In a year that coincides with the 70th anniversary of Confederation, residents of Newfoundland and Labrador are set to elect the next government to guide the province’s future.
It’s not an easy time for the province, with word coming out recently that Newfoundland and Labrador was the lone Canadian province or territory in 2018 that experienced a declining real gross domestic product. Unemployment remains high in a province that has experienced a declining population for a number of years.
To help get a sense of what people may be thinking about this election, The Compass made phone calls and sought some takes on what people view as their big issues this time around.
Tammy Wrice (Carbonear)
Business owner and visual artist Tammy Wrice speaks with many people daily while looking after Studio Coffee and Ocean View Art Gallery.
There are three big issues on her radar. Government must create jobs in order to move the economy in the right direction.
“If people are employed, people are happy,” she said. “How they go about that or what their platform will be in order to make that happen in the future and keep more Newfoundlanders in our province – to me, that’s really important.”
Then, there’s the generation that shouldn’t necessarily be looking for work at their age. Wrice sees a lot of seniors in her area struggling to stay above the poverty line.
“There’s not enough money for them and not enough programs for them in place. I think we need to branch out in a better, healthier way to take care of certain issues for seniors in our community. I see it within our own family, I see it within our community that we have seniors that genuinely need help … When I see seniors collecting recycling to just try to just pay a heat or hydro bill or rent for them, to me, we’ve failed them in our system in some way.”
Another issue she says a lot of locals are concerned about is health care. The need for more family physicians has been widely discussed, but Wrice also sees an epidemic mental health problem in need of a fix.
“There’s not enough funding for it. There’s not enough programs. There’s not enough education within our system as well to help the people that need that kind of care.”
Frank Butt (Carbonear)
Carbonear Mayor Frank Butt has heard loud and clear the complaints from residents about health care in the community. His municipality recently hosted a public forum on the matter that featured multiple Eastern Health officials.
“The Conception Bay North area is having issues at the Carbonear General Hospital with doctor retention and availability,” he wrote in an email to The Compass. “The bottom line is that we need more qualified doctors. Simply providing more money to an already overworked physician is not the answer. Providing more funds to recruit new qualified doctors would help.”
Butt would like to see more incentives put in place to attract doctors, adding the town itself is looking to see what it can do in this area. He also believes the province should take a look at how new doctors are brought into the system.
“I feel that we are losing potential doctors because there are too many restrictions placed on them as well as those who mentor them. We can free up on some restrictions and still maintain a high-quality standard for these doctors. Reaching out to our own local residents studying medicine is also a way to find a solution to the shortage doctors.”
Erika Pardy (Harbour Grace)
Erika Pardy is the owner and operator of Rose Manor, a bed and breakfast in Harbour Grace. Making a living in the tourism industry is not easy, and she would like the next government to do more to help business owners like herself.
“There’s lots of talk, but no implementation,” she said.
One big challenge for her business is the ongoing need to compete with the online accommodations giant Airbnb. Those who rent out homes or rooms on Airbnb are not subject to the same sort of regulations and taxation as bed and breakfast operators are.
“Right now, I’m down 200 room nights compared to two years ago,” she noted in a conversation with The Compass last week. “Do I have to close my doors because everybody and their grandmother are operating Airbnbs because that’s the new unshared economy? Because it’s not a fair playing field.”
With a lack of regulations in place, Pardy believes there are not enough people to go around for the number of rooms available along the Baccalieu Trail in the Trinity-Conception region.
“I’ve seen a huge downturn in visitors and tourism here in the province in the last two years,” she said.
Gary Goobie (Holyrood)
The topic of electricity rate mitigation has come up multiple times in council chambers at the municipal building in Holyrood. Mayor Gary Goobie is deeply concerned about what the rising cost of electricity will mean for people living on a fixed income.
“That’s the issue I’ve been hearing about for months and months now,” Goobie said. “We have an aging population. Many seniors who have come to me, seniors who are on fixed incomes, they’re retired, and today we’re seeing an increase in food (costs), and increase in medications, we’re seeing an increase in gas. Every which way we turn, we’re seeing an increase in the cost of living.”
He appreciates the fact political parties have drawn up plans to fully address the impact of paying off Muskrat Falls through rising electricity rates. However, Goobie wants the next government to commit fully to electricity rate mitigation for at least 10 years.
“Whichever party forms the government, we need that guarantee that rate mitigation will be in place and people will be protected for a minimum of 10 years and their light bills are not going to skyrocket.”
Andrew Haire (Upper Island Cove)
As president of the student representatives’ council at College of the North Atlantic’s Carbonear campus and the Newfoundland and Labrador eastern representative for the Canadian Federation of Students, Andrew Haire believes there’s continued value in upholding Newfoundland and Labrador’s tuition freeze for post-secondary education.
“What I’d like to know from our current MHAs and (candidates) running for election is will they maintain the current rate for tuition in the province,” said Haire, who is from Upper Island Cove. “We have the lowest tuition in Canada. Is that going to stay the same, or is that going to change?”
From a personal perspective, the business administration student is very alarmed about health care in Newfoundland and Labrador. He knows people forced to pay hundreds of dollars a month for services not covered under MCP. As an example, Haire highlighted the plight of an acquaintance with diabetes.
“She’s paying a significant amount of money for medication for that. I personally, if I were to become a diabetic tomorrow, would not be able to take on that kind of liability. I’d foresee myself leaving the province.”