On Danny Williams

It’s funny. I guess. When I heard about Danny Williams new campaign to personally slay the Harper government, I said here we go again.

And, of course, everyone has lambasted Williams from national commentators to politicians from all parties – even some pundits in his own province.

The funny part is that he is at 73% in the polls. I don’t think I have ever seen a politician at 73%.

It seems to me that Danny Williams – wildly over the top behaviour and all – is a symbol for the biggest problem facing Canada today.

It’s rarely talked about in the national discourse except for some vague references to demographic trends or the Alberta boom.

Newfoundland & Labrador lost 8% of its population from 1996 to 2006. New Brunswick lost population. Saskatchewan lost population. Manitoba, PEI and Nova Scotia barely held their own.

At a time of record national economic and population growth – 14 straight years without a single quarter of negative GDP growth – and yet whole swaths of this country are facing serious challenges.

Listen to Ibbitson and the like and this is just an inevitable urbanization. A good trend. Accelerate it, he says.

What I have found so ironic in my life is that it seems to be the role of government to provide health care, education, roads, police, social programs, etc. but it should be up to the ‘market’ to decide if any actual people live in the communities in which it’s the role of government to provide health care, education……

I, as you know, have a little different point of view.

I think it should be the primary function to government to ensure that its community (narrowly or broadly defined) exists at all – and then worry about the kinds of government services you want to provide.

A bit like when we spent billions to settle Western Canada.

Newfoundlanders are worried and they should be. New Brunwickers should similarly be worried because on top of the population decline government spending is running more or less amok. At a time when population is declining you would think that goverment spending should be stable or at least only growing at the rate of inflation. But government spending in New Brunswick is on pace with provinces that have fast growing populations and that will lead eventually to serious trouble.

So back to Danny Williams.

If you strip away all the shtick, the central theme should be debated in the national discourse. Does the federal government have a role to play when whole regions of the country are in economic distress? If the national dialogue concludes that no – everyone (province) should fend for itself, then fine – I guess- that’s democracy.

But ignoring it. Mission accomplished as it were – makes little sense.

Maybe Ibbitson is right. Maybe we need to urbanize. Maybe Atlantic Canada should become an outpost – with just a few mills, mines and fishing ports to send natural resources to upper Canada. Maybe they should close down northern Quebec. Maybe Manitoba should be retaken by the flies and the cold.

But maybe we should at least have a chat about it first.

One of the interesting things about reading Savoie’s books on economic development is that you get the sense that in the 1950s through the 1980s or so that the Feds at least pretended to be interested in regional development.

But there’s not even any discussion – really – about it anymore. Budget after budget barely mentions it. It’s considered a huge win if ACOA just keeps the same level of funding – never mind it is a fraction of what it once was as a % of national government spending.

As I said before, I still blame John Manley as much as anyone for this. He was the one that first said screw regional development we need to focus on our big cities and our ‘clusters’ after the recession of the early 1990s. And maybe he was right, then.

But shouldn’t we at least consider using the huge economic dividend from that success to rethink regional development?

Poor old Danny. It is likely going to get worse on the Rock (population wise) before it gets better. I have seen provincial government forecasts showing the population will decline into the mid 400k in the next 20 years.