With 500 years of history behind it, and oil revenues fueling the engines of hyper inflation in its urban areas, Newfoundland and Labrador should be a bright spot in Canada. It should be, but honestly, it isn't. In fact, the province of Newfoundland and Labrador is sleep walking into a disaster of its own making.
A great deal of Newfoundland's problem stem from those 500 years of abstract poverty for the many. While it didn't kill the independent spirit of the people, it did kill the education system. Generation after generation were brought up in a religious dominated education system that did nothing to advance intellectual development or debate. The priority of a great many people was simply survival, and in many ways that remains true today. If you leave the province with children, enroll them in a school elsewhere in the country, you will know how far they've been let down by the education system here.
However, it's not the children who are causing the fall of this province. It's the adults. It is evident every day, of every month, of every year. Many commentators call it "apathy". Apathy is at the root of all of Newfoundland's problems they say. People won't engage in the political system or hold their representatives to account beyond voting every four years, or so. There is a real nugget of truth in this. If the adults can't see beyond "keeping up with the Jones", with their shiny new sleds, the big houses, the monster trucks, then who will?
Frankly, it's a case of built up expectations being released in a volley of consumption. Having so little for so long created an appetite to have it all at once. The new found oil wealth was the fuel. Responsibility left the room. Greed entered. You can see it everywhere in the province. Whether it's the epidemic of failed marriages in a place rooted in "the family", or the epidemic of crime and drugs, or even the provincial government's abandoning of anything resembling responsible fiscal policy, the infection of greed is everywhere. It is no longer "we Newfoundlanders stick together". It is no longer "one for all and all for one." Sure, that rhetoric still gets used by politicians to defend this spending priority, or that project, but it is just rhetoric now. It has now been replaced with "me,me,me".
That attitude has caused deep and dark chasms all across the province. A good example is "townies" in St. John's debating whether rural Newfoundland is worth spending any money on. We've had actual conversations on province-wide radio about whether it's necessary for the affluent Avalon Peninsula to spend oil dollars in rural Newfoundland for such things as roads, ferries, or even basics like water supplies. Which, totally ignores the fact 50% of the population lives in the rural part of the province. The tone is so self-serving, so self-absorbed, it borders on narcissism. Group narcissism. Arrogance fueled by the need to look down upon others to make yourself feel important. Danny Williams, as premier, fueled this feeling and channeled it into a nationalism that can only be termed "ugly". The most recent example being Williams' indignant "bullshit" comment when confronted with the scientific reality that Newfoundland and Labrador's population is in imminent decline. As if it were an attack on the very people of the province by "negative nay-sayers", and not the brush of reality that it was by the Conference Board of Canada.
The schisms haven't stopped at the island portion of the province. Labrador has become alienated. Labradorians watch as their rivers and lands are exploited for the benefit of the coffers in St. John's. they grow angry and resentful as they travel along unpaved highways, and watch their young people die from a lack of search and rescue and extreme substance abuse problems in the aboriginal communities. They are tired of a central government, located far away, using them for what they can get and giving only a pittance back. Some Newfoundland commentators say this is small minded on the behalf of Labradorians, but they fail to see the same in themselves. Just witness the constant attacks against the federal government for not doing enough in the fishery, or ferries, or what have you. In most cases we are right to be outraged, but yet we don't afford that same right to Labradorians.
It has become a central theme in Newfoundland. A lack of accountability. Whether it is the government passing Bill 29 to avoid accountability in general or banning the Public Utilities Board from holding Nalcor and the Lower Churchill development accountable by exempting it from the Public Utilities Act, it's all about not being accountable. It's everyone's fault but ours. There is nothing wrong with us, it's everyone else. Rural Newfoundland is meant to die. Labrador is meant to be used. It is for the greater good, and that good rests in St. John's and the Avalon.
The province has blown $14 billion in oil revenues in less than a decade. The provincial budget has gone from $4 billion to $8 billion in less then ten years. The unfunded pensions remain unfunded to the tune of almost $7 billion. The gross debt is larger than it was before the oil boom began in 2003. Yet, outside of St. John's and the Avalon there is almost nothing to show for it, other than the inflated prices caused by unsustainable spending. The people in Labrador are tired of sending their wealth to the collective credit card. The people in rural Newfoundland are angry at the state of their health care, and basic necessities of life - like roads and water supplies.The province is breaking apart along geographical areas. Talk of Labrador separation is becoming more and more evident on province-wide radio shows. Talk of absent, neglected or substandard services in rural Newfoundland is the same.
The place that had been in poverty for 500 years has, at its moment in history, fallen down. It has failed to manage itself for the benefit and interest of its people - all its people. It refuses to look inward and accept what is wrong, and change it. It drives to be the one to reap reward, and turns its back on those left behind. It has grown cold, and the cold, like a sheet of ice, has shattered the geographic and societal conscience of this place we love. Is Newfoundland and Labrador falling down? Yes it is. And what a shame.
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.
US computer engineer & industrialist (1955 - 2011)