It’s a scenario that’s been repeating itself over and over in the course of human history. Life at home becomes too hard and unproductive; time to book a one-way ticket by land, sea, or air and get the hell out. Off to greener pastures, wherever they are!
We’re seeing it again. The Liberal government’s first budget has descended on this province with all the darkness of the have-not past. It predicts that no grass will grow here for some time. In response, we’re hearing a familiar advice to the best and brightest among the young: Get out! Leave the browsing on moss and lichen and other rock scrapings to those who have no choice but to stay behind.
Let’s take a deep breath before we flee.
Yes, there was something profoundly blind, deaf, and dumb about the way the previous Conservative government rode the boom of the last 10 years without giving sufficient thought to the possibility that the next 10 years might bring less. And yes, there’s every reason for those who put their trust in that government to be very angry.
After all, there had been all kinds of public statements for years from more than a few reputable economists warning that the spending had become unsustainable even with oil prices remaining high. But those warnings got lost in the collective vanity over this place having achieved prosperity at last.
Prosperity had been such a long time coming, more than 500 years in fact. When former Premier Brian Peckford claimed that one day the sun would shine, and have-nots would be no more, everybody knew it was more than just a promise. It was destiny. What else could 500 years of wishing, hoping, and waiting amount to?
And the destiny fulfilled itself, spectacularly and heroically, under the scrappy, finger-in-your-eye leadership of Premier Danny Williams. It could not have been accomplished under a brighter and more convincing star. There was no going back after that. Was there?
Now we know there was. So, yes again. To be so fooled by your belief in destiny is hard to swallow. To have a government to blame is the only comfort you have. And to tell your children to pack up, and leave, and say good riddance to a place of such folly and betrayed entitlement seems like the only possible protest.
What’s needed is not for the best and brightest to run but for them to stay…
Young people have left this place for as long as there have been efforts to create a self-sustaining civil society here. The great out-migrations to the Eastern United States and Ontario in the past, and most recently to Alberta, are every bit as much part of this province’s history as are the bankruptcy of the colony back in 1932, Joey Smallwood’s failed factories, the collapse of the cod fishery, and now the free fall of the global oil market.
Encouraging young people to pursue their potential at home or abroad is one thing; telling them to turn their backs on this place is another, because they will be needed more than ever.
This has nothing to do with patriotism and everything with pragmatism. Just because one government screwed up the first shot this place had at long-lasting prosperity doesn’t mean the province is now destined to linger on as a dump. What’s needed is not for the best and brightest to run but for them to stay, to learn from the mistakes of the first round, to get ready for the next one, and to get things right when that round goes through the inevitable up and down as well.
Of course the Liberals had more options than just lacing their budget with so much vinegar. Some of the sourness feels almost like political revenge, as if the Liberals were going out of their way to tell voters, look what the Conservatives have done to you.
This is not the time for revenge, nor for petulance. This is a time for sober reflection beyond myth, destiny, and politics. Resource-based economies are notoriously cyclical. This was a new kind of cycle for here, and it was of such magnitude, no wonder it ended in more of a crash than it should have. Oil will be around for a while yet, and there are bound to be new cycles. The best and brightest need to be here and ready for them.