15 August 2009

Missing in Action: the 2006 economic policy review

In 2006, Danny Williams decided he needed to take a second look at the economic development plans he was following.

"Over the past two years we have undertaken strategic initiatives that are significant planks in our economic development agenda," Premier Danny Williams said. "Now, halfway through our mandate, it is time to take stock of what has been initiated to date, and move to the next phase to ensure our development strategies are being carried out in an integrated, co-ordinated fashion, in line with our original goals."

He appointed Doug House to “lead the process”.

The process was supposed to lead to some called an “integrated provincial development plan”.

So where the heck is it?

Missing in action, apparently.

In April 2008, House quietly slipped back to his real job as a sociology professor at Memorial University. There’s absolutely no reference in his resume to what he did after the 2006 news release other than to mention he was a deputy minister.

There’s a mention in his biographical sketch of the work he did but no title for the final report or indeed any sign that there was a final plan produced after two years of work.  In fact the only thing House mentions in his bio is being a “key contributor” to the 2003 Tory party platform, although he doesn’t call it that.  Likely that was the chapter that paraphrased the 1992 Strategic Economic Plan.

Now maybe there’s a good reason for all that.  Maybe the plan doesn’t exist.  Maybe it doesn’t exist because of a fundamental difference of opinion between Doug House and some others  - or maybe just one big other - in the current administration. 

You see, going back to the 1986 report of the Royal Commission on Employment and Unemployment, House has been one of those who has rejected the megaproject model for local economic development.  You know megaprojects:  things like Hebron, Hibernia South and the Lower Churchill.

You can find a good description of the report – titled Building on our strengths – in House’s memoir of his time at the Economic Recovery Commission in the 1990s.  House defined what he viewed as the attitude of the Old Guard within the bureaucracy.  They combined the industrialization policy of the Smallwood era with the resource-management focus of the Peckford years.  The result was a focus on big projects Hibernia, Voisey’s Bay and the Lower Churchill which were – and are – often described as the “last chance” for the province.  This same Old Guard view rejected or was suspicious of the potential for  small scale industrial development, agrifoods, and aquaculture.

The Old Guard  - the attitudes that House fought against from 1989 to 1996 - also believes in an expanded federal presence in the province comprising things like a federal penitentiary and defence bases.

Now it shouldn’t take too much energy for someone to realise that the economic development policies of the current administration heavily favour large scale industrial development projects.  Other stuff  like forestry and agriculture and the list House mentioned don’t get nearly as much attention.  There is a bit of cash thrown at them in the budget but when it comes to capturing the attention of the real decision maker(s) in the current administration, if it isn’t really big it just doesn’t exist.

With all that as background, it’s really no wonder House left government.  What’s really amazing is that he stayed as long as he did.