Friday, January 14, 2005

Rex Murphy on Flags and Newfoundland's Plight

Rex Murphy is one of the few CBC commentators worth reading, watching or listening too. Rex along with the majority of Newfoundland have been rather offended by Globe and Mail columnist Marget Wente calling their province a "scenic welfare ghetto". I'd give that insult points for style, however, she went on to denigrate the grievances of the province as being nothing more than a pretence for further leeching off the rest of the country.

To a certain extent Wente has a point, equalization is a subsidization of the poorer provinces by the more affluent ones. Furthermore, equalization's status as simply a perpetual handout does nothing to encourage the recification of the financial situations facing the provinces and creates a dependency upon federal moneys.

However, the counter-point to that is that for several of the Atlantic provinces the federal government engages in "robbing Peter to pay Paul" as the saying goes. Offshore oil is really the only major resource available to these provinces and they watch the majority of it head off to federal coffers. Common sense would say the smartest thing the federal government could do is let "all the offshore oil revenues stay in the provinces they came from". It makes absolutely no sense to take money out of the provinces and then need to shovel money from the rest of the country in.

Murphy outlines some reasons many in Newfoundland are so angst ridden on the subject, like many sources of anger its not necessarily the issue itself alone its compounded by past wrongs suffered.

The management and jurisdiction of Newfoundland's fishery was under the competence of the federal government. We, meaning Newfoundlanders, managed to fish it for 450 years without noticeable damage. It was only when, post Confederation, it was left to the enlightened mercies of federal supervision and control - that quotas multiplied, licences were issues like snowflakes in a blizzard, management and patrols were so long a near joke – and the eventual collapse occurred.
On another front, Newfoundland has been pouring hundred of millions of a dollars a year from Churchill Falls into the coffers of Quebec because of a decades old deal that leaves the province that owns the resource with a pittance, and Quebec with a 60 year windfall.

So the fishery is dead, and Churchill Falls finances the future of another province.

So if Danny Williams or the great majority of Newfoundlanders are a little anxious that the only other major resource that is left actually works to provide benefits to the people and province that brought that resource with them into the Confederation: actually works to move Newfoundland, once and for all, from have-not to have - their concern is neither impertinent, nor unjustified.

Furthermore, any arrangement that took Newfoundland permamently off the "dependency" blanket would probably receive the applause of very fair thinking Canadians.


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