21 January 2013

Populations #nlpoli

Ross Reid has a new job. 

He used to be federal fisheries minister. 

Since 2003 or so, Ross has been a deputy minister in the provincial government.

Lots of people got excited last week when Premier Kathy Dunderdale announced that Reid would be deputy minister responsible for the provincial government’s population growth strategy.

Yeah, well, maybe people need to take a closer look before they get their knickers in a bunch.

Ross got a new job of December 17, even though Kathy didn’t announce it until a month later.  Remember though, that back in October, Kathy bashed together a bunch of odds and sods bits of the bureaucracy  into a new Office of Citizen Engagement.  Two deputy ministers went in, only one could come out and as it turned out, Ross wasn’t the one who got to stay in the new pseudo-department as deputy minister.

Spare deputy minister.

Party stalwart.

Not gonna be left collecting pogey.

So after a couple of months, they put him in charge of something.  The "what" he'd be doing was irrelevant.

But wait you scream, Kathy Dunderdale told reporters last week that this inverted pyramid of old people thing scares the crap out of her.

Well, true, that’s what she said. But if Kathy and her crowd are genuinely concerned about the impact of demographics, they certainly haven’t acted like it.

You see this problem didn’t suddenly crop up in the last few weeks.  The provincial government has had projections for more than 20 years that show the population is getting older, on average, and smaller.  The provincial government’s web page on population projections includes a couple of documents  - 20012002 - dating from a decade and more ago.  They lay out three different predictions for population and map out the implications for the government, different regions of the province, and different sectors of the provincial economy.

The current projections are slightly more optimistic than the ones done a decade ago.  Two of the three scenarios call for a modest increase in population.  What doesn’t really change is the age mix:  we’ll have more old people and than younger ones.

No Positive Impact

Sure ,there is a provincial advisory committee complete with an activities plan and a “policy framework”.  But frankly, once you read them,  there is more emphasis on having a pile of words in a dozen or so documents rather than any concrete set of plans with goals and money to deliver the kind of support than seniors will require. [word change for clarity]

Sure,  there’s an immigration “strategy” as well.  They’ve had it since 2007.  But look at the list of actions:  they are pretty well all confined to providing information and raising awareness.  For most of the past decade, though, the province has been in grips of a pronounced wave of anti-foreigner anger led from the Premier’s office. Those tirades about Quebeckers from the Old Man and his hand-picked successor since 2009 don’t exactly contribute to building an image of a welcoming, modern society.  Far from it.

Sure there is that cash bonus for live births introduced in 2007, launched with the admonition that we cannot be a dying race.  Talk about open, welcoming, multi-cultural attitudes wrapped up in that phrase. Well, that too has been a failure, largely because it doesn’t address any of the reasons why people in the province are having families of one or two children and no more.

Making Things Worse

The provincial government policies aimed at population change have  had no practical impact.  And what hasn’t been of little use has the promise of making things worse.

The equity stakes and Muskrat Falls will all increase the public debt that will be borne by a population increasingly dominated by seniors on fixed incomes.  By government’s own estimate, Muskrat Falls will take an average of $450 million per year out of the economy.  The money will go to lenders outside the province for the first 25 to 30 years or more after first power. 

With that firmly in your head go back and look at Kathy Dunderdale’s scrum with reporters on Thursday. Pay attention to the part where she talks about the need to get some tax income on the go to help pay for things.  Well, she approved Muskrat Falls with the stated intention of taking an average of a half million dollars in taxes every years and sending it out of the province, away from government.

Then pay attention to the bit where she talks about how government is too heavily dependent on oil revenues.  Again, note that Muskrat Falls doesn’t change that dependence on non-renewable resource revenues.  In fact, the government’s latest rationale for supporting the project is because it will supposedly bring $15 billion in mineral developments.

At a time when the provincial government needs money, the provincial government is planning to take a big wad of cash and ship it outside the province each year for decades.  That wouldn’t make sense at the best of times. When you consider the provincial demographics, Muskrat Falls looks like what it is:  complete lunacy.
Then her last word in the scrum is the admonition that we cannot drown future generations in debt.  True, but Muskrat Falls is a recipe for saddling current and future generations with debt.  There is no way to reconcile those two ideas:  they are just a vintage edition of Kathy Dunderdale’s duelling talking points.

There’s a better job for Reid

If any provincial government wants a bigger population, then it just has to create an economic boom that lures people here.  That’s the answer.  It is not a mystery. It is not rocket science. It’s the same as the answer to how we keep young people here:  jobs.

To go along with that, stop all the crap about homing pigeons that the Old Man used to get on with. 

Basically any suggestion that you only want people who were born here is a bad message.

None of that requires a deputy minister or a special office of population growth.  It is supposed to be a big part of a bunch of departments already.

Increasing the birth rate with government subsidies is a bad idea. If it might work at all, any approach like that has been hugely expensive everywhere else they’ve tried it.  Frankly, we just can’t afford it and the results would be so far in the future that we’d wind up driving ourselves farther into the hole that the young people likely wouldn’t hang around to pay off the enormous debt anyway.

If Kathy needs to find something for Ross to do, she should put him to work doing something he is much better qualified for than deputy minister.


There’s a good job for him.

After all, it’s not like somebody is really doing the job right now, anyway.

  • “Demographics, economics increase pressure on temperamental Williams and volatile policies”  (September 2006)
  • Hebron and Old People” (March 2008)