Sunday, 27 March 2016

No Justice for Injured Workers

No Justice for Injured Workers

By: Ryan Young

While many of us will celebrate the Easter holiday today with friends and family, there will be one man in particular in the hearts and minds of many Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans. This man will not be having dinner with his family this year. This man was killed in his home on Easter Sunday by a member of Premier Paul Davis’ personal security team. This man was Donald Dunphy.

It is doubtful that we will ever know the full story of what went down that fateful day last Easter. The details of the shooting are still not well known. Other than the fact that Mr. Dunphy was in possession of a weapon, and that he was killed, presumably in defense of what the officer felt was a deadly threat, we don’t really know much at all about the case. The subsequent RCMP investigation has now been turned over to police in Alberta for a full review and we will have to wait until that report is completed until we are given any details about the conclusion of the investigations. Justice Minister Andrew Parsons has promised a public inquiry into the shooting and many people in this province are anxious to find out how a few vague tweets that were being investigated by Paul Davis’ personal security detail, ultimately led to the shooting of Mr.Dunphy in his own home on Easter Sunday, 2015.

It is hoped that a public inquiry would shed light on the chain of events that led to the officer visiting Mr. Dunphy’s home by himself on Easter Sunday. It might also offer some insights into what happened inside the house before events took such a dramatic turn. What neither the police investigations nor an inquiry will provide, however, is justice for injured workers in this province. Don Dunphy was well known to politicians as a vocal advocate for injured workers and as being a constant gadfly on social media. His tweets, which were ultimately perceived as threats by the Paul Davis security team, were only the latest in a constant barrage against government members who were doing nothing for people like him. The investigation and the inquiry may or may not give us a glimpse of what happened last Easter, but it is clear that Don Dunphy will not get the true justice that he so desired.

The way our province treats our injured workers is no less than shameful. The stories of poverty and unimaginable bureaucracy are startling and difficult to listen to. Indeed, Newfoundland and Labrador has higher per-capita administration costs than any other province in Canada for Worker’s Compensation. Despite these high costs, the system has lagged behind to the point that they had to add even more administrators to deal with the current backlog of appeals. The bureaucracy is so bad that many people simply give up and go back to work, despite the inherent risk to their personal health. It is simply better to take their chances than to lose everything trying to make your way through the broken system. In many cases they are the lucky ones. For people like Don Dunphy and many others who are unable to work at all, the system just becomes a never-ending nightmare of poverty and despair.

I am sure that each and every MHA elected last fall heard the same story over and over at the doors. There is certainly no shortage of people speaking out about their own personal situations. Yet neither party included in their election platforms, any type of a plan to deal with this inefficient and unjust system. For the thousands of people suffering at the hands of Worker’s Compensation, there needs to be action now. Dwight Ball promised a government that would remove inefficiencies and ensure better accountability to the residents of Newfoundland and Labrador. This would be a golden opportunity for this government to take charge on an issue and prove that they are willing to take action when the bureaucracy becomes too bloated and inefficient. Legislation reform for injured workers is long overdue in this province and if the Liberals are serious about their promise of a more efficient government, taking a good hard look at the Worker’s Compensation system might just be a good place to start.

Nothing we can do will ever bring back Don Dunphy, but we all bear the collective responsibility of ensuring that his death was not in vein. As much as we want to know the truth about what happened last Easter, I think it is just as important that we remember the cause that he would ultimately fight to his death for. By all accounts Mr. Dunphy was a kind and hardworking man that felt betrayed that his government would let him down. His desire to see changes made to the system were what drove him to openly criticize his elected representatives and demand accountability for their continued injustices. All the man ever really wanted was a little bit of dignity.

I will be taking the time to write Premier Dwight Ball today to remind him of what Mr. Dunphy died for, and to ask him not to forget his ultimate sacrifice. I will ask him to stand up for our injured workers and to ensure that they are able to live with the dignity that they deserve. As you all enjoy your holiday, I hope that you can take a few minutes to do the same. The memory of Don Dunphy deserves no less. In the face of all he has given, I think we owe it to Mr. Dunphy to pick up his fight and demand justice for injured workers.

