Newfoundland's premier makes sales pitch for province

Bishop's College
St. John's, Newfoundland

By Jonathan Brown, Grade 12


There has been a stigma attached to Newfoundland ever since Confederation. We've always been seen as the poor beggar on Canada's doorstep, the laughing stock of the country, and consequently, the victims. The sad fact is that we believed it and have been playing that role.

Now, a revolution is brewing, aimed at changing the mind set of Newfoundlanders and re- inventing our own self-image. The man at the front of this movement is Brian Tobin, the Premier of Newfoundland.

During his two years in office, Tobin has acted as chief salesperson for the province, accompanying local business people on trade missions to places such as Asia and South America, markets once thought untouchable. It all fits into his vision of a global economy.

When I interviewed Tobin in his office at Confederation Building in St. John's, I couldn't help but get caught up in his well-practiced sales pitch.

Tobin is quick to point out that Newfoundland is no longer a poor beggar. He quotes a recent report from Statistics Canada which says that Newfoundland gained 9,000 jobs over last year and reduced the load on the welfare system by 4,000 people. He also notes that all the major banks named

Newfoundland as the leader in growth among the provinces for the upcoming fiscal year. As well, for the first time since Confederation, the province of Newfoundland is running a deficit of zero.

The mineral, oil and gas industries have been heralded as the saviors of the province's economy and they are reason for the promising statistics on Newfoundland. With mega projects such as the Hibernia offshore oil project and the Voisey's Bay mineral development, the economic outlook for the province has become brighter.


However, Tobin says this is just the tip of the iceberg. With only a tiny percentage of Newfoundland's offshore lands explored, there is still much more room for growth in the industry. A notable example of this untapped wealth is a recent discovery of 52 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the province's offshore territory.

Unfortunately, the Voisey's Bay development is not off to a smooth start. INCO, the company with the rights to extract the rich deposits of nickel, copper and cobalt, has yet to agree to a benefit's package for the province. Tobin has taken much flak for his immovable position during the negotiations with INCO. He has demanded that a smelter be built inside the province to process Voisey's Bay nickel but so far, the company has been unwilling to agree to that condition.

"We must set our own terms for the development of our resources," says Tobin. "If it means having the company walk away, we have to be ready to say - yes, we're willing to do that."

Tobin points to past failures by the province to reap the benefits of its own natural resources and a need to set a precedent for future projects as the reason for his tough position.

Of course, the mineral, oil and gas industries are not all the province has going for it. Tobin stresses the need for diversification, firmly stating "the future will not be based on a single industry."

One of the many other industries being explored is the Information Technology sector. A perfect example of local success in this global industry is that of ZeddComm, a software solutions company which began as the low-budget brainchild of three Memorial University engineering graduates. What started out as a three-person company in a low-value rental space has grown into a multi-national with a head office in St. John's, offices across Canada and in the United States, and more than 30 employees.

The great advantage of the IT industry, says Tobin, is that not only is it a viable industry in itself, but it also allows Newfoundlanders in other sectors to reach out and compete with the world.

Tobin's overall message is that Newfoundlanders must make big changes — especially in attitude.

"The only authority that told us we couldn't compete was ourselves," says Tobin.

He's calling for a revolution -- one that takes place in minds of Newfoundland's people. This is not a change that government can pass in the legislature and write into law. It's a change that all Newfoundlanders have to make in their own lives.


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