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EDITORIAL: Stark reality

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball.
Premier Dwight Ball. — Government of Newfoundland and Labrador

“Our province has run out of time.”

Those are blunt words from Premier Dwight Ball in a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. And those are only a few of the blunt words.

Try these on for size: “I must bring to your attention the immediate and urgent financial crisis that Newfoundland and Labrador is facing. To put it bluntly, our recent attempts to finalize our borrowing program, both long term and short term, have been unsuccessful. We have no other recourse to raise the necessary funds to maintain the operations of government, including our health-care system, especially at this critical time.”

So, to put it a little more clearly, no one was going to lend the province money, and that meant the government couldn’t pay bills — like, say, its payroll.

To its credit, the federal government did step in with a stopgap, but that didn’t fix the fundamental problem.

We’re overdrawn. It’s been obvious that this point has been coming for years, but successive governments have turned a blind eye with the complicit acceptance of the voting public.

When we did have money, during the oil boom, the decisions weren’t any better.

To be fair, some good decisions were made. Even though it was unpopular, money from changes to the Atlantic Accord did address one of the most serious financial problems the province was facing, which was the serious shortfall in the provincial government pension plans.

We’re overdrawn. It’s been obvious that this point has been coming for years, but successive governments have turned a blind eye with the complicit acceptance of the voting public.

But other decisions were hopelessly optimistic. Despite regular warnings that the oil bonanza was unlikely to continue, governments during oil-rich times went on a spending spree, building roads and replacing buildings and expanding the provincial civil service.

Then, the biggest blunder of all: building a remote, massive generating station with an abundance of power that we may never need, an over-budget, much-delayed project now halted in mid-stream by COVID-19 and piling up additional interest debt with every single passing day.

To say the oil-rich years were managed by governments wearing the rosiest of rose-coloured glasses is an understatement.

Money brought the hubris of a government claiming we somehow got our pride back. One can only wonder what those leaders would say about having to go cap-in-hand to the federal government just to make payroll.

The federal government can only do so much.

Is it the end for the province? No.

But we can’t fall back on savings we didn’t bother to keep. And we can’t borrow money that people won’t lend us.

Our province is a place with a long history of personal resiliency. We will have to make do with less, and perhaps that means making do with even less than our fellow Canadians.

Commitment will have to come from the government, and from ordinary citizens.

It will be hard. But we can do it.

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