Premier Stays Positive in First “State of the Province” Address

Comfortably in his element, Premier Andrew Furey insisted on Good Vibes Only for a friendly audience at the St. John’s Board of Trade.
Video of Premier Andrew Furey is broadcast on two large projector screens during a Board of Trade luncheon in St. John's.
Premier Andrew Furey addresses the St. John’s Board of Trade on 19 October, 2022. Photo by Jeremy Rumbolt.

Over lunch on October 19 at the Emera Innovation Centre on Signal Hill, Premier Andrew Furey delivered the first “State of the Province Address” to the St. John’s Board of Trade. It was, above all, a message of hope and optimism for the province’s donor class. Against the backdrop of global geopolitical instability, economic uncertainty and climate change, the Premier was keen to stress the province’s present good fortune.

“My friends, many opinion pieces from naysayers over the years have been scripted with the first paragraph concentrating on this province’s obituary,” Furey began. “Never count Newfoundland and Labrador as down or out. We have an abundance of positive energy.”

Introduced by Walmart Canada Regional VP Tony Flaim, Furey addressed the intimate crowd just over an hour after Finance Minister Siobhan Coady delivered a rosy fall fiscal update that included a surprise $479 million surplus and Newfoundland and Labrador’s lowest unemployment rate since 1976. 

“Our economic forecast is no longer a bleak story that’s been told and retold,” Furey explained. “All three of the province’s credit rating agencies moved their outlook of Newfoundland and Labrador from negative to stable. With oil revenues higher than expected, our government is projecting revenue to be $1.3 billion more than expected this fiscal year. This reduces our net debt by nearly a billion dollars, and perhaps most exciting, we will make the first-ever contribution to the new Future Fund with $157 million.”

Beyond highlighting many positive economic indicators, Furey also focused on the promises of Newfoundland and Labrador’s energy sector—particularly its nascent hydrogen industry, whose major players count the Premier as a close personal friend.

“We have a revolutionary opportunity to witness and embrace a new industry through this time of disruption,” Furey explained. “Hydrogen is a clean, emission-free fuel source that is in high demand around the globe. Key Canadian trading partners such as Germany are urgently seeking alternatives to fossil fuels, to transition to a low-carbon economy while ensuring energy security. Green hydrogen in particular is produced using renewable resources, like wind and hydro electricity. In Newfoundland and Labrador, we have an endless supply [of wind and hydro] and we will be leading the pack when it comes to transition in Canada.”

“Imagine the possibilities when it comes to our global fight with climate change with the resources that we have in Newfoundland and Labrador,” he continued. “We need no greater reminder of climate change than Hurricane Fiona, or the forest fires in Central. I know it seems like a contradiction that such a resource-based economy as ours should even mention ‘net zero emissions’. But climate change is a consideration.”

“Our government is investing to encourage people to choose electric vehicles, and hybrids, and the switch from oil to electric heat for their homes and businesses,” Furey added. “Metals needed for clean technology—electric vehicles, batteries, renewables—like copper, cobalt, and nickel are all found within our boundaries. And we have established the Net Zero Advisory Council to advise on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This is a part of the momentum that will help us achieve Net Zero by 2050.”

Billing for the Premier’s “State of the Province” Address at the Emera Innovation Centre. Photo by Jeremy Rumbolt.

But amid the positive news, the Premier acknowledged that many challenges remained—especially around the rising cost of living and the crisis in the provincial healthcare system. He spent some time outlining what his government was doing to address these issues.

“The high cost of living is taking a toll on everyone,” Furey said. “So our government is putting $500 back in the pockets of hundreds of thousands of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians right away. We’re reducing the provincial gas tax and diesel tax and extending the Home Heating Credit. We got the $5.2 billion deal with the federal government to keep power rates from doubling when Muskrat Falls comes online—which also improved our credit rating and helped lower our costs to grow. We lowered childcare costs from an average of $35 a day in 2020 and we will be nation-leading at $10 a day in January of 2023.”

“The healthcare sector in particular is weathering a storm like it’s never seen before,” he continued. “We want to improve not just the immediate outcomes and the staffing issues, but we can’t lose sight of investing in the social determinants of health. We’ve introduced a number of financial incentives for doctors and other healthcare professionals. These include ones to encourage retired professionals to re-enter the workforce. We’ve expanded and created two new collaborative, community team clinics all across our province so that more people will eventually get access to the care they need.”

“Not the traditional care they’re used to,” Furey added. “But the care they need.”

“We are maximizing our oil and gas revenues while building towards a lower carbon economy,” the Premier concluded. “We are growing new industries while making sure we expand on those critical to small businesses. We are making big changes to ensure the province has the healthcare and education needed to not only serve every resident, but also to continue the trend of attractiveness.”

