Thursday, 5 November 2015

The Election Questions We Should Be Asking

The Election Questions We Should Be Asking

By Ryan Young

As the writ drops today in advance of the provincial general election on November 30th, the media is abuzz with questions for our politicians. The economy is the issue on most minds, with low oil prices causing job losses and general uncertainty. Issues like education and childcare, gender equality, and natural resource development are getting a fair amount of attention as well but the majority of talk so far has been about the candidates and not the issues. So far the biggest story has been Ryan Cleary deciding to run for the PC’s.

This is a common theme in Newfoundland politics, which is so much a popularity contest as it ever was. The high poll numbers for Dwight Ball and the Liberals is certainly not based on policy as they have not announced any yet, so one must assume that the issues really have no part in provincial politics.

So what are some of the issues that we are not talking about? Obviously jobs and education are important issues, but what are a few major issues that are hardly even given a thought?

Here are four discussions that we should be having prior to November 30.

Our Relationship with Canada

Under the rule of Stephen Harper, the relationship between Newfoundland and mother Ottawa has deteriorated to the point of being nearly non-existent. No doubt Danny Williams had a part to play in the frosty relations, as did the reluctance of the electorate to send tory MP’s to Ottawa in the wake of the ABC campaigns. But now, with the country dusting itself off from a marathon federal election and a newly elected Prime Minister sworn in, we need to look at repairing our relationship with the feds and try to finally become a working part in the great game of confederation.

Increased control of the fishery and offshore royalties should be a priority for any provincial government, as should be securing our fair share of Mr. Trudeau’s infrastructure spending.

For as long as we have been Canadians we have been fighting with Canada for the opportunity to be able to help ourselves. Now is the time for us to really pressure Ottawa to open its arms fully to the poor little cousin and welcome us in as equals once and for all.

Electoral Reform

One of the enduring issues during the recent federal election was electoral reform. The vast majority of Canadians are in favor of changing the way we elect our governments and the winning Liberals have promised that a new system will be in place before the next election in 2019.

Strangely, there seems to be much less interest in changing our own antiquated electoral system. With the Liberals in the driver's seat, it is no wonder that they have no desire to change the “first past the post” system that will hand them a large majority of seats proportional to the actual popular vote. In hindsight, maybe instead of reducing the number of seats, the outgoing PC’s should have made changes to the system to allow a House of Assembly represented by the percentage of the vote and not the number of seats. It might well have saved them from being blown off the map later this month and could possibly have given them a strong opposition voice Instead they will be obliterated on November 30th, and the Liberals will have their chance to rule with an unchecked majority.

It is true that Newfoundlanders are not big fans of change, but maybe it is time that we start the conversation about our electoral system in hopes that someday someone might take it seriously and establish a system that fairly represents the wishes of the people.

Renewable Energy

Despite our firsthand knowledge of how the boom or bust oil economy works, Newfoundland continues to forge ahead with all of its eggs in the petroleum basket. Sure, oil has changed the financial landscape of the province for the better, but recently we have been witnessing the other side of the industry, when prices drop and big projects get put on hold.

With all of the talk of future development of offshore oil resources, we hear very little discussion of investing our new windfall in a way that will benefit the people of the province long after the last barrel of crude has been pumped from the sea floor. Will we continue to reap the rewards of oil revenues, only to spend then on short sighted social programs that become unsustainable when the price drops? Why are we not talking about re-investing that wealth into renewable resources that can benefit the people of Newfoundland and Labrador for generations to come? Technologies such as bladeless wind turbines and tidal generating stations have advanced to the point where they are now affordable and commercially viable but yet we continue to collectively drag our feet and depend on big oil.

If Newfoundland and Labrador really wants to get serious about becoming an energy superpower we need to look past the oil resources and start developing in a sustainable way that will provide energy and jobs for generations to come.

Food Security

One of the scariest issues facing this province today is one that gets very little attention. To wonder about the reality of our food situation, just head to your local supermarket a few days after the Marine Atlantic ferries have been grounded due to bad weather. It doesn’t take long for the shelves to get bare and fresh goods to disappear. In rural areas, where getting fresh goods can be a challenge at the best of times, winter can be a nightmare on the food chain.

A vital signs report on agriculture in the province has called it “shameful” how little farmable land we have. The national average of per capita farmland is 1.19 hectares while NL has just 0.06 hectares per person. That is about the size of an average urban building lot. We currently have the smallest amount of farms in Canada. In 2006 there were 558 farms on the island compared to 4226 just prior to confederation.

As changing global conditions continue to wreak havoc on external food sources availability is reduced and prices rise. Can we do better by increasing the amount of farming here in the province. It might be worth looking into.

So as we move ahead towards the general election on November 30, let’s keep these issues in mind and ask them to the candidates when they come knocking at your door. There will never be political will to make the changes if nobody asks the questions. It will be no good to wait until December to ask them. Once the votes are counted it might be harder to get an answer.

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