You can reach Premier Ball at

Monday, 21 March 2016

Taking a Look at the School Board Elections Debate

Taking a Look at the School Board Elections Debate

By: Ryan Young

So far since the house opened on March 8th, a large part of question period has been dominated by questions of school closures and the school board elections that the Liberals promised in their platform last fall. Education Minister Dale Kirby was a vocal supporter of school board elections, but over the last two weeks he has faced a barrage of accusations, with many in opposition questioning his support for the issue.

NDP critic Gerry Rogers has been one of Minister Kirby’s most outspoken critics. That is not surprising since one of the schools slated for closure just happens to be in her district. MHA Rogers is simply doing what she was elected to do by representing the wishes of her constituents. I would not expect any less from any member not sitting on the government side. Gerry Rogers is an MHA that is closely connected with the people of her district, and tends to rely on using logic and fact instead of bluster during her questions. While she can be said to be politicizing the issue, she is at least doing so as the voice of the parents in her district that will be directly affected by this decision.

The official opposition PC’s, by comparison, seem determined to make a mountain out of a molehill. While Gerry Rogers is speaking directly on behalf of her constituents who are losing a school, the Tories seem determined to try to use the issue solely to try to score a few political points. The unfortunate thing that the PC party is failing to realize is that their own track record is still fresh in the minds of the public. MHA David Brazil may have been speaking with a kernel of truth when he asked Minister Kirby why school board elections would take a year to implement when the government was able to implement their brand of electoral reform in just a few months. That might indeed be a fair point except for two reasons. The first is that the electoral reform that saw eight seats cut from the House of Assembly last year received a great deal of public outcry from people who thought that the legislation was rushed, and that the boundary commission had failed to consider many aspects that were important to voters in rural districts. The second and most important reason why we can’t take Mr. Brazil’s comments seriously is because it was the PC government, of which he was a cabinet minister, which failed to hold school board elections in the first place, despite promising them within a year back in 2013.

Brazil and the rest of the Tory opposition crew might have actually scored a few positive points if they had pressed Minister Kirby for a specific timeline, but instead they decided to take the low road and stoop to useless pot shots. If the PC party in this province ever wants to rebuild itself in the eyes of the voters they need to abandon this childish bluster and prove that they are willing to eat a little crow and change the direction of the party in anticipation of 2019/2020. With Paul Davis and Co. at the helm I won’t be holding my breath for that to happen anytime soon.

And what about Minister Kirby’s role in all of this? Despite his unnecessary remarks towards the NDP when he was first questioned on the issue, he has been very consistent in his answers. The Liberal party promised during the election to hold democratic school board elections within twelve months. He has been adamant that he is committed to ensuring that the elections will be held in that time frame. No matter what the opposition party may want to throw at the minister, or how many times they refer to his comments while in opposition, unless the elections are not held by November 30, 2016, their arguments don’t really hold any weight. Issues like this are always great for a sound bite for the media but the truth of the matter is that the Liberals asked for a one year mandate to deliver this promise and the voters delivered it to them. So unless December comes and we still have not had the promised elections, Mr. Davis and Mr. Brazil should look for a new issue to grandstand on.

The other issue at hand is the closing of schools by the current un-elected school board. Both opposition parties have criticized the minister for not taking the power of school closures away from the school boards. Dale Kirby has repeatedly stated that the legislation grants all power to close schools to the school boards. It is the law of the land.  While this is 100% true, I always hate that argument from elected officials. They are lawmakers by their very job description. If Minister Kirby wanted to change the legislation and give himself the final say in what schools are closed he could certainly do so, especially when that is what the other parties are asking for. But is that really what we want? Do we want to take that responsibility from the school boards and place it in the hands of the minister? I don’t think so. The whole point of lobbying for elected school boards is to add another layer of democracy to the process by which education funding is allocated. An elected school board, representing districts from all regions of the province, would certainly be expected to be more in tune with the needs of our children and educators than the minister or his staff. While I don’t agree with an un-elected board making the final decision on school closures, I am skeptical of the merit of changing legislation that would need to be reversed in a few months when the elections finally take place.