“A Great Collaborative Relationship”

Following his address, Furey was joined by Board of Trade CEO AnnMarie Boudreau for some friendly rapid-fire questions from the business lobby. He took this time to again stress the promise of the hydrogen industry, his willingness to take direction from business leaders, his vision for transforming the healthcare system, and the power of positive thinking.

“It’s an exciting time if you’re a foreign investor because we have incredible opportunities in front of us, whether that’s in existing industries or creating new industries,” Furey told Boudreau. “There’s a lot of talk about hydrogen and wind-to-hydrogen. To what other generation has been afforded the opportunity to be on the cusp of a new industry? It’s like we’re looking at the invention of the locomotive. There will be no end to the demand for hydrogen. So I would say that everybody here should continue to support a new and vibrant industry, recognizing that it is new and vibrant and that there isn’t necessarily a roadmap to create a modern new industry.”

“Are we going to make mistakes along the way?” the Premier asked rhetorically. “Definitely. But you need to have that permission to make those mistakes in order to get to where you need to be. And as we launch a new industry, we’d like [the Board of Trade’s] feedback to ensure that it’s not being held back by red tape.”

“We’ve had a great collaborative relationship and would like to continue with the feedback from everybody in the room here,” Furey continued. “It’s what drives our decisions. You need to tell us where there’s red tape. If you can tell me where to get rid of it, please do. We’re always open for feedback. I think we’ve shown that collaborative working relationship. Let us know.”

St. John’s Board of Trade CEO AnnMarie Boudreau questions Premier Andrew Furey after his “State of the Province” speech. Photo by Jeremy Rumbolt.

Boudreau proceeded to immediately take the Premier up on his offer, and pressed for details about the province’s announcement of pay transparency legislation—which, among other things, would require employers to include information about pay in publicly advertised job postings, and prohibit employers for penalizing employees or applicants who inquired about pay information.

“One such conversation that we’re going to weigh in on is around the pay transparency and pay equity legislation that was launched this week,” she noted. “It came as no surprise that the pay equity legislation was passed. It may have been a surprise to some around the pay transparency piece. Can you share why you felt both pieces were needed at this time?”

“Because it’s 2022,” Furey quipped. “There is no perfect answer to this question. It’s quite complex and multi-layered. As you noticed, we didn’t just come in and say ‘this is the way it’s being done’. There’s still time for feedback in terms of the transparency and equity piece—both have room for discussions. There’s going to be a full consultation with respect to private industry, largely. What we announced in legislation was around government and then government agencies. There’s still room for input and feedback from private industry.”

Furey then wrapped up the questions by expanding on his vision for healthcare reform—as well as his thoughts on the importance of staying positive.

“We’re in a bad spot, no question, and no one’s ever denied that,” the Premier conceded. “I mean, I knew the system was broken. The system is designed for 1960s, 1970s, 1980s healthcare. It has to evolve. As Canadians, we’re all proud of universal healthcare, but I don’t think it’s lived up to its evolution as it should be. It’s something that we hold onto as a part of the fabric of our citizenship, but as a program it hasn’t evolved to meet the modern needs of Canadians. The opportunity afforded to us coming out of the pandemic is incredible disruption. And if you let that moment—that opportunity—slip through your fingers, and we keep doing things the way we’ve always done it, we’re not going to get any different results.”

“So we’ve taken extraordinary measures that no other government would touch,” Furey continued. “One Health Authority. I mean, that was toxic. We’re taking the extraordinary step of saying that we need a better licensing process. Right now, the barriers are excessive. So we’re trying to eliminate all of those for equivalent jurisdiction. We will be the first jurisdiction in Canada with a national licensure. Everybody’s been arguing for national licensures in medicine for a long time, but we’ve taken the extra step to do it here first. We’re not waiting for all the ten other jurisdictions to kind of come to an agreement. We think that that first move will pay dividends.”

“It’s refreshing to hear that you think the same as we think, looking in from the outside,” Boudreau added.

“You know, it’s a positive time,” Furey concluded. “It’s the most positive I’ve felt as just a normal citizen since the early 2000s. I don’t know if everyone else is feeling that, but there’s true momentum. There’s true excitement. There’s true belief in the future of all our industries, whether they’re traditional or non-traditional. That positivity trickles down to young people. It’s a message of hope. It’s a message of continuing to be positive. As I’ve said to many people in the medical conversation, if you’re going out there and telling people how bad it is in your community, then guess what? There’s not going to be a doctor coming to your community.” 

“Negativity begets negativity,” he added. “I can’t say it enough. You have to be positive and there are good, solid reasons to be positive. And the youth feel it. They know there’s an endless amount of opportunity here that didn’t exist even ten years ago.” 

“The Newfoundland and Labrador that we want is a new Newfoundland and Labrador,” Furey said. “And it will be transformed.”

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