Saturday, July 10, 2010

Newfoundland's Dust Bowl

Good afternoon Newfoundland and Labrador and all the ships at sea.

It’s been a week of anniversaries — Thursday (July 8th) was the 118 anniversary of the 1892 Great fire in St. John’s.

A fire that left 2,000 houses burned, and 12,000 people homeless.

As a headline of the day read: “Cries of the women mingled with the wailing of the children.”

Eighteen years ago this week in 1992 John Crosbie, who was then federal minister of Fisheries and Oceans for Canada, shut down the northern cod fishery.

The initial shutdown was supposed to be for two years, ending in 1994.

The repercussions of the closure of the 500-year-old fishery were massive — 19,000 people were thrown out of work, including 10,000 fish plant workers and 9,000 fishermen.

I went through my old files this morning and pulled out the Evening Telegram from July 3, 1992, the day after Crosbie held his historic announcement at a hotel in downtown St. John’s.

“No fishing,” read the front-page headline in big, bold typeface. “19,000 out of work in northern cod bad,” read the deck.

I wrote the front-page story.

I attended the news conferences and the demonstrations, and it’s a time I’ll never forget, a lot of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians will never forget.

The northern cod moratorium was billed as the biggest layoff in Canadian history, comparable to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

Comparable to the cancellation of the Avro Arrow in Toronto in 1959 when 13,000-odd people lost their jobs.

Or even the shut down of the Bell Island iron ore mine in the 1960s.

Fishery workers were immediately offered relief to the tune of $225 a week.

I remember Crosbie made the announcement to the media in one room, down at the old Radisson Hotel, now the Delta.

As Crosbie made the official announcement two or three fishermen — a crowd of whom were kept in another room watching Crosbie on a television screen —went mad. mainly because Crosbie wouldn’t address them to their faces, but also over the amount of compensation.

And they tried to storm their way into the room where Crosbie was making his announcement.

Crosbie continued to speak as the fishermen rammed the door with their shoulders. Security personnel had to jam the door handles with chairs.

John Crosbie is a man not easily rattled, and I’ll always respect him for that.

Here’s a quote from him that day: “They don’t need to go berserk trying to batter on doors to frighten me,” said Crosbie. “In the first place, I don’t frighten.”

But it was a frightening time.

Police had to escort Crosbie out of the hotel, and one policeman had his nose broken.

“Hitler wouldn’t do this,” screamed one fisherman.

Richard Cashin, president of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers’ union at the time, advised fishermen to keep fishing as a means to protest the relief package (how small it was), and negotiate a new one.


The secondary story on the front page of the Evening Telegram that July day was an interesting one.

“Economists say migration to follow cod moratorium,” read the headline.

The economists saw the shut down of the northern cod fishery as the death knell for a way of life and possibly the start of an eventual mass migration out of the province.

Those economists were dead on — we’ve lost 90,000 people in the 18 years since then.

Here’s an interesting quote from 1992 in regards to the moratorium:

“It would be like destroying the auto industry in Ontario, or the agriculture industry out west or the forestry industry in British Columbia,” said University of Toronto economist John Crisp …

Economists called for massive retraining and industrial diversification.

The retraining was massive — some programs worked, some didn’t.

Some retraining programs were fly-by-night operations.

I remember doing a story on a company that was set up to retain fishery workers to make pet safety belts for cars — pet seat belts, more or less.

The workers said the training program was a sham, and so many training programs were.

Back then the northern cod fishery was worth $700 million a year, that’s the figure I got from the old Telegram.

The northern cod fishery represented 6 per cent of the gross domestic product, the value of all goods and services produced in the province.

How does that correspond to today? The value of all groundfish in 2009 was $45 million.

From $700 million in 1991 dollars to $45 million in today’s dollars.

And so much for a two-year moratorium.

If you have any memories of that time back in the early 1990s that you’d like to share, please call in and do so.

If you’re a young person and you have thoughts on the future of Newfoundland and Labrador, you’re also welcome to call in.


I don’t know how many of you watched the CBC supper-time news last night, but there was an interesting feature on the fishery 18 years later.

The big money isn’t in cod anymore.

It’s in shellfish — crab and shrimp. There are bigger boats and bigger investment, and the value of the industry has frequently topped the $1-billion mark.

The industry has gotten by without cod, but we’ve paid a price.

How do you see the future of the community you live in?


Over the past 18 years our economy has diversified away from the fishery.

Oil is the fuel that drives our economy today, oil is what pays the bills.

