Spot the Difference: Baron Amulree or McKinsey & Co.?

Can YOU tell which ‘diversification’ ideas are from the 1933 Amulree Commission that doomed Newfoundland and which ones are from the 2019 McKinsey report?

So, let’s say you’re a Newfoundland and Labrador politician and/or Thought Leader confronting our array of problems—as one does. But these problems seem really complicated and nearly impossible; they are downright wicked. What is a reformer to do?

You think: maybe I need a specialized analysis from an impartial party whose fresh perspective can really dig into the details to come up with innovative suggestions on how best to proceed.

Great! You are in luck. There has been no shortage of study into Newfoundland and Labrador’s many problems spanning back centuries—and there is no shortage of global consulting firms willing to write new ones for a modest million-dollar fee! 

But perhaps it’s also worth considering the findings from humanity’s first great third-party management report: the Bible. One Teacher famously opens his book with an admonition that “the thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). 

So why the big fuss about reinventing the wheel? Especially here, where the ruts in the road cut deep and familiar.

Below are selected quotes from either the 1933 Amulree Commission report—best known for suggesting a “rest from party politics” for the then-Dominion of Newfoundland—or quotes from McKinsey’s 2019 report on diversifying Newfoundland and Labrador’s economic future. Can you tell which quote comes from which report?

[These recommendations have been lightly edited so that they consistently say “Newfoundland and Labrador” (rather than Newfoundland only), and I’ve replaced the word “province” with “Newfoundland or Labrador” or “government” as appropriate.] 

1. Newfoundland and Labrador could actively seek partnership opportunities with airlines to increase the number of direct flights to major airports. For example, the government could explore ways to reduce airport-related costs that currently comprise a relatively large part of the overall cost structure for airlines (e.g., landing fees, check-in handling).

2. A policy encouraging the use of aircraft would amply repay any expense involved (…). The opening of a service between St. John’s and the mainland (…) should result in a considerable volume of tourist traffic and provide facilities for the carriage of merchandise and in particular of perishable goods.

3. [An] attractive investment opportunity might be associated with agricultural products in which Newfoundland and Labrador has a competitive advantage—for example, partridgeberries, cranberries, saltwater lamb, and disease-free bees. These specialty food products could serve as the basis of new export businesses (…). In parallel with these efforts, Newfoundland and Labrador should also consider the possibility of secondary dairy processing, enabling a broader specialty industry centred on high-value premium products.

4. There would seem to be an opportunity for the establishment in Newfoundland and Labrador of a jam-making industry on a large scale. Besides the berries which have been mentioned there are many other native berries which could be used for jam-making; the country is also favourably adapted for the growing of strawberries, gooseberries, raspberries, plums, and currants.

5. Newfoundland and Labrador is the natural home of the beaver, otter, fox, bear, lynx, marten and muskrat (…). These creatures require no artificial conditions but merely freedom from interference. If this could be assured to them, the interior of the island of Newfoundland (…) might eventually be transformed into a vast fur-farm.

6. Supporting the adoption of innovative farming techniques could help overcome some of the structural disadvantages of Newfoundland and Labrador, especially the short growing season (…). [I]nnovation opportunities for Newfoundland and Labrador might materialize through synergies with other sectors, such as using excess steam from paper and pulp production to heat greenhouses. To encourage these innovations, the government could play a role in helping realize such partnerships by identifying and facilitating opportunities and de-risking initial investments through loan guarantees and grants.

7. [Some people] urged that it was only by the attraction of foreign capital that the natural resources of Newfoundland and Labrador could be developed and [utilized] to full advantage (…). [But] the scheme requires the government of Newfoundland and Labrador to make large free grants of land, easement rights and other concessions (…). It is unthinkable that in these days any government with a sense of responsibility could bring itself, by the grant of a series of monopolies relating to essential articles, to place the future well-being of its people in the hands of a private company. The objections would be no less strong even if such a company should offer to contribute from its own resources the capital necessary for the projects in view.

8. Newfoundland and Labrador would need to attract outside capital, new technology, specialized expertise, and talent to develop internationally competitive export sectors. Newfoundland and Labrador can only grow its economy by marketing its goods and services for export. Growth of the economy will also depend on outside investment, as local businesses and the government often do not have sufficient funds to finance a meaningful increase in the level of economic activity (…). Rather than focusing on how the government could undertake economic growth initiatives on its own, the government should continue to facilitate and enable the private sector to assume more leadership where appropriate (e.g., in developing the tourism industry), supporting and regulating private players along the way.


(Page references are to page numbers in the PDF document itself—i.e. cover pages count.)

For the Amulree Report, click here. For the McKinsey Report, click here.

Photo: “Problems, Problems…” by Ion Chibzii.

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