Donavan's overpass on Kenmount Road in St. John's has long been seen as a symbolic divide in Newfoundland. Outside of the overpass is the bay - the boondocks, the have nots. Whereas, inside is St. John's (and its hanger-on, Mount Pearl), the haves.
The St. John's that I have seen first-hand since 1973-74 (Master's of Education at MUN) has undergone an impressive transformation.
Memorial University has expanded with numerous new buildings on both sides of the noisy and poorly located Prince Philip Drive. This very day two new student residences are under construction.
Back in my student year, the A1 Chinese take-out on Torbay Road was the end of the line and Topsail Road had no Village Mall. The scores of take-outs and fast foods such as McDonalds and Tim Hortons didn't exist, nor did highways such as Pitts, Columbus, White Hills, Goulds bypass and the Outer Ring (TCH).
Non-existent as well was the Confederation Building extension, Hydro (Nalcor) headquarters, the new Marine Institute, Health Sciences Center, new Janeway, Johnson Geo Centre, The Rooms, convention center, Mile One, hotels, and on and on it goes.
As for business, downtown's heartbeat centered around Woolco and Bowrings. The fishery was still strong with Portuguese and Soviet fishing boats common sights along the waterfront.
St. John's was doing very well in 1974, but who could have foreseen what oil money would bring and do? Hibernia's economic effect was slow to show its face, but once White Rose and Terra Nova kicked in and oil prices climbed, the pace picked up.
That pace will not slow down any time soon. Hebron's platform will soon be started at Bull Arm and recent news has another platform to be built at Argentia. As well, construction of Vale's nickel smelter at Long Harbour, continues. And more economic activity could be coming along with the significant discovery of oil under the deep water of the Flemish Pass.
St. John's and region also benefits from the millions of dollars donated by the oil industry and Vale. Included on the receiving list; Memorial University, Johnson Geo Center, The Rooms, Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Foundation and the Manuels River project.
Thus, visitors that see only St. John's get the impression that all Newfoundland is booming. And of course they are dead wrong!
The old Donovan's overpass is gone and a new one is under construction. Symbolically, now though, the haves and have nots divide has shifted westward to Clarenville (which should not get an overpass, but a bypass, for the safety of highway users).
The Minister of Justice Felix Collins wondered aloud in the Bill 29 debate (information clamp down) "Where the hell is Moldova?” Actually, it's between Romania and the Ukraine. But in the context of Newfoundland's - haves and have nots - the fitting question is, "What the hell is happening beyond Clarenville?”
Not much on the island! As for Labrador, it has its own divide between the bleak coastal economy and the rich mining interior.
The fishery closure of 1992 has taken its toll of making a living beyond the overpass. And on top of that disaster is the loss of paper mills in Grand Falls-Windsor and Stephenville with the Corner Brook's mill on very, very thin ice. Sinking soon?
In the Exploits Valley our economic hide has been saved by pensions, the Alberta commute and the Duck Pond mine - all of which have a best before date.
Another plus for us is the aquaculture industry on the northeast coast and the Connaigre Peninsula. The latter has a rough road ahead - I do mean the road - as the one there now is deplorable. Imagine the business boost for that region if it were the calibre of the Veterans Memorial Highway (Conception Bay). I drove on it for the first time last week. Wow! Super quality and unlike the TCH, brush cut on both sides - all the way. People living and working on the southcoast can only dream of such a road.
As for jobs in this town, the growth is mostly in retail which tends to pay minimum wage. Meanwhile, a forest is under utilized and electricity once used here now feeds the grid. Meanwhile, Nalcor - a big business - gets off scott free, paying no taxes!
And what does our Mayor do? He accepts an appointment to its board. Talk about a conflict of interest! Nalcor's and the town's interests are not the same. Biblically, Mayor Hawkins knows you cannot serve two masters. Politically, it's the same.
Mayor Hawkins should either resign as Mayor and serve Nalcor. Or, resign his appointment to Nalcor and serve the best interest of the town. The town's best interest is taxation (at a minimum matching AbitibiBowater's $800,000 grant in lieu of taxes) and the earmarking of electricity for use here once again in order to attract new industries, new good paying jobs, to the town.
Life beyond the overpass for the "have nots" means the big jobs, municipal taxes, construction, business spinoffs and all the benefits related to the oil industry are not coming our way.
Our best prospects for the future are tied to what we have; a bountiful forest, hydro power, plenty of potential farm land, tourism, aquaculture and the occasional new mine. And heavens forbid - government departments moved our way! We have the potential to be a vibrant regional economy. But we aren't!
Time for our provincial government to get its fixation off the oil teat and start shaking up the economy beyond the overpass. We in the hinterland have toiled too long - too hard. We have the resources. We deserve better!