One Full-time job. "Will that be all sir?"
With a federal election in full swing, candidates from all parties are desperately attempting to cope with the usual barrage of demands sent forth by the public, fighting them off with an impressive defence of candy-coated, cream-filled promises. Normally, this would be a near-impossible juggling act of trying to solve a multitude of needs while at the same time offending no one. However, in the federal ridings inside Newfoundland and Labrador, candidates are having a field day. This is because these lucky candidates have only one collective woe to worry over, only one voice to soothe, only one promise to make. And that means less baking.
With an unemployment rate flirting with twenty percent, the only thought on the minds of the majority of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians is jobs. All other problems have been abandoned in favour of this latest craze, and everyone from the unemployed, to those afraid of becoming unemployed have jumped on the blundering bandwagon. If a candidate could solve this problem, or at least convince everyone that he or she has, then the race may as well end at that all-inspired moment with the candidate crowned, leaving the others to squabble over the scraps. The frightening thing about this collective campaign for employment is that to the people involved seem as though it is the only thing that matters. They want jobs, no matter the cost.
A prime example of this single-minded philosophy was all too apparent in the recent smelter debate. With the Voisey's Bay mining project promising great success and economical spin-offs, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians wanted their piece of the nickel pie. Like Robin Hood himself, Premier Brian Tobin swooped in and picked the peasants a smelter from the deep pockets of the greedy multi-national, INCO. And the peasants rejoiced; but not for long. The problem that arose was where to put the smelter within the province's boundaries, in Newfoundland or Labrador. This latest development pitted Newfoundlanders and Labradorians against each other in a heated debate that nearly resulted in the break up of the province. Everyone wanted the smelter's belching smoke stacks in their own backyard. Why you ask? Why would a group of individuals fight for the bragging rights to a project that would cost them their environment, the waters upon which many depend for their livelihood, and ultimately their health? The answer is all too obvious, they want jobs.
Luckily for the people of Labrador, though many of them may not have agreed, a voice of reason made itself heard. The voice was that of the Labrador Inuit Association. They were the only ones to denounce the project for the detrimental effects the sulphur dioxide that such a facility would spew out on a daily basis and the effects of it would have on the surrounding environment and the health of the people. They realized that progress comes at too high a cost and helped save Labrador from the ominous clouds of deadly gases.
Partially due to the protest of the Inuit, the condemned smelter site was to be chosen elsewhere, and it was now the turn of the people of Argentia to rejoice. They where the lucky recipients of the precious smelter jobs with bonus prizes including dust storms, acid rain, and various lung diseases, just to name a few. Now, it may seem as though I'm overreacting, after all the Premier and INCO's representatives didn't say anything about these 'bonuses'. Of course, they did not warn the citizens of Sudbury, Ontario either. Sudbury is the home of INCO's Southern Ontario smelter. Residents of this town have been plagued by the symptoms I've mentioned since the smelter set up shop in their own backyard. But, that doesn't really matter, does it? They've still got their jobs, and that's what counts, right?
Some people may argue that what happened in the Sudbury smelter cannot happen here, basing their arguments on the words of an INCO representative. This representative was heard to say that the people of Newfoundland need not worry because the smelter will make use of the "latest" technology available to the industry. What he did not mention was that the industry has progressed little if any in the area of environmental safety since the construction of the Sudbruy smelter.
Yet another example of Newfounlanders' and Labradorians' single-minded view on jobs is the Hibernia project. Much like the smelter for Voisey's Bay nickel, the Hibernia project is another employment rich and environmentally devastating undertaking.
During the construction phase of the GBS (Gravity Based Structure), which is destined to suck oil from below the ocean floor just off Newfoundland's coast, approximately 5000 jobs were created, each lasting around four to five years. This term of employment ended recently with the tow out of the GBS. Many of those laid off from their positions with the Hibernia project expressed sadness in losing their jobs, but pride in being a part of a project that is being heralded as one of the great engineering wonders of the world. However, none of the now 5000 unemployed workers expressed any emotions towards the clouds of black smoke that the GBS will spew forth, the pollution that will be caused by the burning of the oil taken from below the ocean floor, or the very real possibility of an oil spill off the coast of Newfoundland that would devastate the seafood industry in the region.
The GBS will continue to supply approximately 650 full-time jobs to the people of the province once the oil production phase begins in December of this year. Economical spin-offs undreamed of for the province have been promised by project officials and the provincial government expects tax revenue from the project to reach into the billions of dollars. The economical blessings are many, and once again that's all that matters, right?
The irony behind this mad-capped, wild, job hunt is by supporting such projects as Hibernia and the Voisey's Bay nickel smelter, which are environmentally suicidal, the people of the province are in fact doing themselves out of a wealth of jobs. Many of Newfoundland and Labrador's vital industries are based on our natural resources. A single oil spill caused by the GBS could wipe out an entire region's seafood industry and put thousands out of work. The giant clouds of sulphur dioxide created by the nickel smelter destined for Argentia will pollute bodies of water and destroy wildlife habitats with acid rain not only in the region, but anywhere the wind carries the poisonous gas. This will threaten everything from commercial fishing, to the expanding outdoor adventure industry to recreational outdoor activities. Not only are presently vital industries threatened by the industrialization trend, but those growing in strength are threatened as well.
With the Cabot 500 celebrations soon to be in full swing, many business people in the province are looking towards the thriving tourism sector for business opportunities. Due to Newfoundland and Labrador's virtually untouched wilderness areas, this province draws tourists from across North America who are looking for the ideal outdoor experience. The business of promoting this province as a tourist destination, particularly for the outdoor enthusiast, has enormous potential for growth and job creation. Well, it did anyhow. With the construction of the smelter and the GBS, along with other projects proposed for the future such as drilling for oil off the west coast, our 'untouched' natural environment is in grave danger, thus endangering our fledgling tourism industry as well.
The added twist of the loss of currently prosperous and growing industries questions the mentality that fuels this hunger for employment. The irrationality it takes to forget about the many consequences of an act, and to only see the short term gains,can only be fuelled by desperation and ignorance. Unfortunately, both seem beyond the control of those seeking these short term gains. Politicians and company officials have kept the residents of the province in the dark concerning the risks involved with projects such as those I have mentioned, creating a fog of ignorance that has clouded the vision of the people. The cause of their desperation is frighteningly obvious, people need jobs. Living in a capitalist society, if you don't have a job you're a nobody. The people of the province are tired of living off of social programs such as 'employment' insurance and welfare that can no longer support them.
Desperate and hungry, the unemployed people of the province are turning to the politicians for help, which tells you just how desperate they are. Many are struggling to feed growing families, slowly losing the battle against poverty. This desperation, coupled with ignorance, has forced them to forget everything else. They have blocked out the voices of reason and have narrowed their focus to a single goal: finding work. The unfortunate thing is that the work they seek is coming at the cost of the environment, and without it a job is worthless. After all, you can't work if you can't breathe.
At a recent NDP rally, Alexa Macdonough challenged the other party leaders, saying " It's about jobs, stupid!" In this single sentence, she summed up the thoughts of many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. But sometimes, I wonder if I heard her wrong, if she actually meant "It's about jobs? Stupid!" It makes a lot more sense to me.