25 January 2010

How bad is it?

You just know things are pretty tense in Corner Brook.

You can tell because the provincial government has been pouring on the happy-talk while over at the city’s major employer, the company operating the paper mill is looking for a 10% wage roll-back from employees.

The latest happy-talk is a hope-drenched a study on the oil and gas potential for the west coast.

According to the official news release, the study was commissioned based on an election commitment from 2003. 

That’s okay. 

We can wait while you go and check your calendars again.

Yes, it was indeed seven years ago.

The work on this particular report, though, was only done in 2008.  Check the dates on some of the consultation sessions;  that’s the only way to figure out the timelines for sure since most of the document has been scrubbed of dates. You can hunt around and eventually find the news release that kicked it off, from December 2007. 

That would make it a bit more than two years for this study to see the light of day.

After all that time and all that work, the recommendations are stunning: 

  • Ensure a regulatory and administrative environment to maximize investment in onshore and offshore exploration and attract industry operators and businesses to the region;
  • Ensure the protection of key natural resource areas, including Gros Morne National Park, the Humber Valley and the Bay of Islands;
  • Establish a clear environmental regime between the provincial and federal governments;
  • Continue to improve infrastructure in the region through investments in education, health-care facilities, transportation and commercial land availability;
  • Encourage the planning, regeneration and use of existing infrastructure, including that in Port aux Basques, Stephenville, Corner Brook, Deer Lake, Port Saunders and St. Anthony, to ensure it continues to support existing economic sectors;
  • Maintain and upgrade infrastructure specific to the needs of potential hydrocarbon projects, including wharves and air facilities at Corner Brook and Stephenville;
  • Facilitate the training of local residents to help them meet the demand for skills in this emerging sector;
  • Continue to invest in public education, health care, cultural and recreational opportunities to serves the needs of the region; and,
  • Continue to promote the western region as a place of opportunity for business investment and families.
  • In a nutshell:  fix the roads, spend money on things like education and health care, protect the ecologically sensitive and important bits (like Gros Morne)  and “promote” the potential in the area.

    They are about as surprising as the recommendations made by the task force that spent 18 months trying to figure out how to keep more young people from leaving the province.  Its major conclusion:  create work for them so they can find jobs and stay here.

    All standard. 

    All patently obvious.

    Nothing concrete and measurable.

    Like explaining what is meant by “[e]nsure a regulatory and administrative environment to maximize investment in onshore and offshore exploration and attract industry operators and businesses to the region.” 

    Maybe there is a tax issue here or problems with issuing permits. You won’t find anything in the report to explain what this means.

    And the stuff that appears to be specific  - like the suggestion to “twin” selected portions of the Trans-Canada between Port aux Basques and St. John’s as needed – is actually just a confirmation of what has been government policy since 1988.  Under the roads for rails agreement, the provincial government used federal cash to do exactly that.  And yes, for those who need reminding that would be from the last time the Conservatives formed the provincial government.

    So what are these study guys talking about 20 years later?

    Not a heckuva lot, apparently, given that any administration at any time can claim:

    • to have either already done that or,
    • to be doing exactly what was recommended as it carries out the existing maintenance of the existing road.

    Look in vain and you will not find a single thing in this 71 pages of pure bumpf is tied to  drilling more holes, finding oil and getting it into production.

    Things seem to be pretty tense in Corner Brook these days.  That’s just as they have been in other towns in this province since 2003 when the major employer found itself in hard financial straits.

    What’s most interesting since 2003, though, has not been the problems themselves but how the provincial government has reacted to each development.

    The oil and gas study released on Monday seems to be very much par for the course, very much a sign of the times.