I am dismayed by the short-sightedness of the current government’s budget, labelling programs that are vital to the people of this province as costs that can be cut rather than investments that need to be maintained.
When I heard of cuts to public libraries, schools and museums like The Rooms, my first reaction was that the government was purposefully attempting to keep the population of Newfoundland and Labrador ignorant and uninformed, all the better for them to keep winning elections.
But when this was coupled with cuts to tourism promotion and heritage sites, I realized that the government cannot understand the concept of long-term investment.
Investing in culture
I don’t mean investment in a mega-project, where dollars and cents can be predicted years into the future, rather an investment in the very future of the province itself: the culture, education, history and, yes, the economic future that is harder to quantify than prices per barrel of oil.
Contrary to the belief of many, all knowledge and history is not stored on the web, freely accessible to everyone with high-speed Internet.
Many books and much of this province’s records are only accessible in libraries and archives, and every hour these buildings are closed is a discouragement for an interested citizen to learn something.
Every reduced library hour is a missed opportunity for children to learn to love reading or for less well-off adults to use the Internet to find a job or explore the world. Librarians can be the guides through a world of knowledge dominated by Wikipedia, celebrity endorsed “facts” and Google.
Firing librarians in the modern world of knowledge is like firing the mechanics in a garage, giving car owners the tools and letting them just figure it out for themselves; some people will do OK but most will be lost, unsafe and they will move on to where they can get some help.
Unfortunately, that help won’t be from anyone in this province because the libraries will be closed.
Tourism cuts baffling
Some of the most baffling cuts are to tourism promotion and sites.
The cuts to The Rooms best exemplify the shortsightedness of this government.
Right now, tourists see this jewel from a cruise ship in the harbour, or read of it in their tourism guides and visit this beautiful, wonderful facility.
They pay their admission, spend money in the gift shop, patronize the cafe and go back to tell their friends about the exceptional modern museum which tells the stories of this vibrant province.
In the future, tourists will walk up to the door, give it a rattle and, finding it locked, walk down to a souvenir store and learn that Newfoundland’s culture consists primarily of “Whaddyat?” T-shirts made in China.
They will tell no one and wonder why they bothered.
School groups who wish to take part in The Rooms’ educational programs and learn about Ice Age science, Inuit culture or military history will be told that there are no more programs but, that’s OK, because it’s all on the Internet anyway.
Steve Shorlin writes from St. John’s.