18 November 2008

The bits they didn't say

A youth conference discussing ways of keeping young people in the province.

A speech by the Premier, including the comment:

"It is by making sound choices in the coming years, both individually and as one team, that we will be able to remove the word 'outmigration' from our vocabularies in the same way that we removed the word 'have-not,' " Williams said during a speech.

That quote from a CBC news story includes comments from two participants, one of whom uses very familiar phrases:

"I don't think it needs to be Alberta wages," Snow said. "I'm not looking for Alberta. I love Newfoundland and Labrador and I love St. Anthony. I just want to stay — Newfoundland is home."

The old homing pigeon drive.

or these comments from the voice of the cabinet minister version:

Twenty year old St. Anthony native Kara Snow says Newfoundland and Labrador is a proud strong determined province and the people here have a lot of things to show that.

Jonathan Earle from Red Bay, Labrador says he thinks the Youth Retention and Attraction Strategy is a step in the right direction.

Proud. Strong. Determined.

Nothing like a political party slogan or, for that matter, a fellow attending the conference.

And Kara and Jonathan are, evidently just two young people attending this conference, they being typical of young people across Newfoundland and Labrador who are, quite naturally interested in these things on a go forward basis.

Typical they might be but they do have a couple of features that make them stand out, features left out of the news stories.

Like the fact that the conference or summit was by invitation only, meaning that those in attendance were selected by the provincial government and its hired consultant.  Not so much a gathering of people driven by their own interests as much as a carefully selected group.  Carefully selected according to some unknown criteria;  perhaps their ability to spout talking points or their enthusiasm for the official views.

Certainly it is not for new ideas since the original news release and the stuff just recently speaks of discovering what young people are prepared to give up.  Government is apparently less interested in creating an environment that promotes excellence and accomplishment and more one based on "an understanding of the trade-offs and choices young people are prepared to make."

The homing pigeon policy. 

We can solve outmigration, to go back to the Premier's speech, not by innovation and creativity but by figuring out how little people are prepared to settle for. Or in Kara's construction, people should expect to make less money since she does not want "Alberta", she wants something else, called Newfoundland and Labrador.

How edifying a notion.

How far the opposite of "have" could one get when by the very words they use the Premier and the people at his conference accept notions that limit everyone to accepting less than might be attained elsewhere.

This is fundamentally the opposite of the approach set by government, based on genuine consultation, in the years when most of these young people were toddlers, in diapers or not even thought of.  The 1992 strategic economic plan - Change and challenge - set as its vision "an enterprising, educated , distinctive and prosperous people working together to create a competitive economy based on innovation, creativity, productivity and quality." 

There was no need to ask young people what it would take to get them to stay here.  For the most part, people leave because elsewhere offers greater personal and financial opportunities.  The solution to ending outmigration lay in creating a province in which wealth - genuine "have" status - could be found at home.  Creating wealth - the synonym is "prosperity"  - came from unleashing talent and creativity, of daring against the best in the world. 

In 1992, staying in Newfoundland and Labrador did not have to mean compromise.  In 2008, compromising, settling, accepting less is the stated foundation of government strategy.  In 1992, compromise was rejected;  in 2008, it is embraced.

But then there is the other bit about Kara and Jonathan and likely a bunch of others at the session.  These are not just any young people but part of the group selected already by the provincial government to work with the consultants:

A Youth Advisory Panel will provide ongoing advice on the project’s research design and the development of materials such as dialogue workbooks.

This project seems less about research, of finding out what people want and more about confirming a pre-determined set of ideas, of guiding people along a path.

Certainly, if the familiar phrases used by the conference organizers and presented as ostensibly unvarnished opinion is any guide, the strategy is working.

It's always the stuff they don't tell you that is more revealing.