Friday, January 13, 2006

Federal Presence VS Federal Presents

We were bound to notice eventually. It seems the feds have been slowly plucking their jobs from Newfoundland and Labrador and moving them elsewhere. They knew we would eventually catch on to the pull-out. So they talk about centres of excellence, regional commitments, and Atlantic Canada. Only the seven mps from Newfoundland and Labrador would even have to answer to it. Seven voices out of 300 plus. Like trying to read scripture at a Grateful Dead concert (or Green Day, depending on your age group). No one hears and no one cares.

...But Down-East we have been noticing. There has been much discussion in the media and online about the dwindling federal presence in Newfoundland and Labrador. Recently St. John's Councilor Shannie Duff on VOCM's open line made some very important points on the whole concept and it got the old blogger bone in my head rattling. Until the Harris Report came out of MUN our suspicions of the federal pull out could mostly be dismissed as general Bitchin' and Complainin'. Turns out though there is more than an element of truth. The feds are drifting away from the most Easternly Province like Rats on a Ship. I know Rats usually scurry from Sinking Ships as the saying goes, but in this case this province is not a sinking ship. In fact there are some very promising economic indicators. Newfoundland and Labrador has about the most promising potential in the federation. Leading the country in economic growth in most of the last decade or so, and posed to deliver Oil revenue, Mining revenue, Natural Gas, Agriculture, IT and Tourism, Hydro... industries that have barely been scratched for their full potential. If only we had the backing of a strong G8 country, like say Canada. But the rats they scurry as rats are prone to do.

On the other side of the fence there are those who will say. "Sure Newfoundland and Labrador already has more federal presence per-capita that most other provinces." I find that arguement to be particularly simplistic and ineffective. If Quebec had just a few more people - closer to that of Ontario for example we would likely have two countries at this point or we'd be going for a "bière de la plate-forme de dick" (in smaller letters - Beer on Dick's Deck) in downtown St. John's.

There is an inherent unfairness about per-capita representation. Federally our 7 seats will never measure up to 106 seats from Ontario or 75 from Quebec. So we are poorly represented in Ottawa. In turn Ottawa is poorly represented in Newfoundland and Labrador. There are three major problems with low and dwindling federal jobs in Newfoundland and

On the upper most obvious level of economic effect is that fewer jobs paid from the federal purse means there is less federal money drifting about in our economy. Buying text books, and clothes or Newfoundland Rolling Pins.

Second is more specific to executive level jobs. When we have fewer federal jobs from the upper echelon that have decision making ability we defer these issues to other parts of the country. Federal Issues in Newfoundland and Labrador that require prompt, effective and regionally sensitive decisions will be ineffectual and cause regional disparity if we as a province have no say in the matter. We need only to look at federal management of our fishery to see how this fails detrimentially as a concept. What about a more recent and specific case with respect to immigration to Newfoundland and Labrador: When Alexi Portnoy was arrested and dragged from his Pregnant wife and children, two of whom are Canadian. He was held in the lock up in St. John's until a conference call could be arranged with the feds in Montreal! Mother Ottawa had
no one on this island or Labrador who could make a descision as to this man's case.

A third point about dwindling federal jobs, especially at the executive level, is that business confidence on the national and international stage is deminished. The efforts of regional development committees, business associations and Chambers of Commerce are being crippled for small and medium sized business in Newfoundland and Labrador. Hardly a facet of business is not effected by the federal powers that be. For the budding entrepeneur or scouts looking to expand a business where would you locate it? In a place like Halifax with a strong federal presence in Atlantic Canada? Or St. John's, that
just lost its Public Service Commission office, in a province that now has no weather station, has lost jobs a great number of federal departments... In a province that does not show the confidence of the federal government in investing in their own federal public service. The safe businessperson is going to put their business in the location that has the confidence of the federal government. Ask yourself how often you have heard the phrase "moved to Halifax", could each of these cases be coincidence? Our business neighbours at the building where I work is a fresh example. A small office with just two
employees from Dunn and Bradstreet. I spoke with a lady who was stacking boxes outside their door. "Are you guys moving?" I asked. "Well D&B is," she replied, "not me, I was offered a job on the mainland but my life is here." I shouldn't have asked where they were going but I'm a sucker for punishment. Congratulation to Halifax on sucking another couple of jobs out of Newfoundland and Labrador. I have a feeling Halifax is a busy little place these days, bustling with the activity generated by its neighbouring cities to the East.

To quote Bill Rowe of VOCM's Back Talk, and one time ambassdor to Ottawa: "[Newfoundland and Labrador is considered by the federal buracracy to be] no more than a pimple on the arse of Halifax."

Enough is enough. We are in the middle of an election campaign. The rarest of opportunities where the prospective leaders have to come to us for a job interview. Time to shout while everyone is listening.

An addendum: Scott Simms the Liberal incumbent for Bonavista-Gander-Grand Falls-Windsor announced a commitment to reopen the Gander Weather office in a limited capacity along with a new ice monitoring station for the area. This is remniscent of the last time around when Martin was backed into a corner on the 100% of offshore revenues debate. Premier Williams held him up to that promise that eventually became the basis for the Atlantic Accord battle. The governing liberal only seem to notice this province when they are backed into a corner with the potential to loose the blind Liberal Support that Newfoundland and Labrador has always given them. When Minority governments are concerned out seven representatives become a little more critical.

Public Dis-Service Commission

Addendum - Public Dis-Service


NL-ExPatriate said...

I'm guessing that there are more federal jobs on one military base than there is in all of NL.

Edmonton, Cold Lake,
Comox, Esquimault,
Valcartier, Bagotville,
Petawawa, Borden, Trenton
Each with I'm guessing 5000 full time regular Military members and untold civilians part or full time.

NL's best route for a real increased federal presence in NL would be through a real fully manned base and not just in name like we have now.

We have the locations with 5 Wing Goose, Stephenville or Argentia.

The CPC's committment to station 650 full time Canadian troops at 5 wing
and a squadron of UAV's is a start.

BNB said...

Seem to be an ideal province for strong military bases in so many ways. Here's to hoping you get a chance to get back on the rock!

WJM said...

There is an inherent unfairness about per-capita representation.

In that case, why doesn't Labrador have as many MHAs or MPs as Newfoundland does?

BNB said...

Yes Labrador is especially unfairly treated on the per capita model. Are we agreeing on something finally?