‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring not even a mouse – and I have the misfortune of my mindshare being occupied by Premier Danny Williams of Newfoundland and his crazy idea to take down Canadian flags in protest of the ‘humiliation’ that the Federal government has placed on Newfoundland and Labrador over the offshore oil & gas revenue deal. Is this just posturing by an ungrateful Premier or a last ditch, desperate attempt to fix the province’s long standing economic problems?
Before I answer that, indulge me by listening to a short story.
There is a region in North America that is endowed with unbelievable natural resources. This area is blessed with large stores of offshore oil & gas. This area has vast mineral deposits. It has large forests for timber. And there’s more. This area provides electricity to something like 20% of the entire population of North America. And if this isn’t enough, this area has (at least historically) one of the best fisheries in North America. To top everything off, the people are known all over for their strong work ethic.
Where is this mythical place with such abundance and economic wealth? Is it Texas? Is it Alberta? California? No, it’s little old Newfoundland and Labrador. Yes, the poorest province or state in all of North America. Yes, the same Newfoundland and Labrador that without the hundreds of millions of dollars in Equalization and Employment Insurance subsidies would be not much better off than your average third world country.
There has been much debate as to why Newfoundland and Labrador has not developed as a strong economy given its vast resources. Some blame the Federal government for mismanaging the fishery. Some blame Quebec for extorting Labrador in the Churchill Falls hydroelectric project. Some blame the very Equalization and EI programs that were in spirit created to help but in actuality have hurt.
I don’t claim to have the answers. I would, however; render an opinion. This fight between Newfoundland and Ottawa is not about more pogie or Federal welfare. It’s about a frustrated Premier voicing the frustrations of an entire province. Newfoundland lost nearly 10% of its population in the past 15 years. In addition, it sits with chronically high unemployment. Things must change or that province will cease to exist – it’s that simple.
So to the hundreds of Ottawa bureaucrats and politicians that are wringing their hands tonight lamenting the ungrateful Premier and his band of Newfoundlanders – here’s my message. At some point even welfare bums realize they must change their life or suffer the consequences. And when that bum decides it’s time to change, don’t bog him down in your bureaucracy with its disincentives to change – disincentives to improve – disincentives to take initiative. Instead of clawing back Equalization when a province like Newfoundland finds a little economic success – I say increase funding.
I think this is a golden opportunity for Ottawa if it would take its collective head out of the eggnog for a few seconds. Give Newfoundland what it wants – even more. But attach one condition. That the Feds and Newfoundland develop a partnership a la Ireland to put Newfoundland on the road to economic recovery. Set targets. Celebrate success.
Who knows. In 50 years, Newfoundlanders may be the ones bailing out Alberta after their oil revenues and their bloated egos have run out.
We can dare to dream, can’t we Premier Williams. Happy New Year.