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Fiscal future

Economist bringing together decision-makers for day of discussion

By Terri Coles

Newfoundland and Labrador’s fiscal and demographic challenges have been covered at length, both in this province and elsewhere.

Emera Inc. made a significant investment in September to support student entrepreneurship and innovation programming.
The Emera Innovation Exchange at Signal Hill Campus.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Now it’s time to focus on reasonable solutions, says Memorial economics professor Dr. Wade Locke.

Respectful conversation about those solutions is the focus of an upcoming symposium at Memorial University. On Tuesday, Feb. 11, decision-makers and policy advisors will come together at the Signal Hill Campus in St. John’s for the discussions Dr. Locke says the province needs to have.

“People are prepared to admit there’s a problem. They’re just not prepared to admit it’s their problem.”

Part of the reason for that lack of preparedness is the negative, blaming tone that much of the discussion takes, says Dr. Locke.

When the focus is on re-litigating the mistakes or misjudgments of the past, people get defensive and nobody talks to each other, he says.

Reasonable Solutions to N.L.’s Fiscal Reality

For the symposium, titled Reasonable Solutions to Newfoundland and Labrador’s Fiscal Reality, Dr. Locke and others in the Department of Economics, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, are bringing together a variety of stakeholders.

The list of speakers for the all-day event includes politicians from all major parties, both past and present, as well as policy analysts and advisors, academics, and industry and labour representatives.

“What we’re interested in doing is starting a conversation about how to move forward.” — Dr. Wade Locke

Symposium participants aren’t going to solve the problem of the province’s considerable debt load and its aging and shrinking population in a day, says Dr. Locke, or even necessarily agree as to what the solutions will look like.

But getting them all in a room together to have a discussion, without finger pointing and with a focus on collective progress, is an important step toward developing a positive vision for the province and determining the actions needed to make that vision a reality.

“What we’re interested in doing is starting a conversation about how to move forward.”

Memorial’s role to play

Dr. Locke says it can be hard to grasp the enormity of the numbers faced by Newfoundland and Labrador.

For example, to pay the province’s current net debt, annual surpluses of $600 million a year for 50 years in a row – with no new debt taken on – would be needed. Another option would be adding five or six per cent to the province’s harmonized sales tax, with all of the money servicing the debt.

But the problem is both large and the kind that won’t get better if it’s ignored, he says.

“My analogy is this: Heartbreak is a big problem when you’re in the middle of it, but it’s one that gets better over time – the kind of problem that will improve if you wait it out. But heart disease is a different sort of problem altogether, the kind that only gets worse the longer you go without acknowledging it or taking active steps to improve it,” he said.

“The province’s problem is more like heart disease than heartbreak: It’s a serious problem. It’s not a problem we can ignore, nor one that will go away on its own. But it’s one that we can work on, and that collective action over a period of time can improve.”

Open to all

The symposium is jointly sponsored by the Collaborative Applied Research in Economics initiative, the Department of Economics and Scholarship in the Arts.

But in addition to hosting the event and contributing funding, Memorial has a wider role to play in the collective action required to help the province develop a solid financial future, says Dr. Locke.

“Part of this process we’re engaging in here is to help people be more educated about this issue, to facilitate and to enhance and enable an ability to engage and move forward positively,” he said.

To that end, the conference is open to students, staff, faculty members and the general public at no cost. Those who wish to contribute to and learn from the discussion in a positive, respectful way are invited to attend.

The symposium, Reasonable Solutions to Newfoundland and Labrador’s Fiscal Reality, will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 11, from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. in the Emera Innovation Exchange at Signal Hill Campus, 100 Signal Hill Rd., in St. John’s.

There are 50 open spots for non-conference participants, available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Registration is at no cost but required by Feb. 5 to attend. Please contact the Department of Economics with your name, title, affiliation, vehicle license plate for parking, confirmation of lunch attendance and dietary restrictions if applicable.

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