I understand the frustration of Gerry Rogers, and I get the political motives behind the Tory criticism, but in the magical world of political reality this issue is already dead in the water. As much as I sympathize with the students at Holy Cross, I also understand that difficult decisions have to be made and that we are not all going to agree with them. Minister Kirby has been quite clear in his answers that he intends to stay the course and ensure that the issue is handled correctly. As much as I enjoy a good fight against the government, my advice is for the PC’s and the NDP to let this dog lie a little longer and focus on one of the many other issues where we can try to force the Liberals into enabling positive change. Why keep fighting a losing battle?

Thursday, 17 March 2016

How Newfoundland Nationalism Can Improve Our Place in Canada

How Newfoundland Nationalism Can Improve Our Place in Canada

By: Ryan Young

What is Newfoundland nationalism? That is the question that has been on my mind ever since I attended a public debate on the issue at MUN  last month. Are we a nation? Greg Malone certainly made a good case based on the Oxford-Dictionary definition of the word. But what does nationalism really mean? Each and every person with Newfoundland roots certainly feels a sense of pride at being a Newfoundlander, but what is it that really makes a person a nationalist? If nationalism is a tangible thing, how can we use that sentiment for the greater good of the people of this province?

Our uniqueness, distinct culture and history are certainly the main drivers behind the heavy nationalist sentiment in this province.  Many people are still alive that were born as Newfoundlanders and not as Canadians, and they still hold true to the pride that came with nationhood. Even the most ardent supporters of Confederation could not help but lament on the loss of something profound on that fateful day in 1949. Subsequent battles with Mother Canada over resource rights throughout the decades have ensured that these strong nationalist sentiments have not only been allowed to linger, but have been encouraged to grow into something very real.

The questions raised by people like Greg Malone and others about the legitimacy of our entry in to Confederation may very well be a moot point at this late stage in the game, but as the old adage says; “We must learn from the mistakes of our past, lest we be doomed to repeat them.” I personally hold no doubts about the fact that Newfoundland was maneuvered into Canada more than it was brought into Confederation under its own free will. The facts as they have been presented seem very clear on that issue. Knowing these facts, however, give us little consolation when we consider our current place in Canada.

All Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans will admit that the quality of life has greatly increased since Confederation, but at the same time we developed at a much slower rate than the rest of Canada, despite our massive national resource wealth. Surely not all of the blame can be placed on Canada, it was our own government, led by Joey Smallwood, that facilitated most of the resource giveaways in return for very little gain to the people of the province.  The issue of blame for these blunders does not fall on the shoulders of Canada, but when it became apparent years later that indeed,  very bad deals had been made,  it was the Canadian courts that ruled against Newfoundland and the case for equality between provinces.

The subsequent battles over Churchill Falls, greater control of the fishery, and offshore oil and gas resources have only solidified Newfoundlanders in the idea that we are not seen as an equal partner within Confederation. It is these feelings that lead to such a strong nationalist sentiment in Newfoundland and Labrador, and it has led to many people considering themselves as Newfoundlanders first and Canadians second. It is not that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador are not proud Canadians, in fact quite the opposite is true, but when forced to make the choice, most people identify as Newfoundlanders first.

So how can we use this nationalist sentiment to our advantage? In Ryan Cleary’s statements at the debate he said that he is not a separatist, but it may be time to think about leaving. In essence he said that we must take a budget-line approach to the issue and determine once and for all what the realities would be for an independent Newfoundland.  I completely agree with the idea. If we are ever to really understand our place in Canada we need to look at the history of our union in broad terms of dollars and cents. Does all of the iron ore and hydro-electricity shipped to Canada equal the real cash benefits we receive each year from Ottawa? What else needs to be considered? Should the social impacts also be taken into account? These are all very good questions and to the best of my knowledge there has never been a comprehensive study done to determine the real value of Newfoundland and Labrador as a partner in Confederation. The time has come for us to take a real look at the numbers and settle the issue once and for all.

Some may argue what is the point? We are part of Canada and if we do not plan to separate then why even bother with the trouble? They are valid questions, but the real question that we need to ask is how we can be an equal partner if neither side understands what the real relationship really is. By determining our true place in Canada we will not only be proving to Canadians what we bring to the table, but more importantly we will be proving to ourselves that we more than hold up our end of the deal. Indeed, I am often forced to question the motives of academics who are much quicker to point out the benefits we receive from Canada than the benefits we send the other way. This is an idea that has been perpetuated since the Amulree Report more than 80 years ago and the time has come for Newfoundlanders to realize their own worth and potential.

