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Friday 30 December 2011

It's A Tough Call

2011, like the month of December is drawing to a close. Unlike the month of December we shall not see another 2011. Following an odd year for yours truly, December has been a month of contemplation and  reflection. All that thinking has unfortunately made my head hurt and my fingers stop working as they should. Hence the serious lack of posts this month. 

This year saw me take two months(and then some) off from work to follow a dream of being an elected MHA. Unfortunately that lack of steady employment has continued into the winter and has led to some of the aforementioned serious contemplation. What I will do for a job and where I will do it has been an issue in the past, but the serious lack of financial resources has put quite a fine point on it this December. 

When I finished my first Degree from MUN I was just married and we were on the verge of moving to Ontario for work. It was out of necessity not desire to leave. Don't get me wrong, there was excitement about moving to a new place and I was ready to cut a new path in a new place. But the trip, not unlike the marriage wasn't meant to be. 

I have moved to Labrador West for work for a couple of years, but until now I have never been closer to taking a job out west. My own internal conflict is largely of little interest to most of you I'm sure but there are two songs that do a very good job of summarizing the conflict that I, and many others feel. 

Should I Stay? 

Or Should I go?

It is a decision I made once before and I will have to make again. For now I can be thankful that the things that keep me here in NL make me very happy, even if I'm not very wealthy! 

Thanks for reading and have a great 2012!

Thursday 15 December 2011

Working Without a Net

It seems that the story of Newfoundland and Labrador will forever be tied to the fishery. That's not a bad thing. The problem is the change in that story, and the action of the key players. As usual because I'm jumping into some commentary on the fishery I will clarify that I have never worked in or near the industry, and that I wish I had more time to research and learn more about it. For now I shall have to proceed based on what I know now, and thats all that any of us can do I suppose.

Two more fish plants have closed. The people of the Marystown and Port Union areas are devastated. Is there anyone out there who didn't see this coming at some point? Even the most cursory examination of the fishery in NL will reveal the basic facts.

  • We have had an over capacity for processing for many years. 
  • Many of the species stocks are still in poor shape.  
  • The companies who own the processing enterprises want to maximize profits. 
  • Governments at the Provincial and Federal level have backed away for any active management of the fishery for years. 
  • There are a raft of other much more complicated factors at play like: NAFO, Overfishing, trading international fish quotas, over and under regulation, and many many layers of political BS.  
The bottom line is that the industry has not evolved to meet the needs of the current marketplace or those engaged in the industry. Is it the fault of fishermen, governments, processors, politicians, bureaucrats? Yes. And then some. 

Unfortunately all of this means that the story has changed from "we make our living from the fishery" to "some of us kinda still make a living from the fishery" and it will become "we once made our living from the fishery." It is a heated and passionate story that is still being played out on radio talk shows and newspapers in NL. Unfortunately because it's a passionate issue and there are no easy solutions there is a whole lot of finger pointing. Two recent examples come from Geoff Meeker's Blog at the Telegram. One here and one here regarding the CBC radio program, the Fisheries Broadcast. The show is well know to the point that it's usually just called "The Broadcast." 

Over at The Sir Robert Bond Papers, Ed Hollett has been writing up a storm for a while on the ongoing issues and the ongoing BS in the industry. For a sampling of his efforts check out this link here. One thing is for sure, we won't figure it out by yelling at each other, or by turning communities against each other. 

So what's the point? The fishery is big, it's nasty and it isn't going to die a silent death. Many people in NL would be just delighted not to hear about the fishery any longer. But, they may not understand how it still plays an important roll in the lives of many people here. I think it can still be a thriving industry that offers serious employment to people. The question today is "Is the deal offered by OCI to keep the Fortune plant open year round worth the shipment of 80% of one species off to be processed in China?" 

It's a tuffy. If you work at the Fortune plant then you might say yes. If you're the FFAW you might say no. If you're Fishery Minister King, who knows what you'll say. 

There's no doubt that our current fishery structure is not working properly to provide both the product demanded by the market place and a living wage for people working in the industry. But can it really be cheaper to ship thousands of pounds of fish, thousands of miles away to processed, only to be shipped thousands of miles back to markets on our doorsteps? If the answer is yes then I guess we'd better get used to our fishery story changing to the point where we can maximize our benefit here while shipping the product to China for processing. Or make the whole industry one big co-op. 

Friday 9 December 2011

What's a RECI?

Following a multi year project that explored various regional governance entities and a great deal of scientific survey work a new tool called the Regional Economic Capacity Index or RECI has been released by the Harris Centre and is available over here. The project was a partnership between Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador, The Harris Centre (MUN) and the University of Kentucky and it has been underway since about 2008.

I was involved with some of the community meetings in the pilot regions when I worked with MNL when the project began. It has taken quite a bit longer then originally envisioned but the RECI tool is finally online.

Like many academic tools I suspect this one will largely go unused by the majority of community and Government folks who should be using them. The same applies to the entire Community Accounts setup over here. As if it wasn't bad enough that we don't have many people doing proper community planning, we do have some available tools and people don't generally use them.

While RECI is a new and useful tool it isn't quite what I recall as the planned super tool that was talked about in the beginning. The current release can be searched by economic zone, by Rural Secretariat area or by what it calls by "functional region." It is this functional region idea that I found the most interesting aspect of the original research. Part of the intent was to examine how government implemented boundaries like economic zones and Rural Secretariat areas were different from the actual and practical regions that people determined for themselves by virtue of where they worked, went to school, availed of services and purchased groceries and larger items. Unfortunately very little of that seems to have made it into the tool beyond some statistical analysis and the functional regions map.

The tool is certainly useful, and if you explore the details of each community it provides analysis based on how each community is positioned within its region in terms of demographics, working conditions, geographic location, and local governance structures. But the unfortunate part is that all we get is a list of communities and a collection of tables and graphs with very little interpretation. The nature of the tool will lead to even less use by those who should be it's largest clients.

There were a number of very interesting and useful maps that were included in preliminary presentations on the project that have not made it through to RECI. Like this one, or this one, both presented at MNL events in 2010. It is still a worthwhile tool, and I hope it gets used to it's full potential, however I was hoping for a combination of more information and more interpretation. Here's hoping they keep updating and improving RECI to build it into what could be a critical part of regional planning for the future of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Thursday 1 December 2011

Self Reliance

It's not rocket science, self sufficiency breeds sustainability. We had it once but we seem to have lost it in the last generation or so. Check out this piece over at the online Independent for one perspective.

Have we forgotten how to be self reliant or do we just not care any more?