It’s amazing how things in Labrador — especially from a natural resource development perspective — tend to move in cycles.
The term “boom and bust” is not a new term and conjures up healthy debate, some will even say controversial, on both sides of an issue. Whether we are talking about fisheries, forestry, mining, low-level flying or hydro development, the term “boom and bust” generally describes a period in a community’s history that is characterized by substantial increases in economic activity followed by a sharp downturn.
Throughout Canada and throughout the our province, history has shown that times of increased business and investment can all of a sudden collapse (sometimes due to outside sources such as world markets, beyond the company’s/government’s control) thus having a major impact on the town on many different levels. While change is happening around us daily, all one has to do is observe and you can clearly see there are signs and indicators that some of our Labrador towns are now heading into a “boom” environment. These signs include such things as higher housing rental and real-estate rates, increased crime, increased traffic, demand on local stores for every day products like groceries and longer line-ups, higher prices and wait times at restaurants. Thus, the challenge for community leaders is manage rapid change and prepare the community for when the “boom” subsides.
The natural resources industry can — and does — offer many high paying jobs that allow both young and semi-retired workers to provide themselves and their families with an improved lot in life, so to speak. But with higher wages other things can be created, which have major social impacts. There are numerous considerations (a lot more than we thought about even 20-25 years ago) for Government, municipalities, businesses and the general public to look at. We all need to ensure to best of our ability that the economics, the social and the very sustainability of our towns (some social advocates call this the “three-legged stool concept) and its people are protected and preserved.
So my stance and view in this matter on this issue is this: the best way to move forward in this environment, and the best way to help begin to address the social issues caused by a “boom,” is for companies and government to try and work together with the community. But how do we do this or even begin to accomplish such a daunting task?
Team work amongst all stakeholders is crucial to the future success of our communities. One way to initiate this is by good old fashioned open discussion. In other words — talk to each other. Engagement and collaboration is somewhat like a marriage, in my view; it’s the beginning of a long relationship and if we start off on the right foot in the right direction, it will result in positive outcomes. We must learn from the past and understand there is a need for good planning and innovative approaches in order to attempt to mitigate — where possible — any social and economic negative impacts.
Now don’t get me wrong — it’s not all doom and gloom. Development can bring good things to towns if approached in the appropriate matter, including good jobs, investment in community infrastructure, contributions to not-for-profit organizations, community programs and new business opportunities. While larger urban centres face the challenges associated with balancing the good with the not so good, so does smaller rural areas like Happy Valley-Goose, Wabush and Labrador City.
The term “boom and bust” now becomes “boom, bust and beyond.” Community leaders and politicians need to think about the road ahead — five, 10 and 20 years into the future. It is clear for all people in Labrador that we need to be better at engagement specifically as it relates to the stewardship of the environment and resource development through strong polices and partnerships. We need to find and develop innovative and creative ways to engage all aspects and views of the community in decision-making processes around socio-economic, cultural and environmental planning that allows for all voices to be heard and considered.
Stan Oliver writes from Happy Valley-Goose Bay. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.