Hard times in a ‘have’ province

Brian Jones
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There must be something about having oil money spilling out of their pockets that makes governments pessimistic and cheap, and unable to let their citizenry enjoy the benefits of good economic times. Perhaps Newfoundlanders (and Labradorians) — too recently accustomed to living in non-

insulated houses — cannot yet fathom their newfound comfort, and so still accept the provincial government’s pronouncements that, no, you can’t have this and you can’t have that.

After all, the oil will soon run out and we’ll all return to attempting to keep out the cold by papering our walls with old copies of The Telegram.

Alberta politicians adopted a similar tactic a generation ago. Alberta’s oil boom had barely toddled to its feet when the Western world’s energy complacency was knocked over by the “oil crisis” of 1973.

Suddenly and dramatically, everybody realized the oil would soon run out, causing a regression of modern civilization, possibly to the point of forcing suburban commuters to fetch supper via bow and arrow.

(When the hysteria died down several years later, it became clear the 1973 “oil crisis” had always been about money, not supply — members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) simply demanded, quite reasonably, a higher price per barrel.)

The Alberta government, suffocating under a stack of petro dollars, established the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund in 1976 to set aside some of the day’s oil wealth for “future generations.” (As of September 2011, the Heritage Fund contained $14.7 billion.)

Newfoundlanders/Labradorians might recognize the “future generations” refrain. Finance Minister Tom Marshall hauled it out last week in announcing that the province’s $700-million windfall in unexpected offshore oil revenue would be put — whole hog — toward the province’s debt.

At some point, though, the strategy of ignoring today’s needs in favour of the supposed requirements of “future generations” can backfire.

Some years ago, a huge controversy erupted when the Alberta government demolished Calgary’s General Hospital and didn’t bother to replace it. Naturally, people angrily wondered why a wealthy city like Calgary had to make do with one less hospital, while the government had billions in the bank. Residents of St. John’s might notice a similarity every time they pass the open field on LeMarchant Road where the Grace Hospital used to be.

Albertans also demanded, some years ago, that their flush provincial government provide their children with full-day kindergarten.

Oil-producing jurisdictions seem to face the same issues. The need for full-day kindergarten has also been raised in Newfoundland. But a report this week about early childhood education ranked this province last among the provinces in meeting those needs. Not a cent of Marshall’s $700 million will be put toward improving that atrocious ranking.

Sure, pay down the debt. We’re not Greece, after all. But pay attention to today’s needs, too.

Strictly speaking, someday the oil will indeed run out. Politically speaking, that fact is open to massive and irresponsible manipulation. Albertans were first warned almost 40 years ago, but they’re still pumping and aren’t slowing down, Robert Redford’s opinions notwithstanding.

Rather than succumb to Marshall’s propaganda, take a look at the report released this week by the National Energy Board (NEB), “Canada’s Energy Future: Energy Supply and Demand Projections to 2035.”

According to the NEB, Newfoundland’s offshore oil reserves amount to 2.1 billion barrels. So far, 1.2 billion barrels have been pumped out. However, the NEB estimates the “ultimate potential” of Newfoundland’s offshore at 4.7 billion barrels, and the “remaining ultimate potential” at 3.5 billion barrels. The NEB estimates the price of oil to be $80-$160 per barrel until 2035.

In 10 words or less, explain why Newfoundland can’t afford full-day kindergarten.

Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached by email at bjones@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund, Heritage Fund General Hospital National Energy Board Grace Hospital Energy Future

Geographic location: Alberta, Newfoundland, Calgary LeMarchant Road Greece Canada

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Recent comments

  • sealcove
    November 26, 2011 - 10:39

    Government support from cradle to grave, no day care what a shame

  • We didn't inherit the Earth's resources from our Ancestors
    November 25, 2011 - 15:59

    I witnessed a Tee Shirt at my Gym a couple of weeks ago advertising the following slogan: "We didn't inherit the Earth's Resources from our Ancestors, we borrowed them from our Children. How true!

  • John Smtih
    November 25, 2011 - 13:45

    Just another hippy who wants government to take care of all his responsibilities. Forget about debt and deficit and the billions needed for infrastructure. Let's start a progarm that will outlive the oil money. But what then? Oh, I know raise taxes to pay for the grandiose ideas of the arteests and bleeding hearts. I would like full time day care as well...but only when everything else has been taken care of, and I know it can be sustained. How about a reduction in our taxes? that would make more sense than providing 2 or 3 more hours of coloring a day.

    • Townie
      November 26, 2011 - 07:44

      Someone give Johhny's head a shake. Apparently he can blabber on this site, but can't read any of the material. I assume it's his buddies (you know the byes who think they are the geniuses of the world) who this week were complaining about the shortage of people to work in the future, but are against any ideas to solve the problem. Business is all about complaining about the problem never a solution. They should be called business whiners not business men. Also in a $7 Billion budget the amount given to the arts is pocket change.

  • Yessir
    November 25, 2011 - 12:48

    Someone give this Jones guy a shake. It's call public debt. Do you know what that is? It's when people decide they want more and finance it by taking the money from 'future generations' - you know, the ones in kindergarten and the ones not born yet. Your suggestion is to ignore the debt, bury our heads in the sand, and spend our little windfall so as to make our lives better. Your plan would leave our future generations with higher operating costs and a massive debt. Please stick to being an idea man and not a doer.

  • don castle
    November 25, 2011 - 11:52

    Come on, this is 2011, and we are a have province, isn't it time we started looking after one another like we did back in the 60's. What's wrong with spending some money on out kids now . If we invest now in our kids they can have the tools to solve tomorrows problems. Leats get on with full day kindergarden and better early childhood education (daycare).

  • Carl
    November 25, 2011 - 11:23

    Brian Jones asks for an explanation in ten words or less for why Newfoundland and Labrador can't afford full-day Kindergarten. Here it is in just four words: "Seven billion dollar debt."

    • Uma
      November 25, 2011 - 12:40

      Call me a dinosaur if you will, but I'd like to see Kindergarten age children still spend at least a half day at home with Mom. I feel sorry for the little kids these days. But then, I suppose as long as they all have designer duds to wear and a house jam packed with more toys than they know what to do with, that's all that really matters (sarcasm intended).

  • Harvey
    November 25, 2011 - 07:30

    Those in control had a difficult time graduating from kindergarten.

  • Harvey
    November 25, 2011 - 07:26

    Those in control had a difficult time graduating from kindergarten.