Thank you Dereck (Sullivan)

  • Executive of the St. John�s Board of Trade and Members;
  • Members of the House of Assembly;
  • Other elected officials and all of you who are hoping to be elected officials!
  • Ladies and gentlemen.Well, what an eventful year it has been since I spoke here last September!

It�s hard to believe it was only a year ago, on September 7 that the feds in the US took over sub-prime lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; Lehman Brothers failed a week later; oil prices started to tank � no pun intended - after hitting $147.30 a barrel in July; the North American auto industry was suffering tremendous blows; and a thriving global economy crashed head-on into the wall of a major recession.

On the home front, Newfoundland and Labrador has not escaped the impact of these forces sweeping around the world. Grand Falls-Windsor suffered a major blow with the loss of a paper-making mill that had been in operation for a hundred years. Other major employers in forestry, mining and the fisheries watched demand dip and prices fall.

We saw lay offs around the province, particularly in Labrador west where global realities hit the workforce head on.

And while the past year has been eventful, I can hardly believe that is has been almost six years since I became the Premier of this great province. Those six years seem to have gone by in the blink of an eye and I have to boast a little and say that I am delighted with the progress we have made in that time.

Progress that we have made as a government and as a people.
Progress that laid the foundation to fight head on the very economic recession that still grips many jurisdictions around the globe.

Progress that has certainly benefited members of the St. John�s Board of Trade.

Now I know that in these past six years we've made some unpopular decisions as a government.

We've made some decisions that made a lot of people in this very room scratch their heads and had national media rubbing their hands together in glee because they thought, "we've got a live one down on the Rock now folks"!

But we have also made decisions that have brought prosperity, success and unprecedented benefits to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

And I can tell you, that behind every one of those decisions was a plan. Nothing was done independently without taking into account the whole picture. Even the craziest decisions you can think of were not made recklessly or without tremendous analysis, thought and the collective insight of our government members.

I hope this does not sound too much like a typical political sound bite � but when I entered that office on the 8th floor of the Confederation Building in 2003, I � along with my team � truly had a vision for this province.

I knew that I had a passionate team around me; I knew I had to listen to experts and businesspeople like you; and more than anything I knew that as long as we did the right things for the right reasons that we would enjoy success that has eluded us for far too long.

Your faith in our government�s vision is largely why despite the economic turmoil of the past year or so, I have to believe that Newfoundland and Labrador is not a bad place to be these days in terms of business, economic activity and opportunities for the future.

When the recession arrived, unlike most we were ready for it. We had laid the groundwork to survive. In fact, Global News said earlier this week that Newfoundland and Labrador has weathered the recession better than any Canadian province or territory.

When the recession did hit full on, we were quick off the mark in February with an unprecedented infrastructure investment package and other targeted initiatives to fuel activity in our economy. This, of course, built on our already strong infrastructure program of the past few years.

While we did not escape the turmoil unscathed, something very unusual was at work here in the midst of the storm. As investors around the world were backing off and hunkering down, investor confidence and optimism in Newfoundland and Labrador remained strong.

In January, Corporate Research Associates CEO Don Mills reported to Board of Trade members that consumer confidence in this province as of last November ranked possibly the highest in the western world.

In October, Dominion Bond Rating Service and Standard & Poors upgraded our province�s credit rating.

In November, we learned that, for the first time since Confederation, we would no longer qualify for equalization.

We had become a have province � a tremendous milestone that signaled the turn of a page for Newfoundland and Labrador and the start of a brand new chapter in our history.

In December, we repatriated our water, timber and land resources from Abitibi because they broke their commitment to the people of the province.

Then in January, we negotiated improvements to the development agreement with Vale Inco for the construction of a commercial hydromet processing plant at Long Harbour.

In April, for the first time in the province�s history, Newfoundland and Labrador began wheeling hydroelectric power through neighbouring Quebec into the North American marketplace � specifically, New York.

In June, we launched a five-year, 28 million dollar strategy designed to capitalize on opportunities and expand the local ocean technology sector and positions our province to be the nautical NASA of the North.

In June, we also announced that we had achieved a 10 per cent equity stake as well as a top royalty rate of 50 per cent in the Memorandum of Understanding reached with our oil industry partners to develop the Hibernia Southern Extension. Revenue to the province from this project, from all sources, is estimated to be 10 billion dollars.

This major agreement built on the momentum of the final deal for the development of the province�s fourth offshore oil project, Hebron, which came just months after we reached an agreement on White Rose expansion, complete with an equity position, additional benefits and a super royalty provision.

