Everything, they say, is relative. And they, whoever they are, happen to be right.
Last weekend, meeting with fellow Tories, Premier Kathy Dunderdale delivered an oft-repeated message, one this government tries to say often enough to make it true: that as a province, we’re more prosperous than ever. That the future’s so bright, we’ll have to wear shades.
“We’re doing so much better,” she preached to what could only be described as the converted. “We’ve come from have-not to have. We’re doing so well …”
And the fact is, she’s right, too. To a degree — and depending on the basis of that comparison.
In terms of our own economy, using the non-renewable revenues we collect from oil, parts of this province are clearly doing better than ever. Other parts — significant parts — are doing well from that rarely measured part of the economy, the people who work away from the province but bring their paycheques home.
Taxes have been reduced in some areas, and the minimum wage has increased.
It’s a far cry from the Peckford era, when then-premier Brian Peckford once told reporters that the province was truly on the edge of bankruptcy. A far cry from the Wells era, when Clyde Wells took the premiership, only to find that the coffers were bare and that his fledgling government would be forced to make almost-unparalleled cutbacks in government services and staff. A far cry from the Tobin era, when, in order to balance the books, we allowed the federal government to buy its way out of services they were committed to in perpetuity in exchange for quick cash.
In fact, it’s a far cry from the financial situation of almost any administration this province has seen, and in places, that prosperity is obvious: housing prices in St. John’s have risen so much that mill rates for municipal taxation are moving backwards, and there’s enough commercial construction in town to make it look like boom times.
But only through our own particular lens.
Because there’s a generation of catch-up to be done.
It’s like the gross domestic product comparisons you sometimes used to see, where Newfoundland and Labrador is looking at, say, seven per cent growth while others were looking at one or two per cent. Sounds great, except for the problem that our total GDP is so much smaller than other provinces that their two per cent growth, in bare numbers, would equal a 20 per cent growth in ours.
I’ve just been through Calgary and Vancouver, and Toronto’s next: the growth in Calgary is astounding, and the sheer wealth of many individual Calgarians is staggering. The acreage of expansion around Calgary alone — residential, commercial and government highway infrastructure — not only outstrips our own, but outstrips it by a factor of 10 or more.
Vancouver, as well, is a veritable font of wealth, with no shortage of heavy trucks and cranes and flat-out construction work at almost any hour of the day.
And that’s a real eye-opener — because, though we’re doing better, even with the petro-dollars we have, we’re not anywhere close to having many of the things Canadians in other places take for granted. We might be doing better, but we have in no way caught up.
Now, it’s more than easy to say “but you wouldn’t want to live in Vancouver or Toronto Calgary anyway,” and that’s true. There are clear benefits to living in this province —many of them nothing to do with cash or condos or construction — and those benefits outweigh many of the creature comforts that money brings in other places.
But it does put the lie to the hopeful claim that now, at last, we’re sitting at the big kids’ table. We’re not. And any suggestion that we are is just a kind pathetic and hopeful flag-waving.
Compared to ourselves, compared to our own past history, it’s not a bad time to be living in this province, at least as long as the oil revenues hold.
But in the great wide and uneven country we live in, we’re still
the poor cousins. And if we forget that, we’re only in for a harsh surprise.
Everything really is relative — and that includes the relatives in the federation.
Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.