A new mantra has appeared in the continuing effort to justify the Muskrat Falls Hydro project, with its ever escalating price tag and dubious provincial benefit package. Other arguments have apparently proven less than credible and much less believable for most of the people in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The Premier is now posing the question whether this province wants to be “in charge of its own destiny”….. or ……“hostage to Hydro Quebec in terms of energy” for development in Labrador. Originally it had been publically stated that this hydro project would not support any mining developments in Labrador.
The idea of the province being in charge of its destiny was also, if not specifically stated, key to the promotion of the Upper Churchill project along with the jobs that would be provided. It has been the underlying message and “philosophy” utilized in some fashion for all of our mega projects; most of which have only delivered fiscal debt and dependency.
The tantalizing prospect of jobs and some mystical prosperity, which would lead to more independence, has always been a good selling tool by governments and businesses for projects that may be marginal at best.
Historically, for most of the people of this province, their destinies have been attached to someone else. As a colony our destiny was tied to Britain; as a province this was traded for control by Canada. Locally, with few exceptions, people were dependent on fish merchants, who were their only source of sustenance; despite their hard labour in the fishery. Jobs and wages for most were nonexistent, but hard work (and fiscal poverty) was mandatory for all (men, women and children). Subsistence living was the order of the day for the majority.
It appears today that Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans are even further removed from their “destinies” than ever before in history. With the exception of the Northeast Avalon employment for most is somewhere else other than home.
Being “master of our own destiny” is perhaps an aspiration for most. Governments most everywhere have used this promise of self direction in order to control; the proviso has always been that one had to follow their ideology along with its rules and legislation.
One has to first consider the challenges that would need to be overcome in order for this province to become a master of its own destiny.
How do we wrest any kind of control from a highly centralized government such as Canada, much less influence policy or legislation with only seven representatives? How is it possible to get a fair return (or reasonable royalties and taxes) from our natural resources or major industries when they are almost exclusively owned and controlled by outside interests?
Perhaps a more important question for government to consider would be: how are the people of Newfoundland and Labrador ever going to get a semblance of mastery of their own destinies under the weight of current legislation (provincially and federally)? Both governments believe that a majority means they have carte blanche to do whatever they want?
Recently the provincial government passed one of the most draconian pieces of legislation in the world related to access to information. It is pushing a project (Muskrat Falls) which is already out of control financially, before it has begun, or should I say sanctioned by anyone; even the government.
The Premier offers a debate, but no vote. This means that representatives, who have been duly elected by the people, will be allowed to discuss this issue in the house; then it will proceed no matter what. Where then will the sanction come from?
As a guide in how the people might accomplish being masters of their own destiny, government might read the book by the same name written by Moses Coady, a priest, who led the Antigonish Movement in Cape Breton during the last great depression.
The basic philosophy of this movement was to educate and enlighten the masses and assist them to organize and control their own institutions. The basis of their education process was to take to the people information and knowledge so that they could more fully participate in the decision making process affecting their lives.
Such an approach in this province would necessitate a move to more people engagement, more openness by government and more respect for democratic values and principles.
It would require more compromise within the power bases that control the wheels of government both bureaucratically and politically. Fundamentally, it would require more respect for the people who live in this province to make intelligent choices for their own well being and futures.
It has been much too long that people have had decisions made for them by experts, bureaucrats, politicians and businesses of all sorts without due respect for their own capabilities, knowledge and intelligence.
This has most often resulted in hardships and trials for the many and affluence and wealth for the few. It has, in most places, led to strife, war and bloodshed as people struggle to free themselves from the burdens and constrictions imposed by others.
Written by Bill Pardy
July 30th, 2012