For those who think such revelations are irrelevant, they need only to look across the Atlantic to Scotland, where a separatist referendum very nearly succeeded in breaking away from the U.K. While the separatists may have lost the referendum, the case they made for an independent Scotland was very clear, and the close results forced the U. K. government to take serious notice of the consequences. Ultimately the whole process led to the U.K. giving Scotland much greater control of its territory and how it spends its money and manages its resources. The U.K. still maintains superiority in matters such as national defense and security, but Scotland gained much greater control of how they manage their own affairs.

So what lessons can we learn from Scotland? Despite the loss, they gained greater respect from the U.K. and the EU and were able to have greater control over their own destiny. The case they made for independence was a factual presentation of the value that Scotland brought into the U.K. and even with a victory for the “no” vote, more people than ever before, both in Scotland and around the world, realized what Scotland was really all about. I believe that is the goal we must keep in our minds as we pursue the knowledge that will liberate us from our traditional self-depreciating views.

If we want to stand beside the other provinces as equals we must stop waiting for them to recognize us. We must instead build a case to show our province and our nation the value that Newfoundland and Labrador brings to Confederation. Only with that knowledge can we ever expect to be respected as an equal partner in Canada. If we do not believe in ourselves how can we expect Canadians to believe in us? In our hearts we all feel that nagging question. The time may have come to finally answer it.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Notes from the Throne: Analysis of Day 1 in the House of Assembly

Notes from the Throne: Analysis of Day 1 in the House of Assembly

By: Ryan Young

Amid all of the pompous charm and largesse on display at Confederation building yesterday, a large number of Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans turned out to hear the maiden speech from the throne from our new premier, Dwight Ball. I am sure some of the more hyper-partisan left the house with equally strong feelings of jubilance and despair, but for the few of us in the gallery with an open mind about what we might learn about the direction our province will be taking in the immediate future, we were left with feelings of confusion and lingering uncertainty. I am no stranger to the jedi-like ability of politicians to talk at length without actually saying anything of substance, and Premier Ball’s first real address to the province confirms that he ranks very high up on the list of premiers with that ability.

Flanked by the justices of the Supreme Court, Lieutenant Governor Frank Fagan began the speech prepared by Premier Ball by marking 2016 as the 100th anniversary of the battle of Beaumont Hamel and acknowledging March 8 as International Women’s Day. The niceties didn’t last long, however, and he quickly got down to business with the promise of a “new approach” promising better management, long-term planning, and an open government. None of this was exactly new information, as Fagan reiterated the common themes we have heard from Mr. Ball, including:

  • Restore Openness, Transparency and Accountability;
  • Build a Stronger, Smarter Economy;
  • Improve Health and Healthcare;
  • Support Safe and Sustainable Communities; and
  • Invest in Our Future Through Education.
As the first testament to the new open and transparent approach, the government will introduce legislation to establish an Independent Appointments Commission and to require a merit-based process for various appointments. The purpose of the act will be to remove politics from government appointments and promises a non-partisan approach to screening and approving appointments.

The Lieutenant Governor soon moved on to address the dire fiscal situation of the province, quoting the premier’s insistence that “addressing the serious fiscal reality is my government’s top priority.” Citing the drop in oil prices and a ballooning debt, the speech outlined the major initiatives the government will implement including:

  • Identify a combination of measures to increase revenues and reduce expenditures;
  • Eliminate waste and identify opportunities to do things better and more efficiently;
  • Modernize the role of government in the provision of public services; and
  • Establish multi-year fiscal targets.

