Nfld. & Labrador

Peter Cowan: What a lottery winner can teach the provincial government

As Finance Minister Ross Wiseman crisscrosses the province looking for suggestions on how to balance the books in the spring budget, he may want to stop in to see Wayne Hiltz.
Wayne Hiltz says he has put aside most of his lottery winnings. (CBC)

As Finance Minister Ross Wiseman crisscrosses the province looking for suggestions on how to balance the books in the spring budget, he may want to stop in to see Wayne Hiltz.

He's the Bay Roberts man who won the lottery two years ago, finding himself with $2 million dollars he never thought he'd have.

Like Hiltz, this province used to be poor. For decades we were on the dole, receiving equalization payments from the federal government. Our buildings were crumbling. 

And then we hit the geologic jackpot. Hibernia started pumping oil and this province received a gusher of new money.

Like any lottery winner new income lead to new spending, Hiltz traded in his leaky public housing for a nice new house, and has a garage full of nice cars

And the province has spent the same way, building new hospitals and schools, giving healthy wage increases to public workers.

We spend more on health now than we did on everything just a decade ago.

It's a lot easier to be generous when you have a pile of cash.

The line forms at the left, and the right .. 

As Hiltz can tell you there's nothing like newfound wealth to attract people with their hands out hoping to benefit.

Finance Minister Ross Wiseman has spent much of the winter explaining Newfoundland and Labrador's financial predicament. (CBC)

It's a lot easier for Hiltz to say no, because he doesn't have to get elected. 

If you're a cabinet minister, it is harder to say no to a new hospital, or dialysis treatment, or a pay raise for your workers, simply because you want to save for a rainy day.

Now that things are tough people are asking where is our legacy fund, other petro-states like Alberta or Norway have socked away money, why didn't we do the same thing? 

As a society, we aren't good at delayed gratification. We want everything, and we want it now.  

With this year's RRSP deadline just passed, be honest: how many of you contributed as much as you should into your own legacy fund? Me neither.

Winning the lottery, again and again

This province has banked on continuing to win the oil lottery over and over again. But now, oil prices have plummeted and the finance minister has $1.5 billion less than he would otherwise be counting on.

But what about Hiltz — how did he do with his win? Well, because he's put away a lot of his money, he will have a healthy income until he's 85.

That takes restraint.

As a province, we could do the same thing too, but we'd have to have that same restraint and good planning.

That means when a politician shows up at your door, instead of telling them where to spend, tell them where to cut. More precisely, tell them what you're willing to give up today in order to save for tomorrow.

It's a lot harder than you think. Just ask Wayne Hiltz.

About the Author

Peter Cowan

CBC News

Peter Cowan is a St. John's-based reporter with CBC News.

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