“Hope is a pleasant acquaintance,” wrote the Nova Scotia wit, Thomas Haliburton, “but an unsafe friend.” Citizens of Atlantic Canada are given to gloomy utterances, and recent events have given them something to grumble about; as 1977 opens, the area is permeated by brooding fears of economic collapse and isolation, the one foretold by business figures, the other by the possible separation of Quebec.
The death of 20 people in a nursing home near St. John’s, Newfoundland, on Boxing Day not only ushered 1976 out on a tragic note, it spoke more poignantly than all the statistics ever uttered at federal-provincial conferences about the plight poor provinces face in trying to meet their social responsibilities. Nowhere else in Canada would firemen operating within eight miles of a provincial capital have to hack their way through six inches of pond ice to find water. Water and sewer mains are taken for granted in rich provinces; not in Newfoundland. An emergency cabinet meeting ordered a full judicial inquiry into the tragedy; it will doubtless produce recommendations for safer, more modern institutions, but finding the money for even the most worthy cause won’t be easy in a year that may be this region’s bleakest, economically, in more than a decade. Prospects are so bleak it is unlikely any of the four provincial premiers will risk an election this year.
There are currently about 100,000 jobless in the four provinces, a regional unemployment rate of 12%. But, in parts of Newfoundland, in industrial Cape Breton and in northern New Brunswick, a quarter or more of the work force is unemployed, and, with existing manufacturing concerns going bankrupt faster than new ones can be built and no new major projects in sight, these statistics are unlikely to change soon. The experts expect another six to eight months of deepening depression.
And when it happens, Atlantic Canadians expect recovery to come from the south; marchers in “Trudeau’s army,” as the growing legions of the unemployed call themselves, expect to find jobs only if Jimmy Carter breathes new life into the American economy. There are also hopes that the January 1 declaration of a 200mile offshore fishing zone will enlarge stocks available to fishermen in eastern Canada.
Not surprisingly, the Quebec election has generated some painful introspection here; although there is no panicky rush to join lots with the Americans, there is widespread fear about the implications of a breakup of Confederation. For one thing, there is concern that Quebec’s separation
would affect the federal equalization program, which provides half of all government funding for the four provinces. Their jumpiness is likely to be reflected in the following developments during 1977:
• In Newfoundland, there will be renewed tension with Quebec over Labrador power. Newfoundlanders believe the French province lusts after the land, hydro and mineral potential of Labrador, and they are girding themselves for battle. This will also be decision year for the Labrador Linerboard Ltd. mill at Stephenville; the government must decide whether to abandon the four-year-old mill and cut its losses—$45 million annually—or reorganize the province’s entire wood supply program to make it economically viable. On the brighter side, a stepped-up offshore drilling program, expected following three highly encouraging gas finds in the Labrador Sea, could prove Newfoundland’s future as an important oil and gas producer. And for entertainment. Joey Smallwood is expected to join the fray for a fall leadership battle in the Liberal Party.
• In Nova Scotia, concerns about energy and steel dominate the provincial outlook. Nova Scotians, facing a possible 60% increase in electricity bills early in the new year, have been warned that costs will continue to climb until the 1980s, when additional sources—more coal and wood, wind power and tidal energy—are expected to reduce the need for expensive oil imports. On the steel front, the international consortium that has been studying a worldscale steel plant at Gabarus Bay has apparently delayed a decision until late in 1977. If the go-ahead is blocked until world markets improve, the provincial government must decide what to do about the ailing. Crown-owned Sydney Steel Corp. mill. And if that issue is settled, there will remain the question of what to do about the proliferating spruce budworm. On one side of this issue are the forest industries.
calling for protection, on the other, environmentalists, decrying the damage spraying causes to other plants and wildlife.
• In New Brunswick, the same pesky budworm problem is under heated discussion, with the same, so far. inconclusive results. But New Brunswick faces another threat to its environment this year—the proposed superport and oil refinery at Eastport, Maine, just off the provincial coast. The Pittston Company of New York has been trying to get approval for the project since April, 1972, and would like to have the issue settled soon. Both the federal and provincial governments have objected, because super-tankers of up to 150.000 tons would have to go through Head Harbor Passage, described by a marine expert as “infinitely more dangerous” than, for example, BC’S notorious Strait of Juan de Fuca. The recent oil spill off Nantucket has strengthened opposition to the Eastport site, which a Canadian environmental study described as “overwhelmingly the worst” of 22 potential deepwater-port sites in eastern Canada.
• In Prince Edward Island, because the people live closer to the land than in the other three provinces, they seem to be weathering the economic storms better. The province’s solar and wind experiments will soon be underway, providing some eventual hope of solution for drastically rising energy prices, and, on the agricultural front, the McDonald’s hamburger chain recently contracted to buy all its northeastern requirements for french fries from a PEI processor, C. M. McLean Limited. To celebrate, McDonald’s gave away free chips for a week.
If the general air of gloom gets too m uch for Atlantic Canadians, they can console themselves with the words of another Nova Scotia writer, Joseph Howe, who noted, “You don't need a big field to raise a big turnip.” Cold comfort, of course, for those who hate turnips, <dc:creator>LYNDON WATKINS</dc:creator>
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