 Perhaps the most ominous moment of the speech came next with the statement. “The choices ahead of us will not be easy; everyone will have to accept some level of sacrifice in the months and years ahead if we are to provide critical services, while restoring accountability and stability to government finances.” What exactly that means is anybody’s guess. Premier Ball and his team are certainly holding those cards close to their collective chests, despite all of the talk about openness and transparency.
There was mention of infrastructure improvements and innovation development, including investing in our tourism industry and the fishery:Government will support harvesting, processing, marketing, and aquaculture initiatives in order to diversify and increase the overall viability and competitiveness of the Newfoundland and Labrador seafood industry. We will work closely with the seafood industry to market local seafood internationally, providing market research and intelligence, and contributing to eco-certification initiatives. We have reconvened the All-Party Committee on Northern Shrimp Allocations to present a united provincial voice on this important matter. My Government understands that the continued application of the federal “Last In, First Out” policy, in the face of a declining shrimp resource, will have major negative impacts on people and communities throughout our province. My Government is planning for the return of the cod fishery. We will form a Fisheries Advisory Council that will create a strategic action plan on cod revitalization. In collaboration with communities, industry and the Federal Government, this plan will focus on environmental sustainability, harvesting, processing innovation and marketing.”
It all sounds very good, but again, there is no clear plan to how the premier expects to achieve these goals. In fact it was only a short time ago that premier Ball announced that his government was considering cutting provincial funding for fisheries research after a meeting with federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Hunter Tootoo. It makes us regular joe public types wonder just what vision this government really has for the fishery. Talks about advisory councils are all well and good but what our fishery needs right now is swift and decisive action, not more pandering and empty words.
Fagan continued on with promises of a Serious Incident Response Team in reaction to calls for a civilian-led organization to investigate serious investigations involving police, as well as a full review of the operational and organizational requirements of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. He also read plans for education and early childhood development reviews and more support for LGBTQ community.
A few other social issues such as poverty, mental health and addictions, and housing received basic lip service in the speech, but there were no real commitments given to facilitate change on any of these important issues. As has been so often the case for Premier Ball, the speech language was heavy on words but light on substance.
Mr. Fagan finished the inaugural Throne Speech from Premier Ball by saying; “The choices ahead will not be easy, but we will always make them based on evidence, with a fundamental belief in openness and transparency. All Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans will be a part of the solutions, as we build that stronger tomorrow. The unprecedented fiscal situation we find ourselves in requires an unprecedented response. And Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans will rise to the challenge. Together, we will overcome our immediate challenges, and build a solid foundation for a sustainable future.”
With the speech out of the way, the Supreme Court justices were ushered out of the house and new speaker Tom Osbourne brought to order the first sitting of the House of Assembly under the new Liberal government. Opposition leader Paul Davis wasted no time attacking the new premier, citing Dwight Ball’s lack of a plan as the “biggest issue facing the people of the province.” NDP House Leader Lorraine Michael also gave a fiery and impassioned speech, saying that the “ordinary residents of Newfoundland and Labrador didn’t create the mess we’re in, and they should not be forced to pay for the cleanup.” Both opposition speeches were very good and on-point, but you can bet that it won’t be long before we see them resorting to the familiar he said-she said shouting across the floor of the house.
So what can we lowly peasants take away from the 2016 Throne Speech? The term much ado about nothing comes to mind as we didn’t actually find out any new indications of the methods that Premier Ball and his team will be implementing to steer us back down the right path to future prosperity. The premier promised that a budget will be delivered in a month beginning with the letter “A” or the letter “M”, which I am sure, was his best attempt at a joke. I guess we will have to wait until then to see if this new open and transparent government will finally let us in on the plan or if we will have to wait another anxious year.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Why It’s Time to Forget About Sprung

Why It’s Time to Forget About Sprung

By Ryan Young

Mention the word “greenhouse” anywhere in Newfoundland and Labrador and you get the customary rolling of eyes, sneers, and snickers from anyone within earshot of the discussion. Even respectable, well-educated people shuffle their feet and feel uncomfortable with the mention of the idea of growing our own food. That one terrible S-word stands trembling at the very edge of their lips. “Are you daft me’son?” Their looks could say. “Haven’t you ever heard of Sprung?”

Ah yes, the Sprung Greenhouse, Brian Peckford’s pet project to grow hydroponic vegetables in Mount Pearl. I was only a young boy in the late-eighties, but I can clearly remember the endless stories on the news about Sprung. Oh what a disaster! What a terrible short sighted waste of taxpayer money! Researching media reports from the time, it is almost hard to fathom how much coverage was given to the project. If you didn’t know better you would think the whole thing had cost the province billions of dollars instead of the actual investment of $22 Million. I understand the justification for being critical of any failed government investment, but if there is such a thing as media overkill, the Newfoundland journalists of the late eighties were demonstrating the very definition of the words in their reporting of the Sprung project. After a decade and a half of Tory rule in the province, people were ready for a change and Sprung became the flash-point for the collective frustrations of the media and the public.

