The road to economic recovery in N.L. is paved with hard questions, Moya Greene says
Chair of recovery team hints at dramatic changes to fix the province's spending woes
A wide-ranging review of Newfoundland and Labrador's economic state is in its early stages, and its leader says she'll need to ask hard questions about the cost of services across the province in order to save it.
"When you're in a hole, you definitely need to stop digging," said Moya Greene, whom Premier Andrew Furey tapped to serve as volunteer chair of an economic recovery team struck in September.
"We do have to keep our eye on affordability."
Greene hinted at her strategy to handle the province's finances Thursday night in a keynote address at a Municipalities NL conference.
Greene, from St. John's, boasts a formidable business profile. She oversaw both Canada Post and the U.K.'s Royal Mail as CEO.
Greene's appearance Thursday night came amid a dramatic drop in interest in N.L.'s offshore industry.
"How do we diversify the economy so that we are not so reliant on the traditional industries, and not so reliant on oil and gas?" she said, likening the present situation to the collapse of the cod fishery.
Greene suggested a sense of urgency should guide the development of other industries.
"You can be faster about pivoting [to] one area of economic activity, from another area of economic activity, than we have been," she said.
"It took us 20 years to get Hibernia and the offshore oil industry developed. And thank goodness we finally did get it developed when we did, because we saw the cod stocks come down and that was a crucially important area of economic activity. But I wonder, could we have been more agile? Could we have been faster about that?"
Those words — diversification, pivoting — don't scare the oil industry.
"Doesn't frighten me in the least, actually," said Charlene Johnson, CEO of the Newfoundland and Labrador Oil and Gas Industries Association.
"You don't 'diversify' away from 30 per cent of your GDP quickly.… I see it as oil and gas being the building block, so all sectors, all industries in this province are booming together."
Both Greene and Johnson noted that diversification could come from within oil and gas itself: technology developments for the offshore, for instance, could be sold on the global market.
Health care, ferries under scrutiny
On Greene's list of expenditures are two major spending sources for the province: health care and marine transportation.
She alluded to recommending potential cuts to both.
"Part of efficiency is helping people understand what something costs, the value of it," she said. "The interprovincial ferry services in our country are a crucial part of connectivity to keep us together as a nation. But that doesn't change the fact that it's hugely important for people to know what things cost."
Rural medical centres, too, are on her radar.
"There's no question that this is a pressure for the government, and this is a pressure for how to best configure the service and how to best make sure that we are delivering in a way that is most effective," she said.
Greene said her review will look at restructuring services and finding new avenues for industries with a probability of long-term success. Analysis hasn't begun yet, but she hinted her suggestions would need to make drastic changes to how the province operates now.
"We ought never to be prisoners of our history, but we can't ignore it either," she said.