Moving Forward in Hard Times

There’s a current of anti-intellectualism here that’s held us back, but another tradition of innovation and “get ‘er done” enterprise that will see us advance and prosper.

The Provincial budget was met with anger and despair primarily because the tax hikes, service reductions, and layoffs were not presented as part of a larger narrative, not as a painful but necessary stage in a process, not as part of a plan. No ultimate goal beyond getting out of deficit was articulated. 

We’d spent too much in the wrong places, our civil service is too large, our population is too far-flung, the people managing the Muskrat Falls project f*cked up, throughout our system there is too much administration for so little program, our luck is bad.

Every large institution is going to have dead wood and people who gained their position through favour. Newfoundland and Labrador has a cronyism problem and there are a lot of takers among us.

But there are more dedicated hard working souls, there are more who understand it is an honour and a privilege to serve. The reduction of the civil service has to be gradual and humane but it also has to begin to consider merit.

Labour is going to have to have latitude on this one because the old industrial rules don’t make sense here.  Workers’ rights are paramount; the rights of overtime artists, pension whores, and double dippers are not.

This is even more the case in the executive suite.  To have been forced from Nalcor for losing control of a project and to award yourself a bonus on the way out the door proves you were in it for the wrong reasons.  We can’t afford that sort of selfishness any longer. Besides who wants having gotten away with something as the achievement they take to the grave.

The theory behind the Muskrat Falls project was a good one. Take revenue from a non-renewable and spend it on a greener, renewable, legacy project. It was doubtlessly developed in haste at Danny Williams’ command and has been poorly managed.  But it will produce energy and play a part in replacing the horror show that is Holyrood’s power station.  I wager, in thirty years, we’ll be happy it was done.

Nobody could have forseen the precipitous crash in the price of oil.  Nobody, but nobody, can say when and if it will rebound, or by how much.  Nobody.  (The Arabs and the Persians start fighting directly and not through proxies and it’s $200/barrel).

And if the price cannot be predicted it cannot reliably be factored in the budget process. Prudence dictates that when we guess low we bank the difference against when we guess high.  The natural resources market will always be volatile.

Canadian media is being told “Newfoundland is screwed” and is “a complete f*cking trainwreck” but against what measure? New Brunswick?  Nova Scotia? The G.T.A. when (not if) the housing bubble pops? You can’t afford to live in Vancouver or London, New York, or Paris.  How about Tehran?  Lagos?  Chiraq?  How about Homs?

It’s been suggested that the best course for a young person is to leave Newfoundland and Labrador, to abandon the old to die in the crumbling fish plants.  But I’m here, most people I know are here, not for material advantage but because of our love for the place. We love the savage, unforgiving natural world. We love our culture.

Those of us who stay don’t do it for the money or the weather forecast but because the alternatives in Canada are so much less interesting. (Montreal’s a contender but the drive to unspoiled country to walk your dog is too long.)

The thing the current Provincial Government missed in their budget was that what makes this place so singular is a resource greater than oil or shrimp.  The Government, and those before it, have neglected to cultivate the national mind and spirit.

Where do we excel? We’ve identified the takers, who are our makers? What obvious opportunities are we missing? That should have been the Budget’s preface and conclusion.

There are two areas where necessity would see us lead Canada.  A guaranteed annual income would see dramatic decreases in the administrative burden of a host of social programs and greatly reduce the dead-end spending that is policing.

Demographics mean we have no choice but to switch, over a generation, to a wellness and community based model of healthcare.  What we currently operate is unsustainable.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s bounty (the best seafood, game, berries, and lamb in the world!) and food ways have been turned into world-leading gastronomy by a new generation of chefs.  They’ve provided a cornerstone for tourism and taught us we can eat better and then still better locally.

Encouraged (and not hobbled by regulation and bureaucracy) they will drive an increase in local agriculture that will, in a modest way, address a food security issue and show us how to improve a shitty diet that’s costing our healthcare system billions.

This works against the systemic failure of globalization and trade between economies with uneven labour markets, is a paradigm shift from “lots of lousy, cheap imported shit” to “less of better locally-made things.”