It is certainly true that Sprung had its fair share of problems, but we must remember that it was a revolutionary project for its time. Despite its many issues it did manage to produce over 800 000 cucumbers during its short life. Many of the major problems with the project were supply issues. Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans just don’t eat that many cucumbers. In light of the recent #picklegeddon fiasco in the province right now, I wonder if anyone had considered building an adjacent mustard pickle factory to commercialize the whole operation.

Many issues contributed to the failure of the project but it was the political pandering and media scrutiny that meant that the idea of greenhouses in Newfoundland and Labrador would forever be viewed as a dreamer’s folly. If at first you don’t succeed, give up and never try again. The provincial government in the mid-eighties was in tune with our food security shortcomings and was taking proactive action on the issue. I have often viewed Peckford as a premier who was before his time, and Sprung certainly reinforces that idea.  Recognizing a great need and a well-timed opportunity, Peckford took a leap of faith on Sprung.  At the time it was new science and unproven technology but the project had great potential for success.

Despite the shortcomings of Sprung’s technology, location, and market issues, the basic idea of greenhouses in this province was actually a very good one. It would allow us to extend our traditional growing season and produce a wider variety of crops. If, instead of washing our hands of the whole mess, we had applied the lessons learned from Sprung and combined them with new technologies and a different variety of crops, it may have had a tremendous effect on the availability of fresh produce in the province. Who knows, perhaps it would even have curtailed some of our obesity and other health issues that have led to the current bloated and unsustainable healthcare costs we are struggling with.

When it came to food security and the agrifood industry, the rest of Canada was not willing to give so easily. Over the past 25 years, the greenhouse industry has enjoyed tremendous growth throughout the country. In 1991 there were 361 hectares of greenhouse growth. By 2014 that number was over 1400 hectares. And it’s not just cucumbers and tomatoes either. Growers from British Columbia to the Maritimes are using the latest advances in technology to increase yields and are experimenting more and more with new varieties. The incentive to do so is certainly there. The current total value of greenhouse sales in Canada topped $2.7 Billion in 2014.

Sadly, here in Newfoundland the idea of greenhouses has been relegated to the realm of fantasy and make believe. After all of the bad press and relentless criticism from Clyde Wells and the Liberal opposition of the day, no self-respecting bureaucrat would ever approve government funding for a greenhouse project again. Who would risk facing the ire and ridicule of the media and question period? Surely we had learned our lesson from Peckford’s great greenhouse gaffe. That is why any new technology or scientific data to support cold climate agriculture of any sort has so often been dismissed by the public as being unrealistic or un-viable here. Certainly no politician would dare stick their neck out on the issue, despite the collective moaning of the masses about nine dollar cauliflower and six dollar celery.  It is very sad to think that at least two generations of Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans blindly accept the fact that we can’t grow our own food. I wonder if they ever stop to wonder how people ever survived here for hundreds of years. Then again I often wonder if some people ever stop to think at all, but again I digress.

Our inaction on food security and outright fear of even mentioning the “G” word has currently created a perfect storm. Soaring costs of fresh food leads to people eating cheaper processed foods, which ultimately leads to poorer nutrition outcomes and a greater overall burden on the entire healthcare system.  Many families just can’t afford to eat healthy, and the problem is compounded by other external factors such as ferry disruptions and droughts and other environmental factors in produce producing regions. If we are going to be able to provide a sustainable plan for health and wellness initiatives in this province, food security needs to be a big part of the discussion. We can’t afford to sit on our hands and mutter about a 30 year old project.

So what can we do? I firmly believe that the Liberals need to invest in rural agriculture initiatives and to re-examine our position on greenhouses. Certainly the technology has evolved to the point where we can set aside the old attitudes and try again? Words like economic diversity get thrown around quite a bit at the political level, but by investing in agriculture we have a real opportunity to actually create new, sustainable employment opportunities in rural areas of the province. At the same time we are being proactive in moving towards accomplishing future food security goals. What have we got to lose? Minister Christopher Mitchelmore seems to be attentive to the issues but with our current financial situation he will be hard pressed to convince the cabinet to approve the cash to get our agriculture industry moving in the right direction.

