12 May 2016

Up the harbour and down the shore... once more #nlpoli

Here's another one that started life as a column at the old Independent

And, as with "The politics of history" it can serve as a reminder of just how little has changed in local politics over a very long time.

In this case, it shows how little has changed in a very short time.

As it turned out, Danny Williams and his colleagues didn't create private sector jobs.  They created public sector ones that they knew were unsustainable. 

Up the harbour and down the shore

If Danny Williams wants to solve the government deficit problem by producing new jobs, as he said he would, he will have to create something between 50, 000 and 100, 000 new jobs in the province over the next eight years.

To put that in perspective, there are about 219, 000 full-time equivalent jobs in the province today according to the Economics and Statistics branch of the provincial government. Since 1996, the economy produced about 31, 000 new jobs. To meet his commitments, Danny Williams will have to produce twice or three times as many jobs in the next eight years as the province could create in the past eight.

And he will have to do that while providing increased health services to an aging population, providing education, services, roads, water and sewer and all the other things people expect from the provincial government. And he can’t lay off government employees or increase the deficit.

Sounds impossible?

It is. Just look at our collective experience in the province and you can see why making promises like "“Jobs, Jobs, Jobs" ” is nothing short of silly. Politicians seem to forget that whenever government tries to create jobs, it fails and fails miserably.

Stupidity, someone once said, is doing the same thing over and over and hoping for a different outcome. To stop being stupid, politicians need to focus not on creating jobs - something they can’t do - and focus on politics, something they can do.

That’s why, a decade ago, the provincial government decided to get out of the job-making business. It decided the best it could do is creating a climate where entrepreneurs - – people with ideas - – could focus on making jobs that last. There was a bit more to it, though. The regional economic boards were supposed to be a way to let people in the different areas of the province decide for themselves what they would do to develop their local economy.

The boards were also part of a wider move toward more regional control over a number of things, including health care and education. After all, politics is about who decides. In a province as big as this one, with a very small population, the “who” who decides often shouldn’t be someone hundreds or thousands of kilometres from the issue. One major problem is that it has been hard to wrestle power out of the hands of bureaucrats and politicians in St. John’s who want to keep deciding just about everything, right down to who can and cannot ride the local school bus.

But the logic remains. Take Eastport, for example, or other areas of the province where local fishermen have had a greater say in how the resources they depend on are managed. They make sensible decisions based on science, their own knowledge and their own interests. They virtually eliminate poaching. They close fishing in areas where it needs to be closed and develop new ways to improve the price they get for their product.

Maybe it is time to take these ideas a step farther and create a form of regional government that promotes economic development and administers health care, municipal services, education and even social welfare programs. New regional councils, elected regularly, would sort out local priorities and make decisions on that basis. The provincial government can look after setting broad strategic goals, much like the federal government set down basic principles for Medicare and then lets the provinces actually deliver the services. But the decisions on where hospitals go, or indeed if a new hospital is actually the best way to deliver health care in that particular region are left to the people who will be directly affected.

Transferring power for some decisions from St. John’s to new regional governments wouldn’t be a magical solution to job creation or anything else. It also won’t guarantee equal success everywhere. What it will do is involve more people in deciding what the future will look like in Newfoundland and Labrador. In an odd way, a new approach of regional government -– a county system - might help people realize that the issues up the harbour are much the same as the ones down the shore or in the four distinct regions of Labrador.

For the provincial government, those politicians can look at projects like Voisey’s Bay or the offshore for the government revenues they generate, rather than the number of jobs. The deficit problem might just get sorted out by thinking outside the box for a change.