Two prospering exporters live on my street.  They don’t trade in nickel or red fish, they trade in imagination.  Alan Doyle exports song and good times and Deirdre Ayre, whose company Other Oceans employs fifty-two people who develop and sell video games.

We punch far above our weight in storytelling, a fact demonstrated by our disproportionate numbers in Canadian art and entertainment. And the content business is at a point of transition, with more pipe than material to fill it opening it up to new players.  Take The Shot Productions are making shows for Netflix.

It’s gospel now that growth comes from the society’s creative class.  And the innovators and explorers of that group are mobile, adventurous and, critically for us, young.  There’s a current of anti-intellectualism here that’s held us back but another tradition of innovation and “get ‘er done” enterprise that will see us advance and prosper.

Success stories like Verafin, Celtx, Fogo Island Fish, Hey Orcha have made local ingenuity an asset. Newfoundland and Labrador’s future is bright for those willing to make it so.

Natural resources will remain the mainstay of our economy for the foreseeable future and our prospects in that arena are as good as any in the world.  But harvesting the Newfoundland imagination not only works as a hedge against the volatility of commodity markets, it is, more than anything, its own reward.

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  • Mr. Richie, excellent article! something for you and your readers to contemplate: None of the positive actions you reference are within the capacity of our elected leaders to entertain as long as the BANKS have such a tight noose of Debt and Interest around their necks. Paying the INTEREST is their primary motivation because like the rest of us, THEY THINK THEY HAVE TO! Do THEY? If you are sincere then you will,pause for a moment and think about this. We have a government that takes in on average, $7 Billion Dollars from all sources in an average year. This year, by the way, March 31, 2016, will not be an average year. Out of that $7 Billion, $1 Cool Billion has to go to the BANKS to pay INTEREST on the $15.4 Billion Dollar Debt. WHY? Answer: Because we all think we HAVE TO! You think so to, don’t you. What if we didn’t have to? The total,of CUTS and NEW TAXES in the Budget add up to $883 Million. Only about $117 Million short of enough to pay the INtEREST bill. Check it out. Don’t take MY word for it. This is all public information. We’re just not connecting the dots and those who are “in the know” , few though they be, are not telling us. STOP PAYING THE INTERESTS, ( I’m not saying stop paying the Principal ) and all the pain inflicted in the Budget goes away and the books are balanced. When you spend on average, $8 Billion Dollars a year, which ourvGov’t does, and you take in only $7 Billion, that tells me you need to either spend a Billion Less or take in a Billion more. Are you still there? Our MHA’s have chosen to TAKE IN a Billion Dollars more from US in the form of CUTS and TAXES in the BUDGET rather than stop paying INTEREST and spend a Billion Dollars less. Because THEY BELIEVE THEY HAVE TO!

    • Stop paying the interest because they don’t have to? Where are you getting this nonsense from? If we ever want to borrow another dime again, we will have to continue paying interest. Please, come back to the real world, summer is just around the corner, you wouldn’t want to miss that. But maybe in your world it is summer all year round.

  • You are bang on! My wife and myself have recently moved back to Corner Brook with our 9 yr old daughter after living in Vancouver for 21 years to be around family. Aside from this most obvious reason, almost as meaningful is an emotional obligation to that intangible talent,character,inspiration and spirit that has always spring boarded and thrived from here( and rightfully so) onwards and upwards! I have spent most of my life in creative endeavours( professionally and recreationally) in music and film and much of that seed was planted right here! As the years have gone by, this steady stream of wonderfully diverse and powerful talent has never abated and I’ve always had pride in seeing/hearing about the new/next generation that took the torch and ran with it! For those of us lucky enough to have this perspective and a desire to keep this unique, inspirational beacon of an existence vibrant-we will fight the good fight with all the pride,determination and resources available(some money and brains as well)! There is little doubt that there is something embedded in Newfoundlanders that have spread out across this planet (and left a huge mark!) who need that
    connection here and over time I think will always return and help preserve and push forward our special existence. Ironically, especially in times such as these-the most valuable things here…… can’t buy!

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