There are many ways the government can work to be proactive. Current issues in the media such as net-metering and backyard chickens highlight the need for a provincial strategy to encourage agricultural growth in Newfoundland and Labrador. In May 2012 the Harris Center at Memorial University published a report by A. James Quinlan titled “Building Agricultural Capacity in Newfoundland and Labrador.” The report outlines the many food security challenges that we are facing and examines the decline of farming in Newfoundland and Labrador since Confederation. In 1935, Newfoundland reached its peak number of farms at 4226. By 2006 that number had dropped to just 558. In relation to that statistic, the most recent provincial “Vital Signs” report issued by the Harris Center called our agricultural production “shameful.”  Our current farmland per capita is 0.06 hectares compared to 0.4 hectares in Nova Scotia, and the Canadian average of 1.19 hectares.

To improve our capacity and to ensure that the industry is professionalized, the Quinlan report offers some solutions to some of the major problems. It proposes a scholarship program to train young farmers in other provinces to bridge the knowledge gap while we develop our own agricultural college as an arm of the Grenfell campus of MUN located on the west coast. The report emphasizes that food is fundamental to life. It shapes our health, influences our actions, and helps us connect with one another. Quinlan argues that investing in an agricultural college would be more than just investing in education, job opportunities, capacity, and infrastructure; it is an investment in our culture. The report recommends changes to subsidies to encourage small scale producers to participate in the industry, modernized legislation and improvements in grading and inspection facilities to ensure the safety and availability of local food products, and creation of an organization to provide business and marketing support to small scale agricultural producers.  It suggests looking at ideas such as a co-operative for grading and candling of local eggs to encourage greater market participation by these small scale farms. The conclusions of the report are clear. Increasing the agricultural capacity of this province is essential to enabling the people of Newfoundland and Labrador to be self-reliant and food secure.

Who knows if Sprung would have worked if it was given more time to develop or if different crops and/or markets had been researched? Could we have had a thriving hydroponics industry with cheap local produce? We will never know the answer to that question, but we do know that the time is right to shake of the dust and try it again. After all, we have to do something to relieve the strain of importing expensive outside food and the added costs to our ailing healthcare system. We could do it if the will was there. It’s happening everywhere else. So what are we waiting for? We just need to forget about Sprung.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Can the People Stand up to Mighty Muskrat?

Can the People Stand up to Mighty Muskrat?

By: Ryan Young

Finance Minister Cathy Bennett is telling the people of Newfoundland and Labrador that “everything is on the table,” but is that actually the case? Premier Ball has continued to reject the idea of public service layoffs, and most recently Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady clearly stated that the Muskrat Falls mega-project was most certainly “off the table.” This statement came on the heels of two former Liberal Premiers , Brian Tobin and Roger Grimes, advising Premier Ball to take a hard look at Muskrat Falls and possibly postponing it or scrapping the project altogether.

As Brad Cabana pointed out in his recent post; “The Muskrat Liberals,” the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador has been in favor of the project since the very beginning. It should come as no surprise then that they seem determined to hold on like the Captain going down with the Titanic. Speaking of going down with the ship, Danny Williams and Kathy Dunderdale were smart enough to jump off the boat just before the iceberg hit. They may be the ones that the public direct their ire towards right now, but it won’t be long before Dwight Ball and his Liberals will own what will probably go down as the biggest mistake in Newfoundland history. At least Joey got investors to pay for building the dam at Churchill Falls.

You can’t read a blog post or listen to an open-line show these days without hearing about the seemingly endless issues with the Muskrat Falls project. If Siobhan Coady is so sure that full steam ahead is the only course of action, then maybe she should explain to the people of the province how this project is still the best cost option. She should also be forthcoming with what the actual ramifications would be if the project were to be scrapped. It seems that nobody at Nalcor, the DNR, PUB or the media has access to that particular information.

There has been no shortage of analysis and fact checking by expert bloggers such as Uncle Gnarley and the Sir Robert Bond Papers. They have taken on the cause of real openness and transparency for the project from the very beginning. The case has been made many times that Nalcor has not been honest with the people and it continues even now as they are trying to justify a rate hike with the PUB in order to meet increased thermal generating needs.

