Thoughts on living in a golden age

Russell Wangersky
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First, a correction on last week’s column about the growth of Nalcor.

 The company has correctly pointed out that, in a sentence where I said it “had hauled in $439 million in profits, (primarily from electricity sales to ratepayers in this province),” I was incorrect in saying the money was primarily from ratepayers. It was actually from all electrical sales, including sales outside the province. The company also pointed out its total capital investments for the last five years should have been $1.3 billion, not $1.5 billion.


Answering a question from the NDP’s Lorraine Michael this past week, Finance Minister Tom Marshall said a few words that delighted the politicians that share his side of the House of Assembly, but that, in the long run, may come back to haunt him. (Or more accurately, his party — Marshall has already said that he doesn’t intend to run in the next provincial election.)

Those words? After Michael asked about the province’s economic numbers and budget projections, Marshall stood to list a series of strong economic numbers and then decided to add, “This is a golden age, Mr. Speaker, a golden age.”

He’s welcome to his opinion and, as a senior politician with a healthy salary, a taxpayer-funded pension to look forward to and plenty of government revenue to sprinkle around, these days may well look golden. But those are the kind of words that can end up sticking in voters’ craws.

Why? Because the economic numbers may well look great; employment is up, jobs (at least, minimum-wage  and part-time jobs on the northeast Avalon) are plentiful, and we regularly hear from banks that we will be among the leaders in economic growth in provinces. (That’s its own kind of shell game: in terms of real numbers, a one per cent gross domestic product increase in Ontario would easily crush the real dollar value of 10 per cent growth here.)

But calling it a golden age is a mistake. Why? Because you can’t eat GDP. When you hear a politician say something like that, the first thing you ask yourself is, “Do I feel golden?” And if you don’t, you start looking around for where that gold actually is.

There is money being made in this province, but it’s not being made by everyone. A whole segment of the population is feeling the pinch of watching their earnings not keep up with inflation (like provincial civil servants, with the last round of settlements), while at the same time seeing more and more signs of flamboyant wealth cruise the streets of St. John’s.

Pensioners are watching their earnings erode while, especially on the northeast Avalon, increased house prices are making their tax bills become more and more untenable. Like in other parts of the country, working people here are watching their company pensions shrink or disappear, the same way good-paying middle-class jobs have been out-sourced (a country-wide

phenomenon, but it doesn’t help convince people of our golden-ness).

Parents who might want to have their kids live in this province are asking where those kids are going to go: house prices are out of reach, especially if interest rates rise, and rental properties on the northern Avalon are few and far between.

Outside the overpass, there are different problems: the only golden part there is that whole communities are watching their populations enter their golden years as young people drain away like water down the bathtub drain. Jobs in rural parts of the province are as scarce as they’ve ever been — probably scarcer in some regions.

Not only that, but the long-term picture presents some series issues — not in the least because, if this is a golden age, the gold is made of non-renewable resources like iron ore, nickel and oil.

Even with all this supposed goodness, the province’s total debt — all of its liabilities counted in without the shell game of subtracting “assets” that can never honestly be sold — is larger than it was when the Tories took office, and while the government has reaped surpluses on offshore and mining revenues, we still owe plenty that our kids will have to pay, perhaps without the resource money we’ve hogged so much of.

Essentially, we’ve taken a really big piggy bank that could have helped our kids out from under the debts we’ve built — and perhaps could have helped us reduce costs in our retirements — and spent it instead over a mere decade.

And that, apparently, is what a golden age looks like.

Here’s Marshall again, from the same day.

“People have money in their pockets to pay their bills, to save for their retirements, to pay for their children’s educations.”

Yes — and no. The people who are doing well in the current boom know it well enough already.

For everyone else, it’s an unfeeling kick in the ass.

It is a golden age that may end up, for the Tories, looking like lead.

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s

editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at

Organizations: NDP

Geographic location: Avalon, Ontario, Northern Avalon

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Recent comments

  • Just sayin
    December 02, 2013 - 15:08

    I read that almost 2 billion of the 8 billion for Muskrat falls will go to nfld companies. There are some 600 companies who are members of the nfld Construction association. Suppose 100 of these get contracts and make 20 percent profit .That is 400 million, or on average 4 million profit each, to 100 companies. Any wonder the business community is on board? There will jobs for 500 to a 1000 for a few years, with 80 permanent jobs. And a hundred thousand households will have 50 percent or more higher power bills for the next 50 years. Good deal and will add millions to those companies who already well off. Whether we need this project seems not to matter.

  • Politicians and Corporation Heads will be the only ones enjoying the golden age economy, the rest of us will be living in a Charles Dickens poorhouse economy!
    December 01, 2013 - 20:49

    The only ones who will have the opportunity of living in the Golden Age economy will be the politicians and their Corporate friends, since they are each in each other's pockets. They compose the one per cent in society who accumulate most of the wealth generated from our raw natural resources. We are hearing of the corruption perpetrated on us by our politicians, senators and the corporations on a daily basis but nothing gets done about it. We are presently witnessing on our television sets every day the debacle in the Canadian Senate where the senators abused their expense accounts and it is impossible to get any charges to stick to them. Even though the evidence appears in documentation that implicate the politicians and the senators, those responsible for the documents won't answer questions but have others answer for them and because of that they elude the law. Soon the 99 per cent of us outside of the prosperous economic golden age loop will be living in a time that will only be comparable to the poor house days of the Charles Dickens era.

  • Adam Baker
    December 01, 2013 - 12:17

    The term "shell game" - used to describe growth projections and accounting techniques in this editorial - generally implies fraud or a con. I think I would hestitate to characterize either of describing GDP growth in percentages or adopting gaap methods of accounting as fraudulent. That frankly seems like a bit of a shell game.

  • Gold Member
    November 30, 2013 - 19:22

    Funny how Jerome Kennedy could get everything for his district, yet, Marshall can't get the plans for a hospital done since 2007. He held just as many high profile positions and still doesn't have the power to get things done. Must be another one of those election promise's from the Tory Blue Book. And MHA Kennedy sure told everyone that what was in that book wasn't worth the page it was written on.

  • Cyril Rogers
    November 30, 2013 - 11:26

    You have nailed it, Mr. Wangersky. These politicians who are "running" the show.... and I use that word loosely.... are living in a fool's paradise that they had a large part in creating. To put it bluntly, they have largely squandered much of our future wealth in an effort to remain popular. Danny made the fatal mistake of trying to ride away into the sunset with his legacy project....only to let his minions fall on their swords. however, as I have stated ad nauseum, those who will feel the effects of their falling on the political sword the ordinary people of the province. I will continue to beat the drum for a Commission of Inquiry when the final price tag comes in for Muskrat Falls and people truly understand what a debacle it is for the province. It was nauseating to watch the Premier's glib reassurances now that Nova Scotia has approved of the new deal that Emera has cooked up with NALCOR. It is a wonderful deal, all right....if you live in Nova Scotia. How incredibly stupid can we be, as a people, if we truly believe that this even worse arrangement can benefit the people of Newfoundland and Labrador?

  • Corporate Psycho
    November 30, 2013 - 08:27

    Well said. If you are not involved in the oil industry life ain't so great. Mr. Marshall also never mentioned the amount of Alberta money keeping rural NL going. Golden indeed, maybe for Marshall.