolishly handed over all of our resources for "favors" that would be paid back when the time came. Instead they took us for all we were worth. Now we rely on the scraps tossed our way by Ottawa. Thats one side. The other side is Newfoundlands reaction to this. The province does nothing to keep the young people in the province. No jobs, no careers, no life, except for the lifetime of student debt that you pay back. And for what? education in Newfoundland is worthless within the province. You still can't get a job, so you have to go to Alberta to make a living for yourself at labor jobs. Or you could stay in the province and work at dead end minimum wage call center jobs. I am a Newfie, but i am dissapointed at the way the province is handling itself. They keep talking about the programs in place to offer jobs to the people but we never see the reality of it. Newfoundland got screwed by the federalists and now it is screwing over its own people, like a parasite, not offering them any jobs, reasonable living allowance, or career options, but still they expect they people to stay in the province, and give up jobs in Alberta that would pay 4 times to maximum wage in the province.