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Crafty politics

in Featured/View From The Mainland by

I’m going to start this little ball (bawl?) of yarn with a question: do you believe government has a role to play in developing and shaping direction of the economy? I mean that in the more hands-on, “lefty”, “big government” approach of promoting industry and business, the creation and maintainance of local and regional input and control (really lefty vs. central government). This is in contrast to the more “righty” small government approach of deregulation and simply encouraging growth through tax break levers.

If your answer is no – if you think government should get out of the way of business and industrial development, and that government has no place whatsoever in the shaping of economics – then I’m not sure why you’d ever read my column in the first place (haha). But seriously, I can’t imagine many people are quite all the way out on that end of the spectrum in Labrador and Newfoundland.

Developing an economy

It’s funny to think of any government in Newfoundland and Labrador as ever (claiming to be) conservative, or even centrist liberal for that matter. Bloggers (and many more) have nailed the PCs to the wall already on not being very ‘small c’ conservative. But the reality is that in a province such as ours, we don’t want a conservative government. Not in any real sense. Because, while many may have socially conservative values, the reality is that we’re essentially a developing economy. The majority of our communities are unsustainable in their current state, and they’ve been that way for a long time now (since well before the cod moratorium, I would argue). We produce few manufactured products; rather, we tend to send raw resources straight out of the province.

Don Mills said recently that between 2001 and 2010 Newfoundland and Labrador claimed $5.9 billion more in EI than we paid in. We can rehash the whole EI argument, but the reality is, we have an extremely unvaried economy in this province. It’s gotten a little better since Joey Smallwood’s ‘burn yer boats b’ys’ days, but not without a boat load of (government-assisted) effort. With the exception of a few thousand miners, a few thousand oil rig jobs, and quite a few thousand more public servants, there aren’t that many people benefiting from the two main (non-federal) revenue sources for the provincial government – unless you count the pavement layers and hospital builders too (oh, and MFers; never forget hydro, yeesh).

Intervention is good sometimes

I might come off as a big government lefty, but I sincerely believe in local control over resource development decisions. That costs money because, of course, it’s cheaper to run everything from St. John’s, where one can easily reduce the support staff, infrastructure and decision making processes involved in promotion and development of any program, whether it’s sports promotion, culture, mineral development, hydro, oil or more.

Oddly, this government doesn’t seem to know quite what it wants. For decades we had regional economic development boards (in one form or another), more regional control of health boards, local control of school boards, and regional control over Employment Assistance Services, to name a few. I s’pose it saves a few bucks to have everything amalgamated under the closer scrutiny (thumb) of the ministers responsible, but isn’t local input and control important? Aren’t local conditions important anymore? No one knows what a region needs more than the people in that region, not some far away governing board/body/council/public servant/minister.

Both sides of the mouth

At least that was the argument made by people in this province and even in the government when it came down to the Maritime Rescue Sub-centre, minimum processing requirements for fish. Heck, when it comes to everything fish related Newfoundland argues for local control – ditto with offshore oil – because that local control means you can mold its promotion/development/operation the way that best suits your constituency.

That’s why there’s generally a cheer when the premier or a minister heads off to Europe to promote our fishery, or to promote seal products in China, or trade missions to Brazil. We want need our own representation; we’re a small jurisdiction. People need to know what we have to offer, and they’re not going to just pop in and see our trade shows. We have to bring the show to them because quite frankly we’re off the beaten path and other jurisdictions offer similar opportunities.

We need to promote ourselves and we need government support to do that because we’re simply not big enough to be noticed on our own merits. That’s how it has to be because we’re not Ontario or Quebec. Think of those wonderfully distinct tourism ads!

We need to show why we’re unique

There are those who take pride in our successful musicians, artists, comedians, athletes, actors and so on. I’ve discussed why we need to improve upon this in a previous column. Great Big Sea, Gordon Pinsent, Shaun Majumder, Rick Mercer, Brad Gushue. They all may have made it on their own, perhaps, but the more we promote and support our industries the more we will be able to produce unique representatives of our culture and history. What’s more, we preserve our culture and history in the process.

Furthermore, when we ensure local and regional control over sports, arts and culture, we help to sustain local economies.

So that’s how I’m awkwardly getting to my point

A couple weeks ago, the Labrador Craft Marketing Agency (LCMA) quietly closed its doors for good. While it’s true that this was known since last summer, there was again little coverage in the media. Essentially ACOA made another round of cuts to programs, this one hit the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador (CCNL) and they made the choice to lay off a communications director in St John’s and the whole LCMA.

I won’t knock the CCNL for the tough choices they had to make; I’m sure they will be able to represent and promote Labrador and Aboriginal arts and crafts just fine from Duckworth Street. I will, however, give a knock to the provincial government, which again did not step in and fill the funding gap left by Canada. The LCMA had one staff position, an office rental and a complement of dedicated volunteers. Seriously, isn’t it a small price tag for a region of this province that not only provides a vast wealth of unique culture(s) but also resource dollars?

The LCMA operated for decades buying, supporting the growth of, and promoting Labrador arts and crafts to the world. True, not all artists need this support, but not everyone has the luck, timing, skill, development, inherent talent of the Billy Gauthiers of the world. Many artists need a hand up to develop and grow, and benefit from the extra promotional support of a larger body representing artists.

How we want to be seen

Unless you want our provincial image on the national and international stage to remain unfairly obscure and trapped in time as it is right now, I’d urge you to consider supporting the constant re-creation and revitalization of our combined cultural image(s). This can only be done by supporting local representatives of arts, music and sports.

I can pretty much guarantee that Labrador artists and athletes will find a way to support and promote their own development. I would also venture to guess that if they don’t feel supported as a unique component of Newfoundland and Labrador, they’ll simply promote it as uniquely Labrador.

This isn’t a ‘with us or against us’ thing: Labrador is used to being under-supported. I’m just saying that one of the tools which could have bridged the cultural strait between Labrador and Newfoundland just closed down, and the cost could have been easy to avoid.

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