03 July 2007

The Real Change: 1991 and changed provincial government attitudes

Think profits, Wells urges Newfoundland
The Ottawa Citizen.
Sep 11, 1991
Page. D.3

ST. JOHN'S (CP) _ Newfoundlanders have to start thinking more about profits and less about handouts if they're ever going to catch up with other Canadians, Premier Clyde Wells said Tuesday.

''We have to recognize that profit is not a dirty word,'' Wells said after releasing a discussion paper his government is using to develop an economic strategy for the country's poorest province.

''Our whole approach to being jealous or envious of somebody or feeling somebody's made too much has got to change. We've got to think in terms of providing opportunities for our people to increase their wealth.''

The governing Liberals are facing an age-old problem - diversifying Newfoundland's economy to make it more self-reliant in the face of an ailing fishery and a far-flung population.

But there's new urgency to the task, said Wells, given lower-than-expected transfer payments from the federal government in recent years.

''Our future is essentially at stake,'' said Wells. ''We're at the end. The federal government can't go much further.

''We cannot continue to prop up any fishing businesses that, in the end, do not contribute to the economy.''

The 65-page consultation report suggests some means of spurring growth, including tax breaks for investors and foreign trade zones for Newfoundland ports of entry where goods may enter and leave without paying duty.

The report will be used to solicit public input this fall and help shape a final plan - due early next year - to enliven the province's fortunes.

It was immediately slammed by Opposition members as a rehash of old ideas and a breach of Wells's 1989 election promise to put an economic recovery plan in place right away.

''Nothing new is happening at all,'' said Tory Leader Tom Rideout, who is stepping down this week. ''We're going back over the same territory . . . completed six years ago.''

Wells brushed off criticism, saying it's a new approach that relies heavily on the public and will serve the province for decades down the road.

Analysts have painted a rosy picture of Newfoundland's economy this year, mostly becuase of the giant Hibernia offshore oil project.

But Wells said it will likely take some 25 years of staying several percentage points ahead of the country's growth in gross domestic product before Newfoundland reaches the national average.

''The most we could do is put us on that road and have us well along the road,'' said Wells.

Some good fortune could cut down on that time-frame, including more oil ventures and signing a deal with Quebec to develop hydroelectric power on the lower Churchill River. A resurgence of dwindling cod stocks would also help recovery.