Leadership hopefuls: can you fix the economy?

Randy Simms
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I hope the three men vying to become premier spend a lot of time talking about Terra Nova Shoes in the next few weeks. It turns out the little company that could, can’t, and a surprise announcement this week about the company’s demise in Harbour Grace and its relocation to Ontario seems to prove it.

In less than a decade, Terra Nova Shoes went from being an example of how small manufacturing could help diversify our economy to another failed development in rural Newfoundland.

There have been so many.

The company is moving everything to Cambridge, Ont., saying it’s too expensive to manufacture footwear here and ship it to the mainland for distribution.

“The reality is, the costs to continue operating the Harbour Grace plant have become unsustainable,” says Kodiak president Kevin Huckle.

Back in 2008, the company was granted an $8-million, interest-free loan to expand operations in Harbour Grace. Then-premier Danny Williams was elated.

“The plan is to create another 50 jobs here. So it is a welcome boost to employment and economic activity in the region,” he said.

Kodiak intended to expand the workforce from 170 to 220. According to Huckle, the province’s investment would see all of Kodiak’s Canadian manufacturing moved to the Harbour Grace plant.

Two years later, we got news of a major cutback in the workforce, with 59 people losing their jobs. It was apparent to Harbour Grace Mayor Don Coombs that they wouldn’t be rehired.

“The layoff seems like a permanent thing,” he said.

The province has been quick to say government programs will be made available to this last batch of displaced workers — 80 of them — and the company says it will pay off the interest-free loan.

What does this business story have to do with the leadership hopefuls? Quite a lot, actually.

The three contenders for the province’s top job are talking about health care, education, infrastructure and the like.

They will even talk about jobs at some point, and the phrase “we must diversify our local economy” will no doubt be uttered in the same sentence.

 Forgive me if I sound cynical, but we’ve heard it all before.

To diversify our economy means to change it for the better. Our reliance on one-industry initiatives, like oil, and our inability to sustain things like small manufacturing operations is troubling in the extreme. Even big initiatives like Muskrat Falls end up being a public investment instead of a private-

sector business opportunity.

I’d love to see John Ottenheimer, Paul Davis and Steve Kent participate in a debate with just one focus: the economy. How do we create economic development and how do we diversify the economy?

After all, we always seem to fail when it comes to economic issues, with Terra Nova Shoes being the latest example.

We can’t seem to get our agriculture industry operating at a level where we can feed ourselves, let alone anyone else. We can’t find solutions to forestry issues, and even the wood pellet manufacturing idea went down the drain. We invested $12 million in that debacle.

Added-value fishery initiatives  never seem to go anywhere.

We laughed at Liberal MHA Jim Bennett when he suggested we produce and sell our own kippered herring. Remember when then fisheries minister Darin King labelled him “Captain Kipper” and we all laughed? Now the  Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement will hurt basic fish processing here.

Anyone got any ideas on how to address this? Governments have to create a climate for business to flourish and invest in the right infrastructure to make it happen. Our track record so far seems dismal.  

So, leadership candidates can talk all they like about education, and they can wax poetic about the need to do something for seniors, but if they can’t come up with solutions for the ailing economy and our shrinking population, everything else is moot.

Randy Simms is a political commentator and broadcaster. He can be reached at

rsimms@nf.sympatico.ca

Twitter: @RandyRsimms

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Cambridge

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  • Chris Hiscock
    July 14, 2014 - 10:15

    As a Newfoundlander that moved away to Ontario shortly after highschool, I really do believe that things can be turned around back home. Everyone always sees the grass greener elsewhere. As a small business owner I'd love to open up an expansion store back home. I could get most of my ingredients for a similar price, but shipping in the things not readily available would be costly. As a proud newfoundlander I'd like to think I would go for it. As a business owner, I would need to do my due dillegance. I don't know the answers, and I've been away long enough to forget the problems. And I'm not without bias, I'm related to John. He's a good man. Whoever leads our province in the coming years needs to remember one thing: There is a contingent of Newfoundlanders out there waiting for a good reason to come home.

  • These Boots Were Made for Walkin'
    July 12, 2014 - 21:32

    What do you mean "fix the economy"? It was only last year that we were told that we are all living in a time of unprecedented prosperity! What manufacturer can possibly afford to stay here when electricity prices are about to go through the roof???

  • Charles Murphy
    July 12, 2014 - 06:32

    Randy, Please explain to me and the reading " Audience " , How are they going to diversify our economy? All you have to do is look at their back round, Lets take the mill in Grand Falls, That plant should be up and running and producing just over 100 million dollars of products per year, we ship in, then you got the pallet on the Northern Pen, just sitting there, this plant should also be up and running, not only producing pallet, but along with three more items. Like Jackson's Arm and Marystown fish plants, just sitting, those two locations, also should be in operation. Now lets take Harbour Grace, there no need for this building, after Terra Nova Shoes move out, to be left there, and becoming a eye sore. Now its time to show leadership, from Pc's - Liberal - NDP. after all you got the Liberal going around and telling the people, Their going to " Diversify " economy, so far nothing. Randy we " Continues " to make the same mistake, we don't elects people of knowledge, But by the clothing they may be wearing at the time. That why our economy can't grow.