Hearing former premier Tom Marshall stumbling his way through a CBC Crosstalk show this week, talking about the benefits of the profits from Muskrat Falls, was downright embarrassing. The fact that the former premier was still willing to talk publicly about profits is astounding. The best estimates of the amount of revenue we could earn by selling “spot power” on the open market is around $80 Million. When you compare that with the interest payments that could end up being in excess of $300 Million annually, it really makes one question the logic of the argument. Then there is, of course, the fact that any actual profit that the province makes from Muskrat Falls power will come through rate-hikes for the residents of Newfoundland and Labrador. The ten cents a kilowatt hour people are paying in Newfoundland now will double at the very least, but will most likely be in excess of thirty cents by the time all cost overruns, first power delays, and interest payments are factored in.

I won’t even delve into the issues of the North Spur or the Methyl Mercury concerns. Those issues are being written and talked about by people who have much more knowledge on those particular topics than I do. These issues are not going to go away though. Sooner or later someone is going to need to step up and address these legitimate concerns. In particular, an evacuation plan for downstream residents needs to become a priority for the current government. If the North Spur does fail, and no contingency plan is in place, the possible loss of life and property will become a noose around the neck of those in charge. It is very easy for people to talk about the benefits of the project when they don’t live in Mud Lake.

Just when you might be thinking, WOW, that is quite a bit to take in, we must also consider the implications of the court battle with Quebec  for water management rights of the Churchill River. If the courts rule in favor of Quebec, and they probably will, it is quite likely that we will have to compensate them for use of the water flowing through Muskrat Falls. It may also affect how much power is able to be generated at Muskrat if the current trend that is leaving our reservoirs at all-time low water levels (according to Nalcor) continues. This could result in the loss of any ability we might have had to turn a “profit” from the project, and most likely power rates will rise even more to pay the folks at Hydro-Quebec who will be laughing all the way to the bank, again.

So what can the rest of us do? How can we lowly citizens make a difference in the face of billions of dollars and thousands of bureaucrats? No amount of grassroots action will be able to stop the project now. That ship has long sailed. But maybe if the people start to speak up together we can at least get some honesty from the people in charge. Issues like Methyl Mercury and the North Spur need to be addressed.  The implications of us losing the water management rights case also needs to be addressed. And more importantly we need to examine the process by which the project was sanctioned in the first place. We might not have the power to stop the mighty muskrat from being built, but we do have the power to demand the hard truth of what this project is going to cost the people of this province for generations to come.

Many Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans that so willingly drank the Muskrat Kool-Aid are finally waking up to the reality of the magnitude and bad timing of this boondoggle.  It seems that we are finally seeing the writing that has been on the proverbial wall for a long, long time. If the calls to open-line shows are any indication of public opinion regarding the project, it is clear that people are beginning to take notice. If they are not paying attention now they certainly will be as soon as the first wave of power rate-hikes start making a noticeable difference in their household bottom line.  Can we harness this powerful public sentiment and force the governments to act on the issue? Maybe, but only if people are willing to take the power into their own hands and act collectively.

People are desperately looking for someone to take leadership on this issue. The Consumer Advocate and the PUB have repeatedly dropped the ball by failing to act in the best interest of the public and with Minister Coady’s recent statements, it is clear that the provincial government has decided to follow the path of their predecessors by keeping their heads buried firmly in the sand. At one point during the election campaign last fall, Dwight Ball said that he believed in the Muskrat Falls project, but that there needed to be changes in the management of the project. For those who noticed, it might have seemed a contradiction when the premier told the public that he had the utmost confidence in the management of Ed Martin, Gilbert Bennett, and the rest of the team of top decision makers at Nalcor. It makes you wonder who is really pulling the strings when a premier can have such a major change in opinion in just a few short weeks.

It has always been difficult to get people together in this province to take on the powers that be, but when needed the will of the people has been able to stop bad decisions in their tracks. Just look to Clyde Wells’ plan to privatize Hydro. If we fail to act now how many generations of our children will have to pay for this colossal mistake? We need to stand together to send a loud and clear message to the Premier that if he wants to have his job long enough to get comfortable, he is going to have to listen up and do better. He ran on “real change” and “a stronger tomorrow” and the people of this province will accept nothing less. If Dwight does not have the might then it is our duty to take back the power in the name of the people. We can do it. I’m ready. Who‘s with me?