There are huge risks with the oil industry — look to the Gulf of Mexico for proof — but cash is king.

And oil brings in that cash.

Danny Williams describes Newfoundland and Labrador as an energy warehouse, and that we are.

But the premier’s attempts to move forward on the lower Churchill development in Labrador haven’t met with much success.

Ottawa has failed to institute a national energy grid for the wielding of electricity between provinces, much like the piping of oil between provinces.

Ottawa doesn’t want to upset Quebec, it’s fair to say.

And Quebec — which nailed us to the wall with the upper Churchill contract — apparently wants to do the same with the lower Churchill.

There’s an interesting story out of New Brunswick today.

New Brunswick has signed a letter of intent to look at building a second nuclear reactor.

French nuclear giant Areva is apparently trying to line up the financing.

Such a project could create 8,500 direct and indirect jobs in New Brunswick.

The big question is what impact would it have on the lower Churchill project?

Power from a second nuclear reactor in New Brunswick — which could come on stream by 2020— would be used both in Atlantic Canada and the northeastern United States.

Aren't they the markets we were looking toward with lower Churchill power?

Of course, maybe all this is just political posturing in New Brunswick, where an election is scheduled for Sept. 27th.

I see the lower Churchill project as a lot cleaner than a nuclear reactor.

Do you?


No doubt, Danny Williams has had his challenges as premier, but he’s still sky high in the polls …

Brian Jones has an interesting column in today’s Telegram.

He writes about how it seems that Danny and the Tories will be with us forever.

Listen to this paragraph:

“Bringing down the mighty Williams and his Progressive Conservatives is a task akin to cutting a towering birch using only a dull steak knife.”

But Jones also points out that some years hence — 100 per cent of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians will look back and try to pinpoint the moment that signaled the decline and fall of Williams and his PCs.

“Will it be the botched expropriation of the AbitibiBowater mill in Grand Falls-Windsor?” he asks.

“Will it be the failure of to beat Quebec in the battle over Lower Churchill power?”

Jones says one thing is evident:

“The previous Liberal government, by the end of its 14-year reign, was insufferably arrogant, condescending and authoritarian.

Williams and his PCs, in only seven years, have become equally arrogant, condescending and authoritarian.”

Do you think the Williams government is arrogant, condescending and authoritarian?


We’ve had a lot of talk over the past week about the price of homes in Newfoundland and Labrador today, and how they’re gone through the roof.

$238,000 for an average detached bungalow in St. John’s.

$255,000 for a average condominium.

$335,000 for an average two-storey home.

And it’s not just in St. John’s.

Rent for a bungalow in Labrador City and Wabush is said to be as high as $4,500.

Rent and house prices are one thing, then there’s the price of food.

Come-from-aways tell me we’re paying more for food here in Newfoundland and Labrador than on the mainland.

I have two boys and I can tell you it costs a small fortune to feed them.

How do people do it? Can you do it?

I do most of our grocery shopping and I can tell you I buy most things on sale.

Can you afford fresh fruit?

Bananas are cheap enough, but grapes and apples costs a fortune.

Then we wonder why the minimum wage is up to $10 an hour?

Here’s a question for you: what do you think of the price of food today?

Can you afford to properly feed your family?

And if you can’t, what can be done about it?


Stats Canada reports today that Newfoundland and Labrador’s economy lost steam in June, with the workforce dropping about 8,100 jobs.

Stats Can said the province's unemployment rate also rose by 0.9 percentage points — climbing to 14.7 per cent.

Still the highest in Canada, I might add.

There was a story in last week’s paper about how retirees are returning to the workforce — former teachers are working at Kent’s, for example.

But I also hear that other seniors are having trouble finding work, because they’re seniors.

Is that true?


Now this is free-for-all Friday, and a beautiful Friday it is.

I go through the local, national and world news everyday to see what’s on the go, to see what might generate discussion.

But today is your day (but then so is everyday) call in about the topic of your choice.

Whatever turns you on, whatever tickles your fancy.

Maybe it’s the weather — I hear it’s going to be 27 degrees on Saturday.

Isn’t that wicked, although too hot for me.

For me, 18 degrees is just perfect, with a light breeze off the ocean.

Can you imagine living in central Canada with temperatures reaching the mid 30s and humidex values in the 40s?

Sure I’d melt …

The Backtalk lines are open.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Check out "Day 11" for a youth's perspective on Radio and live in Newfoundland and Labrador..

I really enjoy your blog =) Insightful, especially for a Journalism student who still has a lot to learn about NL Politics.

Mandy Poole