Our mining sector is another in which we continue to see great promise. This year, we made a record investment of 3 million dollars in the provincial Mineral Incentive Program. Last year, our mineral industry reported record-breaking highs with the value of mineral shipments reaching 5.4 billion dollars, a 40 per cent increase over the previous year�s record shipments and an astounding 850 per cent increase since 2004.

As we turn the corner on this year�s global downturn, we are looking forward to more bright days for production, exploration and development in our mining industry.

And of course, we are pushing ahead with the development of the Lower Churchill project. We have gained great momentum with this project including the signing of the New Dawn Agreement with our Innu partners.

Nalcor Energy has also issued an Expression of Interest to six engineering and project management companies in order to determine their interest in bidding for the Lower Churchill Project�s detailed engineering design work.

The six companies are worldwide specialists in hydroelectric, transmission and civil construction and the contract award is expected in 2010.

As well, a directive of the province�s 2007 Energy Plan was a proposed 1,200 km High Voltage direct current (HVdc) link to be designed to deliver up to 800 megawatts of power to the island with an option to be extended and deliver up to an additional 1,000 megawatts to the Maritime Provinces and potentially the New England and New York markets.

Submission of the Environmental Impact Statement for the Generation aspect of the Project and the environmental registration of our Labrador-Island Transmission Link has taken place. And project construction could take place next year, once EA approvals have been achieved.

In a time when green energy is more sought after and in demand than ever before, the time for the Lower Churchill development has never been better.

The Lower Churchill project including the Labrador Island Transmission Link, combined with the Upper Churchill and our existing hydro generating facilities on the island, provide the opportunity for more than 98 per cent of the province�s electricity requirements to be met with stable, clean, renewable power.

This is a unique and enviable position compared to other jurisdictions.

As I said last week, one important component of the Lower Churchill development is obviously the ability to transmit the power. I will state again here today, that it is unfortunate that our neighbours at Hydro Quebec are not more cooperative in this regard. Power which was bought by Hydro Quebec for 0.25 cents per kw/h in 1976 is being sold for over 9.0 cents per kwh or 36 times more than what they pay for it.

When you consider these exorbitant profits that Quebec has taken from our Upper Churchill resource, it is simply a mystery to me as to why they would continue to be obstructionist. And let me be clear � I am not talking about the people of Quebec, who I believe have a great deal of affinity with Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

I am talking about Hydro Quebec officials who continue to insist on having a stranglehold on energy transmission in Eastern Canada.

We need to work together as a country to optimize supply from all areas in order to satisfy our increasing demands for renewable energy. New transmission will only serve to enhance inter-provincial trade and allow better integration of new and existing generation supply and increase operational reliability between jurisdictions.

And I repeat that the national government must be involved in building these long haul power highways from east to west and north to south.

We have a new opportunity in the Lower Churchill to see a provincial resource used for the national interest, particularly in the context of developing green energy. And we are very excited in this province to see this project through, and we sincerely hope that other interests do not work to derail the natural progression of such a wonderful green development.

And while we work away on the so-called mega projects, our government has also made tremendous progress generating new revenue to more effectively provide a solid foundation for a reliable network of socially-progressive policies and programs.

Everything from education to health care, from housing to home care, from apprenticeships to older worker adjustment, from violence prevention to poverty reduction.

Government has utilized our natural resources � both on and offshore � to strengthen our financial position, dramatically reduce debt, reduce taxes, fund up unfunded pensions, negotiate historic public sector wage agreements that led the country and contribute to programs that support economic growth across all regions.

And despite uninformed claims by editorialists and opposition to the contrary, we have invested heavily in rural areas.

In fact, more than 80 per cent of overall expenditures go outside of the Avalon to ensure a broad base of economic diversity and potential for success.

Newfoundland and Labrador is becoming increasingly well-positioned and recognized as a place to invest � a choice location for companies based abroad to locate or expand.

And our government has taken a proactive approach to facilitate business development. Programs have climbed steadily over the years and total in excess of 87 million dollars. That�s 87 million dollars available for ranging from tax credits and incentives to support for the manufacturing industry to export readiness and much more. We also have a new 30 million dollar Business Attraction Fund, an Oil and Gas Manufacturing and Services Export Development Fund and a new 4 million dollar Aerospace and Defense Fund.

We have also rebranded this province with not only our new tourism ads, but also with a new brand logo that I firmly believe has helped our province stand out in the marketplace.

We have reduced red tape, we have kept business tax regimes competitive and we are always working to ensure that our business community has the tools, programs and policies necessary for success.

One of the other things that our government has done that I am probably most proud of is very simple � we have started to listen to our youth.

