Dear people of Newfoundland and Labrador,
I am a Newfoundlander and Labradorian born and raised, and very proud. I grew up on the island in a time of great strife — in 1992, when the cod moratorium was announced, under Liberal leadership. I was the seven-year-old daughter of an inshore cod fisherman, and a cod fish plant worker. We had a young family, and lived up on the tip of the Great Northern Peninsula, a place where the whole community relied on the cod fishery. Times were as bleak for my family and community as they had ever been before. We never gave up though. We carried on with hope for the future, when there was no foreseeable future. Most packed up and left, and the few who decided to hold on and stay did whatever they could to make a go of it. We lost our school, and we lost our community. My father bought a longliner to pursue the seal fishery, at $15 a seal. Fast forward a few years and the seal fishery gave us hope at $100 a seal. Two years later we lost that too. Scallop fishery, hope, lost that too. Crab fishery, we’re losing that too. You see, my whole life growing up in Newfoundland and Labrador has been a roller coaster of hope and loss. An endless cycle of highs and lows.
I finished high school at a time of mass outmigration, during a mass exodus from the island. The only option open to me at that time was to start my life in massive debt through post-secondary education on the island. So I left and headed west, like so many of my generation. I left with a plan to get a trade, without debt, by working through school. My plan was to get my education and bring my skills back home, to the only place I’ve ever wanted to be, the northern tip of Newfoundland. I was doing what I set out to do with my high school sweetheart by my side; we were living the dream in the land of milk and honey, boom time Alberta. In my third year of my steamfitter apprenticeship, we were expecting our first child. This was the time when Danny and his PCs had just signed the Muskrat Falls deal, the offshore oil sector was beginning to boom, and again, there was hope. I made the decision to come home, bring my skills with me and start my family in Newfoundland to give my child a better quality of life.
You see, my whole life growing up in Newfoundland and Labrador has been a roller coaster of hope and loss.
I came home after five years of living in Alberta only to find that nothing had changed. There was lots of industrial work — Bull Arm, Long Harbour, Muskrat — but none for me. So the cycle of life as I knew it on this island had started over again — hope and loss. I did a couple of minimum wage fast food gigs; I was a grossly over-qualified fry cook, but you got to do what you got to do. My then boyfriend, now husband, went back to Alberta because he couldn’t find work at home either. I applied for government funding, which was offered at the time, to go back to school. Give up my career and start from scratch. A hard decision, but I had no choice, as now our second child was on the way. I applied for funding to do the hunting/fishing guide course offered at the local College of the North Atlantic campus. I had to do a lot of market research, job searching and work to prove it was viable to sponsor me for this course. I did, and I had two guaranteed jobs waiting for me when I completed the course. Hope, again! “No sorry, you don’t qualify for funding for this course at this time,” from the government of the Honourable Danny Williams. Hope lost again!
We lived just above the poverty line for five years. If it wasn’t for my family being able to help, I’m still not sure where we would have ended up. Two skilled workers, with two small children, and no future in Newfoundland and Labrador. Why did we stay? I can’t explain it — some kind of blind patriotism maybe. The resilience that naturally comes with being able to live in northern Newfoundland, maybe. Loyalty to my ageing grandfather, and wanting to be by his side until the end. A little of all those reasons came together to make me stay, I suppose.
Three years later, we have a beautiful family, three darling children. I have a great job just up the road in the tourism industry. My husband has a career he loves, just up the road. We have finally climbed our way into the middle class. We live a modest, but comfortable life. There are still months where we don’t make ends meet, but we always figure it out — we are happy and it’s a great life. Along come the Liberals. A promise of change, a diversified economy, a “Stronger Tomorrow”. Hope again!
Why I would trust an N.L. politician after the political turmoil that I’ve lived through on this island, I have no idea! A fool, I suppose, a dreamer of social justice and honest politicians. Ever the optimist, believing that someday, a leader will come along with a plan for the future of Newfoundland and Labrador. A future where my children can successfully live in our rural part of the province.
I’ve seen many blue and red governments come and go, taking turns at the reins, going around in the same cycles of boom and bust, hope and loss.
