This province stands at a pivotal point in its history. Critical decisions are being made and actions taken by the provincial government that will have repercussions for generations to come. And the news media often fail to bring clarity to some complicated, critically important issues.
I am talking, of course, about the direction that Premier Danny Williams is taking this province. Is he leading us to the promised land… or toward disaster?
Premier Williams has approval ratings in the stratosphere. But how aware is the public about the many issues that are on the table? Is their approval fueled more by emotion than rational thought? Is the media bringing clarity to complex issues? Are they connecting the dots and showing the cause and effect between various issues?
Yes, there is some good work happening right now. Last night’s political panel on CBC Here & Now was the most enlightening and honest discussion about current events that I have seen in many months. Mike Rossiter of CBC Radio News has also been doing some good work, as has Jeff Gilhooly of the CBC Radio Morning Show. Moira Baird and Rob Antle of The Telegram have also been filing solid stories. (There are no doubt others – I may have missed some things too.)
However, an astonishing amount of coverage and commentary is still obsessing over whether or not Prime Minister Harper lied, and tracking the obvious fall-out.
It is abundantly clear to even the most passive observer that Harper deceived us. This has been demonstrated and proven beyond a doubt. And the denials from Harper, Flaherty, Hearn and Manning have been too cute by half. A lie is a lie.
More to the point, an election promise was broken; a first, I am sure, in the history of politics in this country and province.
But we haven’t gotten past the anger. The real question is, what do we do now? The media are reporting diligently on the Premier’s national ad campaign, but not pushing him on strategy.
For example: What do we hope to achieve through revenge, by turfing out the three provincial Conservatives in the next election? What if Harper wins a majority? Will he take vengeance by vetoing Marystown’s chances to win a major naval supply ship contract? What about federal loan guarantees on the Lower Churchill? How about these other provincial plans, which are all contingent on federal provincial cooperation? There is certainly an air of foreboding in this story. What we have here, according to David Cochrane from last night’s Political Panel, is “a complete detonation of federal/provincial relations.”
Should the media be content collecting saliva on their microphones, or should they be digging deeper and really pushing on these critically important questions?
The media could also be doing a better job connecting the dots between various issues; to put things in context and help us understand the confluence of events that have brought us to where we are today.
One example: There was much wringing of hands in the media about the people who stood in their thousands last November, outside the Capital Hotel, looking for work in western Canada. But I don’t think any media outlet made the connection between that spectacle and the failure of the Hebron negotiations. Yet, that is why most people were there that day.
Another example: Premier Williams' most frequent response, when pushed on issues of economic impact, is to bridge to a different answer: “There will be no more giveaways.” Most of the time, the media accepts that answer and rolls over to the next question.
Well, here’s the thing. The Hebron project was not a giveaway. It was, in fact, a tremendously good deal no matter how you look at it. Had it proceeded, we would not be worrying today about sheltering our transfer payments from our earned income. The day would be fast approaching when we could stand on our own bloody feet and say to hell with handouts from Canada.
The full details of the tentative deal were not released publicly, but we do know that Hebron would have been worth about $10 billion in royalties and taxes to provincial coffers, at an oil price of $50 per barrel. We know that prices will likely average higher, thus increasing provincial revenue by another billion or two. And this doesn’t include the $5 billion investment in construction and $6 billion to drill the development wells, which would have created thousands of jobs, stimulated business growth and sustained industry momentum. This in turn would fuel further exploration and possible new discoveries.
Had it proceeded, Hebron would have given us the capacity to pay down – totally eliminate – our provincial debt of $12 billion, the highest per capita debt in the country. Provincial budgets would no longer be saddled with those enormous debt servicing charges. Think about that: a single project would have made us a ‘have’ province.
How many people are aware of this? How many reporters are even aware of this? I don’t expect media to be cheerleaders for Premier Williams or the oil companies. But I would like to see them dig a little deeper, ask tough questions and insist on real answers.
There is a lot of heat right now, but very little light.
And there is so much at stake...
Coming soon, part 2: An economist’s viewpoint.