Editorial: Baby steps
It is not the stuff of unbridled excitement.
Pro baseball has begun a new season. Most noteworthy, as you watch the game, you will see even the best players, quite often, strike out as they swing away at pitches either too high, or too low.
Then again, in the scheme of things, it is only a game; a bit of fun not to be taken too seriously. However, how we play out our daily lives is much more serious.
In that light, since we joined Canada in 1949 we have been impacted by our various provincial government leaders as they, quite often, have struck out with projects that have been either too high on the investment or too low on the returns gained.
A tip of the iceberg of their follies include: a rubber factory; Churchill Falls; Come By Chance oil refinery; Sprung greenhouse; Stephenville linerboard and Bison beer; Marble Mountain; and now perhaps our biggest millstone of all time, Muskrat Falls.
The ever costly mistakes by our various provincial governments are draining the taxpayers who live here and you have to wonder who will pick up the ball to carry on in light of ongoing issues around us.
One such issue is our education system which has changed extraordinarily since I began school in 1951. The demise of denominational education was the least of its problems. With neither formal kindergarten (Notre Dame Academy had kindergarten back then) nor Grade 12, the enrollment of that time was 83,698 with our population at 361,416 people.
In my first teaching year 1971-72 the school enrollment, K-11, stood at 162,818 (all-time peak) with the population at 522,100. However, from that year onwards it was all downhill and by the time of my last teaching year 1999-2000, K-12 (grade 12:1983) enrollment had imploded to 93,957.
The drop in numbers has continued throughout the past 17 years with the 2016-17 enrollment standing at 66,341. Our population is now at 519,716 (2016 census).
A similar number, 66,439, once attended our schools, but it was in 1942-43 in grades 1-11. There was neither kindergarten nor grade 12. And our country, Newfoundland, then had 321,819 people.
Obviously, fewer babies are being born. We are now at the stage of having more people dying each year than those being born. We are not whistling past the graveyards, we are filling up the graveyards! C'est la vie!
Couples are choosing to not have children for a variety of reasons. Is there anything to be done to change that mindset and encourage those of fertile age to have even two children? Are there things we can do to make our society more child welcoming and more child friendly? Would sensibly priced housing, eliminating student debt, innovative childcare support, and greater flexibly for women (mostly in charge of child care) to re-enter the work force, encourage population growth? Who wants to bet any such measures will change what is?
As for placing hopes on immigrants making this place their new home, don't hold your breath as so few stay here in the long run. Can you blame them? Immigrants and livyers alike face the high cost of everything here and the ever rising fees to travel to and from this island, especially by Marine Atlantic ferries.
As of April 1 (April Fool’s Day appropriately so) a round trip at Port aux Basques, for a family of four (two adults, two teens) not towing a trailer or such, is $588.42 with no cabin, no meals. Add the latter two and it climbs to $999 or so; depending on how you skimp on the meals. If money is no issue, the Argentia run for them would be $2,000 or so, depending upon cabin and meal choices.
A hidden cost to do with entering and exiting this island has to do with the scheduled crossings times. The hours of arrival or departure will require hotel accommodations near one or both ferry ports.
However, even the true blue tourists who desire to pay the price to Newfoundland by ferry will be in for another shocker once they need to gas up. The price of gas this summer is expected to be around 20 cents per liter more than on the mainland even with the eight cents tax per liter coming off gas in June.
A budget conscious tourist could easily loose the desire to come to this island and head for Prince Edward Island. That same family of four will pay, round trip, $46.50 for the Confederation Bridge or $71 for the ferry. PEI is leaving us behind in the tourist dust and undoubtedly Marine Atlantic's fees are a hindrance.
Meanwhile, complaints are coming from PEI residents about the $46.50 Confederation Bridge toll fee. They are questioning why they should pay any toll at all as the Federal Government is building a $4.3 billion new Champlain Bridge in Montreal (opens 2018) that will be toll free (Trudeau, as an election promise, cancelled the Harper toll fees of $100 million or so a year).
Good luck to the good people of PEI on eliminating the bridge toll. Maybe their squawking will earn us a break on our high ferry fees - the toll - we pay to leave and return to the island of Newfoundland and the added cost for the goods trucked here for our needs.
And good luck to Premier Dwight Ball as he takes a swing at our too high taxes, too high debt, too high unemployment, too low revenue; and the too low population growth which will impact us more as time goes on.
Any homer Premier Ball hits will be good for us all. Sadly, unlike baseball, Premier Ball is not playing a fun game.
Andy Barker can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org