(economic)Hell or High Water

One Labradorian’s view of the high cost politics being played out over Muskrat Falls and one towns economy

I like the news. I like to keep informed on what’s happening on the ground at home and around the province. Labrador is such a geographically, economically, and culturally diverse region – the whole province is even more so.  There’s always a news story that’s bubbling away out there that has implications for the economic prosperity of some community (or region) or other and if we don’t keep abreast of the issues how is it that we can keep the politicians accountable? I mean they all have an agenda, and their parties have an agenda even if it’s often difficult to glean what that is.

Take this news story about the withdrawal (mothballing) of plans for supersonic military flight training over Labrador. Eight years ago this news would have had the Goose Bay Citizens Coalition, provincial politicians, Mayors and so on in a complete rage. In their first term of office following the 2003 provincial election – where every MHA had something to prove [in a new government with something to prove] – the PC’s lived up to a campaign promise to lead delegations to Ottawa, as well as extravagant trips to Europe, to promote the base.

I also find what’s (intentionally) not in the news informing

I recognize the base has always been under federal jurisdiction, and up to DND to decide its fate. However, one might notice that the province never offered to actually fix one of the main deterrents for our allies to train at 5-wing – the cost of training there. For example, the province could have given some of the Churchill Falls recall power instead of selling it all to Hydro Quebec. This would have replaced the need to upgrade the steam heating on the base at a tune of $40 million.

The province could have also waived the fees the base pays in lieu of taxes (around $16 million or so per year). Heck, the province could have kicked in some of the money to upgrade the facilities. And why not do so? There were upwards of 1600 person years of employment there annually, contributing nearly 100 million to the provinces GDP every year. This report (pdf) outlines the cost of losing the base to Labrador, and the province as a whole.

With the waning of provincial efforts, so too the federal commitments

I’m not certain they’re related, but I suspect they are. For example, in 2007 there was speculation as to what was happening to the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle and Rapid Reaction Battalion. Neither the province nor the Feds seemed to be paying much attention to this file. Then in the fall of 2007 there were the rumours that the base was shutting for good, which were in turn corrected. Mind you this was a provincial election year so lots of “good work” was being done. Recently you hear “commitments” by the newly minted Minister for Labrador such as “Goose Bay May Grow” (I may win the lottery too) and “No cuts” to 5-wing.

In fact, every year since the 2003 provincial elections (and every subsequent federal election) the pressure has been waning, the political commitments become less intense up to the point where there’s a collective “meh” response from Labrador to the federal/provincial backing off of 5-Wing Goose Bay. The fact is that many people have already lost their jobs, moved away, or found other means of living. Further to that, many people, especially the business community in Upper Lake Melville have built up high expectations for the Muskrat Falls development.

I think this is precisely what our government(s) wanted

You see the Federal government is sitting there with a base that none of our allies want, or can afford, to use. Trouble was the past decade has given us minority federal governments, desperately vying for each and every riding in Canada. In keeping with this desire, I’m certain the federal government had no interest in shutting down a (essentially) single industry town such as Goose Bay – at least until there were some kind of other industry to transition to.

But lo and behold, we’ve also seen a change from a Liberal to a PC government in the province, with a clear desire to win everyone over in the beginning and come hell or high water (hee hee) develop the “Lower Churchill”. My theory is that our provincial government wanted this development so bad, that it was willing to leave the people in Lake Melville wanting for jobs so bad that they would jump at the chance for development. I believe 10 years ago you would have heard considerably greater opposition to the project than you do today in Labrador.

I believe the federal government has been played in all this

Why else would they take so long to mothball, or implement the commitments they’ve made? I mean the entire strategy is essentially laid out in the (pdf) document from above, minus the provinces game. Once all the allies left Goose Bay, piecemeal, the next stage is to do environmental remediation and dismantle the base over 10 years. This spreads out the discomfort of economic slowdown. I don’t think I need to add links for people to know this has already been underway – just drive around up there.

The only thing the feds have been waiting for, in my conspiracy theory, is for the province to sally forth with new developments. I think the province has been playing a game of dosey-do to see what they could wrangle out of the guilty feeling feds. Danny Williams found a way to make this happen, with a loan guarantee from Canada for Muskrat Falls. That is, if the federal government can plug their noses long enough to sign it off. I mean there are serious questions within the province about the project, let alone the fiscal, legal and environmental risks Canada is exposing itself to (like being injunct-ified or sued by the Nunatukavut or any number of Environmental groups par example).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not terribly disappointed about the loss of the military

Nor the sonic booms, bombing eapons exercises, or practicing killing on Labrador soil, or especially the social woes associated with military presence.  But these are people’s jobs and livelihoods that our politicians are playing with and I think it’s high time they got down to keeping their promises, or be held accountable for not keeping them. Why not move into recall votes like our BC compatriots? In the very least let’s keep track of their performance. I mean, at my work, I have performance reviews every quarter, if I fall behind on commitments my manager(s) can take measure to correct it. If I continually fall behind, over a number of years, measures can be taken.

I also keep thinking about the facilities that haven’t yet been turned under the ground that still exist up on the Base. Instead of building a new camp for the (temporary) workers for the Muskrat Falls, why not use those facilities? Why not use the buildings and ramp on the base for other purposes? I keep thinking about the hidden homeless and the housing shortages in Goose Bay and can’t help but wonder why we have empty buildings being destroyed. There are so many NGO’s out there that would love to have access to the facilities on the base. Should the feds finally shut it down, why can’t the province step in and expropriate that too (minus the remediation)? 😀

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