Saving the planet versus saving the economy

Work in Progress By Ivan Morgan

Many years ago a newspaper I wrote a column in (and eventually worked for) was nominated for a Michener award (the highest journalism award in Canada). The series we were nominated for was called “Finding the Balance.” It was a cost benefit analysis of Newfoundland and Labrador’s relationship with Canada.

The idea was to do a balance sheet of what Canada got from us and what we got from Canada since we joined in 1949.

I played a very small role in the work. My main effort was to try and talk our editor out of what I thought was a hare-brained project he didn’t have the resources to properly do. If memory serves, I also mocked the idea in my columns (hats off to all for allowing me a contrary position in the paper). Fortunately, no one paid too much attention to me, and the series set off a great deal of public debate – hence the lofty nomination.

Shows you what I know.

Despite being a complete twit about the project, and the fact we didn’t win, I was nonetheless quite proud of all my colleagues. Pretty good for a little start-up.

The reason I am telling this story is 20 years ago our paper “discovered” that the federal-provincial balance sheet was quite askew.  According to the research that they did, Canada had made a lot more money from us than they had spent on us. 

Despite being made to feel like poor cousins of Confederation, the federation had done quite nicely for themselves from our union.

That may be true. They didn’t intervene when Quebec had us over a barrel on Churchill Falls. They mismanaged our fishery. The list goes on and on. Our province, despite being resource rich with a tiny population (the size of Brampton, Ontario) always seems to end up on the short end of the financial stick.

The latest example of this is the issue of future development of our offshore oil. There is a group of people who demand, in the interests of saving the planet’s climate, that we abandon any new offshore oil projects. It’s a chorus that gets louder every year.

Recently we were told there was a division of opinion in the Trudeau Liberal cabinet over whether to sanction the project (they did eventually sanction it). To me that’s getting a little close to home.

I am no climate change denier, but I think these folks, however high-minded they are about making the world carbon free, don’t see the whole picture.

More oil pumped means more oil burned, meaning more carbon in an already overloaded atmosphere. I get it. The problem is, if prospectors are to be believed (and that’s another story!) there could be billions of barrels of carbon-based fossil fuels off our coast.  

We desperately need that revenue – this province is permanently on the verge of bankruptcy.

Exploiting those oil resources means thousands of good jobs and billions in royalties. We are not a province that can turn our backs on that opportunity. The world is still thirsty for fossil fuels.

If the folks in the federal government who didn’t want to sanction the project are serious about making the nation carbon free, then they are going to have to step up. If wiser heads than ours decide not to develop future offshore oil projects, we are going to have to be fairly compensated for not developing it.

You cannot ask 520,000 people to carry the weight of a global climate crisis on their backs. The climate crisis is long term, involves all the people on this planet, and is a massive challenge. Little Newfoundland and Labrador can play a part, but we would have to be compensated.

Whether or not the balance sheet shows the rest of Canada has done better from us than we them, they are going to owe us big time if they kill our offshore.

Ivan Morgan can be reached at

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