Pos­i­tives and neg­a­tives

Northern Pen - - Editorial - Thom Barker

Anew year of­fers the promise that things will be bet­ter. And that op­ti­mistic re­solve is beck­on­ing to the 2.3 mil­lion res­i­dents of At­lantic Canada. Nowhere more so than in New­found­land and Labrador.

The At­lantic Prov­inces Eco­nomic Coun­cil is pro­ject­ing that N.L. will see the top eco­nomic growth in the re­gion this year, only sec­ond be­hind Bri­tish Columbia, as it re­cov­ers from the painful eco­nomic con­trac­tions of 2018. Higher oil pro­duc­tion from the He­bron field and other ma­jor projects should re­sult in growth, pro­jected to be at more than 2.3 per cent.

There’s some good news for the other three At­lantic prov­inces, too, with real growth ex­pected to con­tinue, al­beit at a slightly slower pace than in 2018.

To fur­ther this end, At­lantic pre­miers should press on with their ef­forts to bring down bar­ri­ers to in­ter­provin­cial trade. It’s es­ti­mated that more than $8 bil­lion a year could be added to the re­gional econ­omy if the prov­inces adopted uni­form reg­u­la­tions and stan­dards.

It will be a po­lit­i­cally ac­tive year in both N.L. and Prince Ed­ward Is­land, with two gen­eral elec­tions on the hori­zon. Both prov­inces have leg­is­lated elec­tion dates for early Oc­to­ber, but be­cause Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau con­firmed in year-end in­ter­views he will stay with a fed­eral vote Oct. 21, the prov­inces could switch. P.E.I. will likely go to the polls later this spring while N.L. Premier Dwight Ball could do the same or wait till later in the fall.

P.E.I. vot­ers also face a ref­er­en­dum ques­tion on elec­toral re­form — ei­ther to re­tain the first-past­the­p­ost sys­tem or em­bark on pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion. The de­ci­sive de­feat of the lat­ter in a B.C. ref­er­en­dum a month ago won’t help its cause.

Elec­toral re­form sup­port­ers will point to the skewed New Brunswick re­sults in Oc­to­ber where ex-premier Brian Gal­lant won the pop­u­lar vote by a full six per­cent­age points, but trailed by a seat to the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives, and even­tu­ally lost the gov­ern­ment. Un­der pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion, Gal­lant would have won the most seats and still be premier, per­haps in a coali­tion with the Greens.

And op­por­tu­ni­ties for demo­cratic re­newal are ex­pand­ing. N.L.’S House of Assem­bly has struck an all­party com­mit­tee on elec­toral re­form that is ex­pected to get down to se­ri­ous work this year.

But there is also a wedge open­ing among At­lantic prov­inces. New Brunswick is the lone hold­out with­out a car­bon pric­ing agree­ment with Ot­tawa and is join­ing a court bat­tle chal­leng­ing the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s cli­mate change plan. Other At­lantic prov­inces reached in­di­vid­ual deals to mit­i­gate higher car­bon prices while mov­ing for­ward on car­bon re­duc­tion goals.

There is also a grow­ing com­plaint in Nova Sco­tia that eco­nomic and em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties and pop­u­la­tion in­creases are largely con­fined to the Halifax Re­gional Mu­nic­i­pal­ity at the ex­pense of Cape Bre­ton, An­napo­lis Val­ley, South Shore and North­ern Nova Sco­tia.

The same de­mo­graphic shifts are ev­i­dent else­where in the re­gion as At­lantic Cana­di­ans con­tinue to re­lo­cate from ru­ral to ur­ban ar­eas — to St. John’s, Halifax, Char­lot­te­town and Monc­ton.

That’s what pre­sents one of the great­est chal­lenges to At­lantic gov­ern­ments in 2019 and be­yond.

At lunchtime on Christ­mas Eve day, I walked up to the Great North­ern Penin­sula shore and added some tears to the vast, salty ex­panse of the North At­lantic.

That morn­ing, as I was get­ting ready for work, I found out Neil Thom, my dear friend and for­mer em­ployer had died.

