Rich land, poor land

Brian Jones
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Pity the poor historians. Before some of them are even born, they’re loaded down with assignments.

This is mostly due to politicians, who have a habit of grandiosely proclaiming, “History will show that …” or, “History will record that …” to bolster a pronouncement and immediately forestall any criticism, because only a fool would dare argue with history.

The latest to call forth the forces of future historians was Natural Resources Minister Tom Marshall. Speechifying this week at an oil and gas conference in St. John’s, Marshall expressed his hope that future historians will look back at 2013 in Newfoundland (and Labrador) as a “golden time of opportunity.”

The attention historians get must miff archeologists.

After all, archeologists are the ones who get their hands dirty digging up the past. No clean, heated archives for them.

They’re out in the weather, in the muck, scrounging for clues about eras long past.

In the 22nd century, digs will be roped off in the areas of George Street, Mount Pearl and the shell of the former Mile One Coliseum as archeologists attempt to answer the enduring question, “Was Newfoundland a hunter/gatherer society right up until the day the first offshore oil well was spudded?”

Sign of the times

Marshall’s historians, and the unmentioned archeologists, came to mind one morning while I was driving to work. A temporary road sign was alongside the Prince Philip Parkway.

This being one of the city’s essential thoroughfares, drivers wouldn’t expect to see such a sign. But there it was.

What, I wondered, would future archeologists make of it if they dug it up, say, in 2163? After all, it’s confusing enough to read it today, let alone a century and a half hence. This is what the sign said: “Caution: potholes ahead.”

Such a sign seems nonsensical, because in the time it took to send a crew to set it up, the city may as well have sent a crew with gravel and asphalt to fix the potholes. But such is the mind of bureaucracy.

Future archeologists, who undoubtedly will also be well versed in history, will be baffled by the discovery.


In a time of golden opportunity?

Misled by money

Meanwhile, over in the comfortable archives, a group of historians will be verging on fisticuffs as they argue about the state and condition of Newfoundland circa 2013. No archivist will be there to restore order, as the place had remained unstaffed since the Great Cutbacks of 2014.

On one side of the debate will be historians who argue that Newfoundland, circa 2013, was rich with oil.

On the other side will be historians who argue that Newfoundland, circa 2013, had deficits and debt and hid its ongoing poverty behind misleading oil revenue.

If they check the fine print of the footnotes, they can trace their confusion and disagreement back to the very same Tom Marshall who, in 2013, trumpeted that they should declare his era a “golden time of opportunity.”

The mantra of Premier Kathy Dunderdale’s administration seems to be, “We are rich, but we are poor.”

We can afford Muskrat Falls, but we must make cutbacks to education and health care.

We have lots of oil, but we must cut back on public services.

The government waves around its looming $1.6-billion deficit like a bogeyman trying to scare a child.

Sure, it’s lousy, in the short term. But the long term is more important. By the oil companies’ own estimates, they will pump offshore oil until about 2047 — probably longer, if history is anything to go by. In Alberta, the first prognosis of doom was uttered in 1973. Forty years later, they’re still gushing.

Brian Jones is a desk editor

 at The Telegram.


Geographic location: Newfoundland, George Street, Mount Pearl Prince Philip Parkway Muskrat Falls Alberta

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Recent comments

  • Corporate Psycho
    March 01, 2013 - 16:47

    Lemme guess? Marshall is going to build a hospital in CB as well? Right. This guys budgeting has been so far out of whack it's bizarre.

  • Colin Burke
    March 01, 2013 - 12:49

    I guess a "golden time of opportunity" is the best our government can manage, as being far easier to achieve than a "golden time of success," which I myself somewhat doubt that the teaching of history will by itself ensure.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    March 01, 2013 - 07:54

    Not so, Wally, ---- visits to my website on average has about doubled since Muskrat Falls was sanctioned.

    • wtf
      March 01, 2013 - 09:58

      Sounds like the choir is still listening.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    March 01, 2013 - 07:31

    F-35 fighter jets, in terms of their life cycle (capital, debt servicing and operating) costs over 40 years have been deemed to be unaffordable for 35 million Canadians, but Muskrat Falls will cost 200,000 Newfoundland ratepayers $35 billion over its 50 year life cycle ---- an unaffordable 140 times more on a per capita basis.

    • Wally
      March 01, 2013 - 07:42

      I don't think anyone is listening anymore.

    • a business man
      March 01, 2013 - 09:25

      Maurice, I support MF because it is good for my business interests in Nova Scotia, So however Newfoundland suffers as a result of MF is fine with me. That is my opinion as a Newfoundland born and raised citizen, voter and taxpayer. I would be okay if Newfoundland goes bankrupt.