Nfld. & Labrador·Point of View

The global economy could transform N.L. Just ask Jake Doyle

Newfoundland and Labrador needs to learn a few key economic lessons. One place to start is Republic of Doyle, writes Lori Lee Oates.

To learn a few key economic lessons, start with Republic of Doyle

If government is looking to make a good investment, they should start with Jake Doyle, writes Lori Lee Oates. (Nicholas Hillier Photography/Submitted by Lori Lee Oates)

For the last three years, The Way Forward has been the economic plan of the provincial government. Indeed, the governing Liberal party largely ran their recent election campaign on continuing to implement it.

It is fair to say that we can take the election results as a rejection, in part, of this plan. Instead of the status quo, voters want the parties to work together to find real solutions.

The economy was far and away the No. 1 issue that voters identified leading up to the election. In the days before the vote, businesspersons and young people detailed their fears over the platforms put forward by the major parties.

Perhaps we need another way forward, writes Oates. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

Certainly, the Liberal red book focused on tourism and arts funding as priorities. A Liberal commitment to bring arts grants to $5 million in three years was announced.

However, these are commitments that should have been made years ago, as they have been in other jurisdictions.

The PC blue book discussed sectors such as the digital economy, knowledge, tourism, and the green economy. It also introduced massive new spending and tax reductions.

We need a new vision

With a widespread population, Newfoundland and Labrador is an expensive jurisdiction to provide services, and voters react very negatively to cuts. The first-past-the-post-system fosters buying off districts with election-time promises.

Our government must be more strategic with its spending. Too much has been spent on services and infrastructure that have not been strategically planned, while we failed to invest in the areas that will build our economy.

We need better economic planning immediately.- Lori Lee Oates

We're going to need a new vision of where revenue can come from and how to put money into taxpayers' pockets. We need our government to support and develop our most lucrative industries in a way that hasn't been done to date.

Speaking as a historian of globalization and economics, it has long been my observation that governments across the globe have continuously failed to act on the economics research of recent decades.

When I was an undergraduate student in the 1990s, scholars were already discussing the shift to a service economy that was taking place. They were well aware at that time that there would be more minimum wage jobs that provided less stability and benefits in the future.

Little to no economic planning has taken place in the North American context to address these shifts. Governments across the world have failed to show leadership on the increasingly feudal-era distribution of wealth.

Disruption to economic planning in government has largely come from the outside, through the rise of far-right conservatism.

Our province has frankly surpassed the point where we can waste time with far-right experiments.

Honestly, we're too small and too economically strained for it.

We need better economic planning immediately.

Where the money is more useful

Voters are tired of being told there's another megaproject around the corner that will fix everything. This seemed to have manifested in the form of oil revenue until we learned the harsh reality of volatile oil prices.

Groups like the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies demonstrated long ago that resource royalties, which go into government coffers, are often wasted on vote buying and vanity megaprojects.

The Muskrat Falls megaproject has turned into a megaproblem. (Nalcor)

Money is more useful in the hands of taxpayers than a government.

Scholars have known for some time that the most lucrative products in the modern global economy are in arts, culture and service sectors. This is important, in terms of how we develop our provincial economy.

The global economy is working for us

The Victorian period saw the massive growth in the middle class, an expansion of recreation time and growth in disposable income. This was the age when the rise of the esthetic product began.

For the first time in human history, a large portion of Western populations had the money to pay for experiences.

In the late 20th century, the esthetic economy reached whole new levels. As the industrial revolution gave way to the technological one, it fostered in the era of hyper-capitalism and neoliberalism. This is the New Economy — one not based on natural resources.

With the massive expansion of television in the 1980s and the internet in the 1990s, products such as film, music and books have become extremely lucrative.

Traditionally, Newfoundland and Labrador has been challenged by our location in the North Atlantic. With a small population and a location far from major markets, we really have not been able to achieve major global successes in manufacturing.

However, the digital economy makes distance largely irrelevant. For the first time in our history, the global economy is working for us.

In the age of streaming and downloadable music, movies, television shows and books, entertainment is the biggest industry in the world. We will have a real economic edge if we develop our entertainment sector.

A good investment? Jake Doyle

One of the best investments our provincial government ever made was in the television show Republic of Doyle. It sparked a massive expansion in the television and film sectors in Newfoundland and Labrador.

People in more than 90 countries got to meet Alan Hawco's character Jake Doyle once Republic of Doyle hit Netflix. (CBC)

Republic of Doyle was seen in more than 90 countries because of services like Netflix. It became the best tourism commercial our province has ever known, second only to Come From Away. The show also paved the way for Caught, Frontier and Hudson & Rex.

Film and television productions create high-end, well-paying jobs for actors, writers and technical people. They create spinoff benefits for local companies because they need catering, construction, vehicles and accommodations.

Atlantic Business Magazine has reported that in its first season, Frontier did business with 340 companies in St. John's. Rugged Edge, a Corner Brook company, saw its business increase by 25 per cent when the show rented snowmobiles and hired staff for scouting locations.

Artistically, N.L. punches above its weight

The province also has a long history of producing world-class musicians such as Ron Hynes, Great Big Sea, Kim Stockwood, Amelia Curran and the Fortunate Ones.

Our province must build on the fact that we have the liveliest traditional music scene in Canada.

The annual folk festival in St. John's continues to be one of the highlights of summer.

We must support art schools, drama programs, visual artists, galleries and museums. The Rooms must be a place that contributes to the development of our local artists. This will build our tourism industry at a time when tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors in the world.

We have recently seen Lisa Moore, Elisabeth de Mariaffi and Sharon Bala named as finalists for the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award contest. We have also produced award-winning authors such as Alan Doyle, Mark Critch, Joel Thomas Hynes and the incomparable Bernice Morgan.

Our province must foster local writers and publishers at a time when there are growing global markets for English language texts.

We also punch above our weight in theatre, having produced Robert Chafe and Jillian Keiley. Artistic Fraud, Rising Tide and the Cow Head Theatre Festival add immeasurably to our cultural fabric and tourism product.

We could be a global arts powerhouse

Of course, in expanding into global capitalism we must guard against its dangers and ensure that our service workers are paid at least a living wage and treated in ways that are dignified.

Newfoundland and Labrador is not the only location in the world that has experienced a decline in its fishery in the contemporary world. The New England states had similar experiences in the 1970s and 1980s.

In response they thrived because they did not have natural resources and were forced to develop into the global knowledge and service sectors immediately. Today, they are doing far better than Newfoundland and Labrador.

As a province, we are extremely well positioned to be a global powerhouse in arts and service sectors — if we effectively invest in them and showcase our people to the world.

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