09 October 2009

Blooms and roses

News reports about a climb in the number of jobs across the country buried a key aspect of the story, as in this example from the Globe.

But there was a catch. Much of the private sector has yet to start hiring again. The job growth was due to 36,000 positions added in the public sector, while the private sector shed 17,100 jobs, in sectors such as transportation, professional services and accommodation. Private sector employment has dropped 3.9 per cent over the past year.

That was paragraph four, long after the stuff about huge gains and ones bigger than expected.

Now this is a rather interesting revelation in light of economic developments in Newfoundland and Labrador.

You see the boom on the northeast Avalon isn’t being fuelled by the offshore.  It’s coming entirely from massive increases in public sector hiring, public sector wage increases and a huge jump in public sector spending.

The most recent round of ‘stimulus’ spending for capital works is just more cash in on top of the gigantic increases in public spending over the past four years. That would be the “unsustainable” ones for those who missed the drama of the past few weeks.

Incidentally, the guy who revelled in boosting spending beyond the levels that the economy could support is back in charge of the cash box.  He proudly noted for listeners of one local call-in show that the province currently outspends Alberta on a per person basis just as it has done for most of the past decade and a half.

Yet for all that, the province just shed 4200 full-time jobs between August and September 2009 and there are 3100 fewer full-times jobs this September compared to last.

All this should lead people to be a bit cautious about predicting the end of the recession and the quick return to happier times. 

Here in this province, the current provincial economy is sustained by huge levels of public sector spending.  But that just isn’t going to work given the anticipated drop in oil production over the next four years.  Even if the global economy rebounds, crude oil prices aren’t likely to hit levels double and triple what they are today:  that’s the sort of prices the provincial government would need to keep up its current spending.

No one should be surprised, therefore, that the premier and his new health minister – the guy who used to be finance minister – just headed out to a by-election and pulled a fast one on the locals.

Come help us figure out cuts to the building cost, they said, so you can keep lab and x-ray services.  What they didn’t point out is that the savings needed are not the $200,000 in annual operating costs but the millions in construction costs.

In Lewisporte, for example, estimated costs for the new combination seniors home and acute care clinic skyrocketed from $22 million to $42 million before they even got to thinking about putting the first shovel in the ground.  In order to contain costs, government scrapped the acute care bit for a saving of $10 million.

But do the math. 

In order to restore the acute care centre and its anticipated cost of $10 million, the locals in Lewisporte will have to cut out one third of the beds – at least – in the new chronic care centre in order to get laboratory and x-ray service back.

So where are those old people supposed to go?

That’s a very good question.

Too bad the current administration doesn’t have an answer even though the problem and a viable solution have been available  - but ignored - for over a decade.