On Danny Williams

It’s funny. I guess. When I heard about Danny Williams new campaign to personally slay the Harper government, I said here we go again.

And, of course, everyone has lambasted Williams from national commentators to politicians from all parties – even some pundits in his own province.

The funny part is that he is at 73% in the polls. I don’t think I have ever seen a politician at 73%.

It seems to me that Danny Williams – wildly over the top behaviour and all – is a symbol for the biggest problem facing Canada today.

It’s rarely talked about in the national discourse except for some vague references to demographic trends or the Alberta boom.

Newfoundland & Labrador lost 8% of its population from 1996 to 2006. New Brunswick lost population. Saskatchewan lost population. Manitoba, PEI and Nova Scotia barely held their own.

At a time of record national economic and population growth – 14 straight years without a single quarter of negative GDP growth – and yet whole swaths of this country are facing serious challenges.

Listen to Ibbitson and the like and this is just an inevitable urbanization. A good trend. Accelerate it, he says.

What I have found so ironic in my life is that it seems to be the role of government to provide health care, education, roads, police, social programs, etc. but it should be up to the ‘market’ to decide if any actual people live in the communities in which it’s the role of government to provide health care, education……

I, as you know, have a little different point of view.

I think it should be the primary function to government to ensure that its community (narrowly or broadly defined) exists at all – and then worry about the kinds of government services you want to provide.

A bit like when we spent billions to settle Western Canada.

Newfoundlanders are worried and they should be. New Brunwickers should similarly be worried because on top of the population decline government spending is running more or less amok. At a time when population is declining you would think that goverment spending should be stable or at least only growing at the rate of inflation. But government spending in New Brunswick is on pace with provinces that have fast growing populations and that will lead eventually to serious trouble.

So back to Danny Williams.

If you strip away all the shtick, the central theme should be debated in the national discourse. Does the federal government have a role to play when whole regions of the country are in economic distress? If the national dialogue concludes that no – everyone (province) should fend for itself, then fine – I guess- that’s democracy.

But ignoring it. Mission accomplished as it were – makes little sense.

Maybe Ibbitson is right. Maybe we need to urbanize. Maybe Atlantic Canada should become an outpost – with just a few mills, mines and fishing ports to send natural resources to upper Canada. Maybe they should close down northern Quebec. Maybe Manitoba should be retaken by the flies and the cold.

But maybe we should at least have a chat about it first.

One of the interesting things about reading Savoie’s books on economic development is that you get the sense that in the 1950s through the 1980s or so that the Feds at least pretended to be interested in regional development.

But there’s not even any discussion – really – about it anymore. Budget after budget barely mentions it. It’s considered a huge win if ACOA just keeps the same level of funding – never mind it is a fraction of what it once was as a % of national government spending.

As I said before, I still blame John Manley as much as anyone for this. He was the one that first said screw regional development we need to focus on our big cities and our ‘clusters’ after the recession of the early 1990s. And maybe he was right, then.

But shouldn’t we at least consider using the huge economic dividend from that success to rethink regional development?

Poor old Danny. It is likely going to get worse on the Rock (population wise) before it gets better. I have seen provincial government forecasts showing the population will decline into the mid 400k in the next 20 years.

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0 Responses to On Danny Williams

  1. mikel says:

    Very nice post. To go back to something only vaguely mentioned-no, thats NOT democracy. Canada has never been ‘democratic’. When have canadians ever decide national policy?

    The only people in fast growing areas that like it that way are politicians.

    Those points were a little skewered though, Danny Williams popularity has to do with having some balls, having some money, and having a platform.

    He’s been trying for years to get a better oil deal for Newfoundland. He’s got AIMS and Harpies saying that by not ‘assuming the position’ he ‘sends the wrong message’.

    I think that’s backwards. The more you bend over for industry, the less they respect you and the less they want to do business with you. Lord had the same problems with natural gas, but he barely said boo about it. He went to the NEB and then slinked away.

    The simple reality is that politicians will have popular support when they look out for the interests of their constituency. In NB, that has never happened in my lifetime. The biggest wins have always been ‘because I hate the other guy’, or ‘the other guy has screwed us over long enough’.

    Take a look at Chavez and other south american leaders. Its always funny to see americans and canadians talk about ‘that dictator’ when the guy has gotten more popular support than any canadian provincial or federal leader in history.

    The simple thing is that they are saying ‘enough’ to big industry that doesn’t give two *&^%$ about ‘people’ and they are making sure resources are adequately managed to benefit people.

    Without the massive propaganda this wouldn’t be happening in Canada or the US, but people simply never hear about these things. People don’t know that Norway has trillions in the bank to finance growth. However, people usually have good instincts, but in NB, and increasingly in Canada, there is simply no political options.

  2. scott says:

    Great post, David. And you’re dead on. However, don’t sell John Ibbitson short as like you I think he was just trying to emphasize the need for rural Canada to latch onto the strength and growth of the rising urban tide. In other words, he was sending out a small warning that if towns and villages fail to work with and feed off of their urban counterparts or centres, they will do so at their own peril. You’ve said this for as long as I’ve read your blog, however, I have to admit, you haven’t yet given up on the old model of a what makes a town or village successful. I think that might be where both Ibbitson and I disagree with you.

    Another thing, you are right when you said, “1950s through the 1980s or so that the Feds at least pretended to be interested in regional development.” And there is probably a good reason for that. IMO, it’s mainly because these federally sponsored regional development programs, such as DREE and DRIE, were geared towards subsidizing a particlar region. [i.e. Atlantic Canada] But in the end, the former couldn’t justify why it was offering so much assistance to one region while leaving out another. In other words, people from areas on the island of Montreal started to demand the same treatment from its [DREE] administrator, Jean Marchant. And as you know, the province of Quebec always wins that political battle with the Atlantic provinces. So in retrospect, you can blame former Industry Minister Manley for some of the woes we have suffered, but that to me would be like blaming the tip of the iceberg for sinking the Titanic. In other words, there is something far greater here. That being, the federal government’s failure to define what they truly want from the Atlantic region, not to mention, where they see us going in the future. If they can do that, then they have started a true consulttative and possibly successful process in motion. Throwing scraps in the form of regional development agencies just doesn’t cut it.

    On a much different topic, I was glad to see you are now using part of McKenna’s era to define population decline since 2001-2006, according to states Canada, was in the +s. Score one for Bernie, eh Dave? You really gotta stop putting so much trust in stats can. lol

  3. David Campbell says:

    It’s pretty neat. Mikel and Scott both write up well thought out and somewhat time consuming posts in rebuttal to mine. There’s not financial reason to do so. Most likely there is no career reason to do so, yet they do so.

    I think therefore I am.

  4. scott says:

    Who ever said that politics pays, David? If you think that, you better walk now.

    However, from my brief experience back in this province, I have noticed a few individuals offering up very cheap advice against their own principles so as to appease a few so-called local-in-the-know Liberals who doll out the cash.

    And as you know, those ppl have been around here long enough to take credit for this provinces ultimate demise. I’m glad to say, on this sunday morning, that I have never associated myself with this lot. I mean, if I did, wouldn’t it be hard for me to offer up new ideas and a new way without feeling very hypocritical.