Un­til can­cer in­ter­vened a cou­ple of years ago, Neil was the pub­lisher of York­ton This Week, a com­mu­nity news­pa­per that serves south­east­ern Saskatchewan. Above all else, I will re­mem­ber him as one of the most de­cent peo­ple I have ever known.

My en­dur­ing im­age of Neil will be of him walk­ing with his wife Ju­lianne and their lit­tle dog on the out­skirts of York­ton just days be­fore I em­barked on my cross­coun­try jour­ney to a new home in New­found­land and Labrador. Even in the grip of that hor­ri­ble dis­ease, there was no mis­tak­ing Neil’s deep and abid­ing love for Ju­lianne and pas­sion­ate em­brace of life’s sim­ple plea­sures.

The last time I saw him, his face half re­moved from suc­ces­sive surg­eries, thin and frail from chemo and ra­di­a­tion, he still some­how ex­uded his trade­mark pos­i­tiv­ity and op­ti­mism. He was quick with his charm­ing smile and in­fec­tious laugh, look­ing for­ward, not back, and deeply in­ter­ested in me and my well-be­ing at a time when he could have been, un­der­stand­ably, much more in­ward-look­ing.

As pub­lisher of the city’s news­pa­per of record, a long­stand­ing busi­ness per­son, a life­long res­i­dent of the com­mu­nity and a tire­less York­ton-booster, Neil was a prom­i­nent pub­lic fig­ure, but away from work, he was a pri­vate per­son.

As such, and although I count Neil among the best friends I had in York­ton, I can­not hon­estly say I know what he went through pri­vately, but I can­not imag­ine it was easy to remain as bright and cheer­ful as he seemed when I saw him last. That was Neil: en­er­getic, em­pa­thetic, mo­ral, funny, loyal, and I could go on un­til I filled a the­saurus of pos­i­tive ad­jec­tives.

Neil Thom was one of the first peo­ple I met when I moved to York­ton in the spring of 2012. As a jour­nal­ist with­out em­ploy­ment, I marched into his of­fice look­ing for work. He didn’t have any­thing for me at the time, but as it turned out, we were neighbours. I would see him from time to time over the back fence and we would ex­change pleas­antries. We dubbed that sum­mer “the sum­mer of Thom” ow­ing to the fact I was more or less on va­ca­tion in my back­yard.

One Satur­day, as the sum­mer of Thom was wind­ing down, he called over to me from his deck—what you would call a bridge here in New­found­land.

“You should come see me on Mon­day,” he said.

I worked for York­ton This Week for five years and a bet­ter pub­lisher I could not have asked for. I had my reser­va­tions at first be­cause Neil came from the ad­ver­tis­ing side of the busi­ness, what we ed­i­to­rial types some­times re­fer to as “the dark side.”

De­spite that egre­gious flaw— don’t worry, he would ap­pre­ci­ate the dig—Neil was a news­pa­per­man through and through.

He and I shared many things be­yond the name (cor­rectly spelled) and the same taste in leather jack­ets and shoes. The great­est of these was an ide­al­is­tic view of the no­ble role of jour­nal­ism in so­ci­ety and a com­mit­ment to the truth.

In the time I was there, Neil never once balked at pub­lish­ing news that might not be favourable to ad­ver­tis­ers, nor can I re­call him ever try­ing to quash con­tro­ver­sial opin­ions of any kind.

And when my writ­ing ran afoul of ad­ver­tis­ers or politi­cians, or drug deal­ers and pe­dophiles (whose lives I ap­par­ently ru­ined by re­port­ing on their ne­far­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties), Neil al­ways had my back.

He was a re­lent­less cham­pion of local news, rec­og­niz­ing it as an es­sen­tial in­stru­ment of democ­racy. Even with di­min­ish­ing re­sources, Neil strove ev­ery day to pro­vide full and mean­ing­ful cov­er­age of the sto­ries that were im­por­tant to York­ton and the sur­round­ing area while also work­ing at the re­gional and na­tional level to pre­serve the im­por­tant con­tri­bu­tions of com­mu­nity news­pa­pers every­where.

Neil’s per­sonal and pro­fes­sional legacy is some­thing his fam­ily and York­ton can be very proud of and I can­not think of a bet­ter use for dead trees and spilled ink than pay­ing trib­ute to him.

Rest in peace, pal.

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