What Kind of Province Do We Want?: MUN-led conference Begged the Question and Explored the Answer

With both a provincial and a federal election set for this fall, we'll twice have the chance to use the ballot box this year.

With both a provincial and a federal election set for this fall, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have the chance to twice use the ballot box to voice our priorities for the coming years.

Newfoundland and Labrador is facing what MUN Harris Centre executive director Dr. Rob Greenwood calls “a banner year.” Greenwood hosted a public forum titled “Memorial Presents: What Kind of Province Do We Want?” on June 9th.

With both a provincial and a federal election set for this fall, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have the chance to twice use the ballot box to voice our priorities for the coming years.

At the same time, with low oil prices and layoffs both here and in Alberta, the province is facing a financial future that looks more uncertain than it has for a few years. It’s perhaps exhausting to once again consider our future as a province, but one clear consensus among the panelists was that that’s preferable to the alternative of doing nothing.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s economy has been affected by the downturn in the oil industry, which has not only hit our provincial coffers but also affected the many families across the province who rely on money made in Alberta’s oil industry. “In a sense, it’s an even bigger impact on this province than it is in Alberta,” said Dr. David Freshwater, a professor of economics at the University of Kentucky.

Diversifying and strengthening our economy – so it doesn’t rely so much on oil – is one way to ensure the province’s fortunes are taken care of, but many also spoke of the financial burden of our large public system – and the challenges that system faces in caring for an aging population. Some of whom live in rural areas isolated from essential services.

While much of Newfoundland and Labrador’s population ages, a significant portion of the province’s younger residents are moving away – and of course, many who left after the collapse of the fisheries in the 1990s have never returned. Attracting educated young people to the province, and ensuring a solid education for those already here is important, said Michael Walsh of the Canadian Federation of Students. He pointed out that freezing tuition fees is one way the province has done just that. “I think that it’s increasingly important that we continue to invest in education from cradle to grave,” Walsh said.

Our province experiences what is both a challenge and strength: we have insufficient regional governance for our hugely involved citizens. “It’s clear that the places that do well or do best have very engaged local populations,” Freshwater said. Bernadette Dwyer, a Fogo Island councillor, pointed to the longstanding success of the Fogo Island Co-op as an example of what can be done in the province’s rural areas.

And running throughout all of this is the sense of place deeply ingrained in Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. Freshwater said he’s seen a similarly strong attachment to place in both Quebec and Kentucky, where he lives and works.

There was an overall sense that pride, along with our resilience and our resource wealth, provide plenty of reason for optimism. “I am not at all pessimistic about the future,” said Shannie Duff, former deputy mayor of St. John’s.

Written By
More from Terri Coles

Downtown St. John’s Attempts to Ease Parking Pains with New Map

Downtown St. John’s has launched a parking awareness campaign in response to...
Read More

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.