For some reason the abstract of a speech given recently by Doug House has attracted some attention. The speech itself isn't available online, but an abstract - a summary - is to be found at Simon Fraser University's Centre for Coastal Studies.
I say "for some reason" since, on the face of it, this paper did little more than describe the reality of the province currently. It's hard to imagine what is controversial or contentious about saying that "the current government finds itself under enormous pressure to prop up hurting communities, households and individuals through make-work, income support and the further overexploitation of endangered fish stocks. This vies with and threatens to undermine genuine efforts at rural industrial diversification from both government and community-based agencies."
Is this not the case? Is the Williams government not under pressure to provide make-work projects and income support?
Since people might be interested in what Doug has to say about other subjects, check out the rest of the Simon Fraser Centre's studies on oil and gas, coastal societies and similar topics. You'll find that back in 2000, Doug and a number of others with great experience in the local offshore oil sector discussed events in Newfoundland and Labrador over the past 25 years.
In the meantime, here's the abstract of House's latest speech. See if you find anything problematic or controversial in it.
Update: An alert reader noted in an e-mail that the St. John's Census Metropolitan Area accounts for about 35% of the population and holds about 34% of the seats in the House of Assembly.
The knowledgeable correspondent notes that as such "rural" parts of the province don't hold a preponderance of seats in the provincial legislature that is in any ways out of whack with the population and the allotment of seats.
Maybe the issue for House isn't with the preponderance of seats but rather that the demands for various government supports works against other efforts at economic development and diversification. That's the last sentence of the abstract in slightly different words.
Oil, Fish and Social Change in Newfoundland and Labrador:
Lessons for British Columbia
Wednesday January 11, 2006
4:00 PM, Halpern Centre, Simon Fraser University
During the past 20 years, the economy and society of Newfoundland and Labrador have been undergoing significant change. Oil, which has earlier been conceptualized as a "strong staple," has been in the ascendancy; while fish, a "weak staple," has been in decline. The places where the production of these two staples is centred have also changed significantly. Although exploration and production take place hundreds of kilometres offshore, oil company operations, most service and supply activities, research and development, education and training, and the public sector management and administration of this new industry occur almost exclusively within St. John's and the surrounding north east Avalon region of the province. The oil industry has also been a major catalyst for the growth of a marine technology cluster in St. John's, which also benefits from having Memorial University, the College of the North Atlantic, significant physical infrastructure, an airport, a harbour and the seat of government all located within a few square kilometres. Wealth, employment and population are becoming ever-more concentrated in this region.
At the same time, the decline in groundfish stocks, concern about shellfish stocks, and cut-backs to Employment Insurance payments for plant workers (but not fishers) have undermined the economic base of many fishing communities, the traditional outports of coastal Newfoundland and Labrador. People are leaving the outports, not just for mainland Canada but also for St. John's and the larger regional resource and service towns. Newfoundland and Labrador is rapidly becoming urbanized. Even the province's vibrant cultural industries - music, drama, literature, film - although drawing on a somewhat romanticized rural past are, with some notable exceptions, based in and contribute to the further growth of the city. More tourists flock to George Street than to Gros Morne or Twillingate.
What does all this mean for government decision-making and policy? Given the preponderance of rural seats in the legislature, the rhetoric continues to favour rural development. Although committed in principle to "real" economic growth in rural areas through better management of the fisheries and longterm industrial diversification, the current government finds itself under enormous pressure to prop up hurting communities, households and individuals through make-work, income support and the further overexploitation of endangered fish stocks. This vies with and threatens to undermine genuine efforts at rural industrial diversification from both government and community-based agencies.