Monday, 30 December 2013


Each of us will define benchmarks of progress, in 2013, differently. They may be as varied as a bigger paycheck, a larger house or the kids’ advancement in school.  However they are calculated, in addition to matters personal, they ought to also reflect whether Newfoundland and Labrador, as a society, is better off.  We are, after all, “part of the main” to use Patrick O’Flaherty’s titled phrase. 

Many in this Province have done well even if national statistics suggest we have more work to do.  High personal debt levels, poor retirement readiness, health care issues and job security challenge us, as they do other Canadians. 

Newfoundland and Labrador is engaged in a seemingly endless process of transition.  The emptying of hundreds of rural communities is a continuing flag giving confirmation that the last threads of an enduring rural culture can no longer resist the attraction of larger towns. 

Perhaps it is our lot, as a society, that we are forever in the grip of fundamentally painful change.
Yet, the Province has prospered even if many have not landed on the sweet side of the economic divide. 
The recent oil finds, by partners Statoil and Husky Energy, offer new hope that the prosperity horizon can be extended. Indeed, the very success of these companies illuminates our increasing dependency on a singular resource and of our capacity to willingly gulp the petroleum prize far too quickly.

Lest we delight in selective amnesia, we might acknowledge that oil, directly and indirectly, represents roughly one-half of provincial government revenues.  A large share of our nascent prosperity is linked to a series of megaprojects and successively huge budgetary deficits.  The government aims to spend every cent it can get its hands on without a thought to the future.  Many people, in positions of leadership, cheer them on.

Corner Brook Paper has been given new life with a new subsidy and labour concessions though any talk of that declining industry’s longevity is carefully avoided. Come-By-Chance is threatened by another roll of the dice.

The fishery, a perennial victim of over-dependence, social and political, looks to a European Trade Agreement for new impetus though the large sum of Federal money, which persuaded the Provincial Government to sign on, is a warning of fresh challenges for this critically important industry.

Late in the year the Government brought out the choristers to herald the Federal Loan Guarantee (FLG) for Muskrat Falls, though most commentators failed to note that any of the benefits, to which it gave pretense, had already been assigned to Nova Scotia. 

In the midst of all our good fortune, we have the bad luck of having elected an unwise government to manage it for us. It is reckless and arrogant.  It acts like one who, having found full-time temporary work, has decided to ‘max out’ the credit card.   

Though the Muskrat Falls Project represents some of the most expensive hydro power ever built in North America, and a huge risk to our small economy, the full cost will not be clear for some time. 

It was only after the FLG ceremony that Nalcor CEO Ed Martin allowed himself to invoke the words, “cost overruns”; though some unofficial reports have long confirmed what Mr. Martin refused to concede. 

Likely, the Polling numbers which have placed the Premier’s personal popularity in last place are a reflection of a body politic unamused by her or even Ed Martin’s hijinks.

But a modern society is more complicated than might be indicated by the sole interplay of government and governed. 

That is why mature societies boast the effectiveness of their public institutions, whether legislative, or purposefully constituted. 

Denied independent review, and damned by economics, Muskrat Falls still managed to serve one noble purpose.  It placed a spot-light on our inability to guard against overbearing hubris, rank stupidity and excessive exuberance.

Have far have we come? In most democratic societies, even if the institutions of Government fail to live up to our expectations, there is always the media, isn’t there? 

Well, no, not really! Though next week’s Post will deal with more fully with this topic, arguably the media, with one limited exception – the editorial department of the Telegram - demonstrated an abysmal failure to compensate for a lack of infrastructure designed to check government excess.

The media displayed no stomach to challenge the Government’s frequent deception and misinformation or its constantly changing narrative.   

How many citizens of this Province can claim even a scintilla of knowledge of what this Province gave up to secure the Federal Loan Guarantee?  The job of reporters is to…well, report. That is far different from taking sides.  Lacking expertise is no excuse for failing to retain independent counsel, whether engineering or legal.  Media organizations owed that much to the body politic.

Then, too, most of the so-called ‘elites’ stayed quiet, for yet another year.  Jerome Kennedy, the former Natural Resources Minister, grew tired of the Premier’s singular, if not myopic faith, in Nalcor’s unchecked arithmetic.  Unfortunately, it was not within him to be a public voice for as little as departmental oversight. 

Many others, capable of doing the Government damage, stayed quiet, too, fearing retribution from vengeful Premiers. Dunderdale joined Danny on this list, though only privately were their names mentioned.  Wasn’t that the same reason people hated a spiteful Joey Smallwood, in the 1950s and 60s?  

How far have we come, indeed!

Even the Opposition Parties, perhaps fearful of being out of step with Unions and contractors, revised Webster’s consideration of the word ‘tepid’, at least as it applied to Muskrat, as something less than lukewarm.  

The past few years, including this one, has surely exposed the weak political underbelly of NL society. 

The unvarnished truth is we are not all we need to be.  We have allowed a democratically elected Government to act ‘rogue’.  We will pay for this laxity.   

When the Government gets it wrong, when the media is reticent, and the institutions we expect to act as counterweight are non-existent or light weight, individual citizens had better not have nodded off.

After what we have endured as a society over the last five centuries, it would be unfortunate if the bells and whistles, on a new F-150, were allowed to constitute any gauge of progress. 

Giving challenge to unwise leadership will never be easy. But, it is the price of real and enduring prosperity; one that has a strong and stable foundation, one on which we are safe to build a larger house.   

We have the resources, the wherewithal of growth, most any society would envy.  We have to stop allowing incompetence rule; we must insist on better institutions to protect our interests when collectively, even electorally, we misstep.

We are not there yet.  
Happy New Year!