Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the
round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're
not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify
them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change
things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the
crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that
they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Steve Jobs
US computer engineer & industrialist (1955 - 2011)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Into the Valley we Travel

My apologies for the lack of blogging over the last little while, but as some of you may know I was quite involved in the general election here in Newfoundland and Labrador as a Liberal candidate. From the beginning I want to say that that in a democracy we vote for the government of our choice, and I respect that. On October 11, 2011 the people of this province returned the PC Party to power with a strong majority, and my district of Trinity North saw the PC incumbent returned to power with similar numbers to his 2007 victory. In my own case, I finished a distant third - which continues a trend for the Liberals in this district since 2003. The NDP candidate finished a strong second, but the PCs won the district with a plurality in the high 50% range. That was the story here.

The rest of the province witnessed a frenzied battle in the St. John's area between the NDP and the PCs. The NDP also witnessed some limited success in the urban centers of the rural areas. The Liberals were able to capture some old Liberal districts in rural Newfoundland and Labrador. In a twist of irony and fate, the Liberals retained official Opposition status largely due to the dogged speedboat campaign of Randy Edmunds in Labrador - a seat won by determination and not spin.

The question now presents itself: "Where to from here?" The answer is really nothing has changed for the better. The day after the election the Bank of Montreal forcast a decline in GDP in our province this year to a low of 1.3% growth in 2012: . That immediately raises questions on the sustainability of government spending, and expansion of the provincial civil service and operations - among other things. Those numbers, combined with our existing debt situation, tend to indicate the PCs will be forced to reign in their rather NDP style of government intervention in the economy.

Of course the Muskrat Falls project has been touted as a potential driver for the economy by this government, and even Jim Prentice of CIBC. However, this is where financial reality collides with flights of fantasy. A story released today  outlines some of the economic challenges facing Muskrat Falls. We often hear openline hosts commenting that Newfoundland and Labrador could be the richest province in the country if it developed its resources. We often hear these same people refer to Nalcor as a world class utility company. However, like much of the bravado heard here from politicians and openline pundits, reality is something completely different. Nalcor is not a world class utility. It is barely a regional class crown corporation. Its sales, revenues and debt load relegate it to the "wanna be" category. Despite the talk of Newfoundland and Labrador's wealth it should be a wake up call for people to realize that this province only contributes 1.5% toward Canada's overall GDP. Ontario and Quebec both contribute well over 20% each. Its GDP would have to grow by over 2000% to approach richest province status.

Despite the spin of "New Energy", the reality is Newfoundland and Labrador is running out of energy - in terms of youth that is. While Kathy Dunderdale showcases herself as an example of the new energy, the reality is she is reaching senior citizen status. In other words, she may have got herself into better shape, but she is only six years away from her first CPP cheque. Most of her Party is in the same position. For that matter, so is much of the province. For those of us who have studied demographics and Newfoundland and Labrador's aging population, it is no surprise that the first two quarters reported for this year show declines in population here. The reality is this province will witness a massive loss of people through death in the next 19 years. We will also see birth rates continue to decline from their low today of 1.3. The result is a shrinking population that will decline below 500,000 by 2015, and reach approximately 400,000 by 2030 - 19 years away.

The economy, Muskrat Falls and our population all have one thing in common - denial. Like the frantic, loud beats of traditional Irish/Newfoundland folk music, the provincial government here desperately tries to mask the structural realities of our island with such nonsense as "New Energy". Rather than confront the realities, it chooses to mask them in quasi-nationalistic jingles. To state these realities is to be considered negative and to invite mass ridicule. We've heard it before: "You don't count"; "traitor"; "political prostitute"; and so on. All of it said to preserve the crumbs of what is left for those that desire to be enriched from them. All of it to detract, and deflect from the sobering realities that face our society - like the music itself.

In a recent discussion with one Editor, the term "fight" was brought up. I asked:"Where is the fighting Newfoundlander?" The Editors reply:"It has been gone for ten years." While it is easy to see the motives of those in power that wish to consume those last crumbs for themselves and their friends, it is less easy to understand the willingness of the people to follow them down that path. The path that leads us into the valley.

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