Astronomers calculate there are more stars in the universe than grains of sand on Earth.
Astronomical numbers can really mess with your head. As Older Boy might say, in his generation’s lingo, “That’s messed up.”
Of course, statistics can be
notoriously messed up. When astronomers say “on Earth,” do they include all the sand under oceans and lakes, or do they count only the beaches?
Similarly, when Premier Kathy Dunderdale declares, yet again, the province has no money and has to implement cuts to services, members of the attention-paying public might wonder which wallet she is looking in.
Governments pleading poverty in order to cut public services is an old strategy. The provincial government is apparently addicted and can’t break the habit or find the inner strength to just say no.
With issue after issue, it becomes more obvious Dunderdale is not merely ineffectual, but is actually a hard-c conservative in the vein of her social-slashing federal pal, Prime Minister S. Harper.
Contemplating stars and beach sand is mind-boggling, but only slightly less so than trying to figure out why an oil-producing, oil-rich, booming province would cut spending on health care.
A broad answer: hard-c conservatism.
Astronomers and non-astronomers alike will want to ask the next obvious question: how do the dim bulbs who are the stars of this province’s government manage to convince so many Newfoundlanders (and Labradorians) that these are hard, frugal times and cuts must be made?
Repetition, mostly. They talk so much and so often about the deficit and the debt, and the debt and the deficit — and did we mention the damage that will be done to future generations? — that disagreeing with them is regarded as a willingness to let your great-grandchildren go hungry.
But every now and then, like a glimmer of light from a distant galaxy, information will emerge that contradicts the government’s mantra of doom and gloom.
This week, it was a report called “Socio-economic Benefits from Petroleum Industry Activity in Newfoundland and Labrador, 2008-2010.” Whew. The bureaucrat who concocted that title deserves a bonus. For the sake of brevity and anti-mindboggleness, let’s shorten it to “Oil Benefits.”
Reports like this can give an average person a headache. It’s like staring directly into a quasar. The pages shoot flashes of data: so many millions spent on exploration, x-millions earned in salaries, y-millions accruing from production, z-millions in GDP growth and so on. It’s almost enough to make you want to jump into the sun.
And then you come to something legible, like this statement on page 12 of the “Oil Benefits” report: “Development impacts are expected to increase as construction activity ramps up as activities related to extensions to White Rose and Hibernia South and the development of Hebron occurs in the coming years.”
The report’s author, Mark Shrimpton, told The Telegram this week oil benefits will keep coming for another 50 years.
There you have it. We can all stop worrying about “future generations” and our great-grandchildren, and start fussing over our great-great-grandchildren. In 2062, they will undoubtedly be thankful Dunderdale had the foresight to save money by cutting 550 positions at Eastern Health.
One drawback of “Oil Benefits” is that it has a built-in bias. It was compiled by Stantec Consulting Ltd. for an outfit called Petroleum Research Newfoundland and Labrador. “Assistance” came from ExxonMobil, Husky, Suncor, Statoil, Chevron and Nalcor. In one sense, “Oil Benefits” could be a cheerleading booklet.
Except that the provincial government also had input, via two departments — Natural Resources and Finance.
To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of Newfoundland’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.
Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.