08 September 2016

Dependence and Independence #nlpoli

For those who might be interested,  Tuesday's post on Churchill Falls and Wednesday's post on the road to Muskrat Falls are a summary of a draft on hydro-electricity development that's been in the works for a couple of years now. It was supposed to be the chapter of a book but it got out of control and might be worth turning into a book.

Sometimes you get caught up in the details of things so it's useful to take a step back and look at the broader themes that emerge from your writing.  One that hadn't appeared before now was the consistency that ran from Joe Smallwood in 1949 through Moores and Peckford in the 1970s and 1980s,  Wells and Tobin in the 1990s and finally Roger Grimes.  

Each of their administrations had as its goal the development of the provincial economy to the point that the provincial government would no longer be what Smallwood called a poorhouse. His vision was a "growing prosperous province of independent families."  That's not surprising if you know anything of Smallwood's experience in Newfoundland from the 1920s onward.  He had disagreements with the federal government, the most famous being the 1959 row over Term 29 payments.

The provincial government's position on the national energy grid is less known but no less important than the other.  The grid policy or even on the creation of BRINCO was rooted in the belief that the provincial government not only ought to determine its own economic fate but already controlled its own resources.  Development of its natural resources was the route to prosperity.

The period between 1972 and 1989 may look and sound different from Smallwood's time but there is absolutely no doubt that the administrations that followed Smallwood's had not only the same goal but saw the same way of achieving it.  "One day the sun will shine and have not will be no more" is nothing more than the growing, prosperous province of independent families by other words.  There are differences: Peckford, for example, talked about using oil money to refurbish the fishery. That likely would never have occurred to Smallwood since his perception of the fishery was somewhat different. But the differences are more of emphasis than of substance.

Faced with a question about Equalization early in his administration, Clyde Wells made no bones about his hope that he would see the day when the government never got a penny.  His emotional speeches during the 1989 campaign about every mother's son were merely a variation on the idea that people should not have to leave the province for want of the chance to earn an honest living in the place where they were born.  His administration's strategic economic plan had as its goal the creation of a vibrant, innovative people thriving in  a prosperous province.  There is the idea yet again.

None of the premiers from Smallwood to Grimes could do anything but imagine a day when the provincial government could pay for all its services out of money the government got solely from its own revenues. They worked to get  the province's fair share and more of federal cash.  But every one of them felt the sting of going to Ottawa knowing that without federal handouts their province would be in truly hard shape.  Few federal politicians were as blunt and crude about it as John Crosbie when he said that the Newfoundland government should not bite the hand that feeds it, but the reality of the government's dependence on federal handouts was powerful motivation for premier after premier.

Until 2003.

As much as Danny Williams used the words of a separatist and an anti-Confederate, we should not forget that Williams' signature policy goal from the start of his administration was to secure an enormous, permanent hand-out from Ottawa.  His argument was a fraud but the goal would have had the effect of making the provincial government permanently dependent on Ottawa.  Williams tried and failed in 2004:  all he got was a cheque for $2 billion.  And in Equalization talks he raved for months and tried to game the system for as much cash as he could get.  Skyrocketing oil prices scuttled his plan.

Williams' financial mismanagement coupled with the Muskrat Falls project created the current financial crisis facing the provincial government.  Williams never acted like a leader intent on creating a sustainable, prosperous, and independent province.  His words were one thing.  His actions were another.

What's striking about both Paul Davis and now Dwight Ball is the ease with which both Premiers have adopted Danny Williams' goal of dependence on Ottawa and rejected the notion that the people of Newfoundland and labrador ought to stand on their own feet.  Every time Davis or Ball moan about the fact the provincial government can;t get hand-outs from Ottawa,  they only remind us of the stark difference between the Premiers since 2003 and the ones who held the office from 1949 until the first three years of this century.  They have pursued the financial disaster at Muskrat Falls not because it makes sense or because it is essential to the province's well-being.  They have continued to spend way beyond what the people of the province can afford because it is politically advantageous for them and because they believe they can get the federal government to bail them out no matter what they do.

The contrast is stark. Plain.  Brutal. 

The contrast is between independence and dependence, between self-reliance and impotence, resilience and weakness.

You can see it plain as day if you step back and look.