NATURAL RESOURCES MAGAZINE
           
 

Devil’s advocate

Devil’s advocate

DO WE HAVE THE GUTS
TO DO WHAT MUST BE DONE?

The people of Newfoundland and Labrador need to their heads out of the sand, rally around their government and actually try to be helpful.

The fiscal situation facing Newfoundland and Labrador is desperate — not just the enormity of the problem, but the apparent denial among the population that remedial steps are possible without any pain or cost imposed on residents.

Previous periods of economic hardship were addressed by either running to Ottawa for help or deferring the pain to some future generation. Ottawa has come to the table by agreeing to postpone obligations owed to them as a consequence of transfer payments or transfer over-payments, and the provincial government is borrowing to pay its current bills. But the institutions and markets from which it borrows want assurances that they are lending to an agent who can pay the interest and the principle. Concerns around the degree of the market’s confidence in the borrower’s integrity are manifested in the interest rates charged. Newfoundland’s rates are only headed higher in the absence of responsible action.

The people of Newfoundland and Labrador need to their heads out of the sand, rally around their government and actually try to be helpful. The current government was elected at a time when the extent of the deficit was not known, either by the voters or the in-coming party. Promises made on the stump are no longer relevant.

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Everyone needs to understand the magnitude of the problem — and everyone has to bear the pain of the solution. Services have to be cut, and that means healthcare can no longer be dispensed in the way it has been. It is simply not affordable. Some regional hospitals need to be replaced by clinics. Lower cost ways of dispensing care need to be aggressively pursued.

The good news is such options are available.  Innovations in this space are profound, like colonoscopies using a machine which costs $150 or prescription-writing via artificial intelligence. In both cases, quality is not compromised in the slightest (in fact, AI is a more accurate prescriber than its manual counterpart), but cost and time-frames are reduced significantly.

The province’s business community also needs to rally around the government, both in terms of supporting the harsh impositions of the budget and in helping with ideas to build the economy. It is irresponsible for intelligent and respected members of the community to remain silent when their voices could be so helpful in making folks understand the extent to which the government has no options.

Memorial University is a capable institution and resident within its mandate is an obligation to help drive growth, to ensure research is relevant and commercialized. Its president and deans need to be at the table with the business community, identifying sectors capable of attracting capital and people, of being hot-beds for the incubation of new businesses and of keeping graduates at home to invest their intellect.

As well, the rest of the Atlantic region needs to come together to not just help Newfoundland, but to help itself. It’s time we came to grips with the realization that the duplication of government services among four populations of our size is simply not sustainable. Many of these services should be dispensed by a single ministry. And before everyone throws up their hands at the prospect of a service in Newfoundland being administered in Moncton , ask yourself two questions: Do I want to pay for a level of public service that has no precedent anywhere else in the country? And, is it possible to provide such a service effectively and efficiently?

If you don’t want change, then you must acknowledge and accept that you will have to pay more money — a lot more money — either in taxes or fees for the service.

Please, let’s engage in a healthy and vigorous debate in the province and across the region. What are our options? How can we best share the pain of inevitable cuts so that the most dis-advantaged among us are not unduly impacted? Where can we work together to save money and improve services?

Above all, let’s focus on good policy choices, so that the region can avoid the trap of death by a thousand cuts and deliver on a future which will make us all proud.

John Risley
About John Risley

John Risley, president of Clearwater Fine Foods Inc., regularly engages in policy debate as a member of the World Presidents' Organization, the Chief Executives Organization and as a director on the Board of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives.

1 Comment to “Devil’s advocate”

  1. wilfred zerbe // July 23, 2016 at 10:50 pm // Reply

    Thank you, John, for your direct, sincere, and constructive message. I agree completely!

    Wilfred Zerbe, Dean, Faculty of Business, Memorial University

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