The Liberals broke every promise, and dashed every hope, yet again. The austerity measures proposed in the 2016 budget will hit my family hard. The increased taxes, fees, and the unfair levy will knock us back down from the middle class that we worked so hard to get to. We will once again be the working poor. Worse than that though, I see no plan for a future, for a diversified economy. I see absolutely no plan for rural N.L. The tourism industry is the only thing keeping the rural communities above water. But this budget increases the cost of travel to N.L., and especially the northern part, to a point that it’s just not feasible for many people — especially our fellow Canadians, who were a large portion of our visitors last year. The minister of tourism, who happens to be my MHA, assures me this year looks good for tourism. This summer looks good. But those travel plans were made before the new fees, fee increases and tax increases. What about next year and the year after that?
It does not take an economist to figure out that tourists will have significantly less money to spend in local businesses who rely on the tourism industry to get them through a long hard winter. No plan for the future, again! My MHA also assures me that seniors and the poorest of our society will receive a little extra from the federal government. So he wants us to believe that because they will receive that federal money, it justifies the provincial government taking it from them. He also reminded me that I will receive over $6,000 this year for child tax, from the feds. That’s an interesting number — $6,000, because that’s the approximate amount of money the provincial government will take from my family this year, right off the top! I can’t afford to lose that much money! So they are justifying their austerity measures by the little extra federal money we are getting. Not only is this budget regressive on it’s own, it completely reverses any progressive measures introduced by the federal Liberals. These proposed measures go against everything the Liberals said they stood for.
Two generations of bright, educated hard-working Newfoundlanders and Labradorians left and never looked back.
So here I sit, at 29 years old, with a young family. I’ve seen many blue and red governments come and go, taking turns at the reins, going around in the same cycles of boom and bust, hope and loss. Each succeeding government blaming the last for all the problems. Each with no plan for the future, while fighting amongst themselves about who caused the biggest disaster. Each one promising the change we so desperately need, while trying to get their hands on the reins. Each one making the same mistakes of the past, once in office. While the hard-working backs of the people of N.L. pay for their mismanagement, again and again.
I am resilient. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be here, but now I look around and say to myself, “What future is here for my children?” I see none. I can find no answers, and no leadership to guide us in the right direction. We have such potential in this province. We leave millions of dollars in the water while our inshore fisherman struggle to get by. We lose billions in final stage processing of our seafood, while our fish plant workers sit unemployed. We have vast renewable forestry resources that remain untouched, while our woodsman seek employment out of the province. We lose billions in hydro and other resources that are handed out the door. We suffered so much outmigration of our greatest resource, that I believe that’s why we are in the state we are in. Two generations of bright, educated hard-working Newfoundlanders and Labradorians left and never looked back. I can’t blame them either, there is nothing to look back for. That would have been where the promise of a diversified economy would have been nice. Now we’re back to the place we were the last time the Liberals were in power: taxed to death, with no plan for the future, and the youth again contemplating mass exodus. The only solution I can see to breaking the vicious cycle of PC spending, Liberal clawback, and self-serving mismanaging politicians, is to take the money out of politics so the everyday people with vision for this province can have a fair chance to get in the House of Assembly. Only then will we ever see a future for our beautiful piece of paradise, the lovely province of Newfoundland and Labrador. My heart is breaking while I write this. When will the real criminals ever be held accountable?!
Ashley Byrne / St. Anthony
P.S. I addressed this letter to the people, because I have been writing to the politicians all week, and my words are falling on the deaf ears of the silenced. So these words are for my fellow Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. I don’t consider the “leaders” of the province to be our countrymen, because a true noble Newfoundlander and Labradorian would never ignore their people’s plea for help, nor turn their backs on a neighbour in need. They would never put their own interests ahead of their brothers and sisters. So as far as I can tell, we have never had a true Newfoundlander and Labradorian at the helm, and I think its time we had one!
If you would like to share your story about how the provincial government’s austerity budget will affect you and/or your family, send your letter to [email protected]
Read The Independent’s ongoing coverage of austerity and the 2016 budget:
- A budget for the rich, by the rich (Opinion)
- Open letter to Premier, Cabinet Ministers & all MHAs (Letter)
- Solidarity and paying my dues (Opinion)
- Austerity hurts women, so we must shape our response accordingly (Opinion)
- Residents take anti-austerity fight to streets of St. John’s (News)
- Liberals’ austerity budget will hit most vulnerable hardest (News)
- Budget 2016 provides little hope for the future (Letter)
- Budget 2016 “an attack on families” (Letter)
- Government “definitely does have a choice” in NL Budget 2016: economist (News)
- As the wave breaks: NL budget 2016 (Opinion)
- Is there a democratic alternative to austerity? (Opinion)
- Deficit crisis a chance for change (Opinion)
- Not “Our” Crisis (Opinion)