Now goodness knows I�m not one to take to the bank the opinions of the Globe and Mail. But I would like to quote from a recent editorial some very unsettling and relevant comments.

Quote: �As analysts slice the numbers to determine the recession�s winners and losers, one often forgotten demographic, with modest aspirations, is starting to stand out. As a group, youth expect three things: that jobs will be available to them; that opportunities for further training and advancement are within reach; and that they will not be saddled with costs bequeathed by previous generations. In each regard, young Canadians are getting a raw deal.�

Well, folks mark down the date. Because I agree with the Globe and Mail. Indeed, several years ago I committed to the youth of this province that not only would our government start by hearing what they have to say; we would actually listen.

After all, the work we are doing to turn this province around is really about ensuring that our next generation is a success. To make sure that our next generation is able to live here and work here and raise a family here.

We started by listening to our post secondary students who told us they were being so financially burdened that success was a very elusive goal.

That is why, since 2003, we have dared to do more than ever before to strengthen our education system, bringing our public investment in education for the very first time starting in 2007 to more than a billion dollars a year. We have maintained a freeze on tuition fees and provided the most-progressive student aid reform package in all of Canada, bar none. Not only our own students, but students right across Canada and around the world are taking notice and choosing to study in Newfoundland and Labrador.

New graduates are choosing to stay in our province and are applying their skills to the growth of our communities, which is vital if we are to ensure we never again slip into the downward spiral of decline.

The Globe editorial ends by saying, �Policy makers and CEOs need to know that it is not just displaced middle-aged workers who need and deserve a cut of the stimulus or a shot at future prosperity.�

Well, that is precisely the thinking behind an initiative that we will release in the near future, our first ever Youth Retention and Attraction Strategy.

We live in a global, competitive environment; so we want to ensure as a government that we are listening to our youth. We need to enable our young people to be bold leaders and partners, and we need to work with them to set out policies and strategies that will shape our future. Our Youth Retention and Attraction Strategy will achieve this goal, as it reflects the values, priorities and ideas of the young people of this province.

And today, I am throwing out the challenge to each and every business here to read this strategy when it is released and to embrace it. The youth of this province are the leaders of tomorrow. And we must collectively ensure that we give them they support, mentorship and guidance they need to succeed.

And we have an incredible foundation of success for our youth to build upon. As I said earlier, during this year of economic uncertainty, our province has indeed bucked the trend. In fact, given the global realities of the past year, our economic indicators are downright unbelievable.

For January to July, urban housing starts increased by 1.5 per cent in Newfoundland and Labrador, second amongst provinces behind PEI. For the country, urban starts are down 43.7 per cent.

Retail sales in Newfoundland and Labrador increased by 5.7 per cent in June 2009 compared to last year. By comparison, at the national level retail sales decreased by 2.7 per cent.

Labour income in Newfoundland and Labrador increased by 4.8 per cent in the first half of 2009. Nationally, labour income increased by only 0.9 per cent.

Nearly all industries in our province showed strong year-over-year growth in wages and salaries.

Non-residential investment is expected to total 3.7 billion dollars this year, the highest level ever recorded. Construction activity on the Vale Inco nickel processing plant, the White Rose expansion and government infrastructure programs are major factors behind investment spending this year.

Population growth occurred for the first time in 16 years in 2008. This trend has continued into 2009. From July 1, 2008 to April 1, 2009 Newfoundland and Labrador�s population was up 0.2 per cent. Not a huge increase, but after years of out-migration we will happily take it.

And how about these stats from your own Board�s recent survey: 94 per cent of respondents said present local economic conditions were good or excellent; nearly half said their company�s financial position mid-way through 2009 was better than last year; and more than half predicted employment growth within the next year.

In a year when tourism is generally suffering everywhere else, here in this province we are once again bucking the trend. Yesterday, our Minister of Tourism Clyde Jackman announced that to the end of July, stats show that our tourism industry is performing very well this year.

In fact, overall visitation has increased slightly, by almost one per cent, over the same period last year. Traffic at provincial Visitor Information Centres is up nine per cent.

If we can continue racking up achievements of this magnitude during a recession, then just imagine what awaits us now that the global economy is beginning to turn around. The sky�s the limit, my friends!

But even with our outstanding success, more than ever we need to be self reliant and masters of our own destiny. Everyone is delighted that Canada is coming out of the recession, but the financial reality of a post-recession Canada is not pretty. The huge Federal deficits must be gotten under control which will mean even greater taxes, cut backs and overall less spending by the Federal Government.

The next decade will undertake this repayment while trying to absorb the costs of a green world to impact climate change. Newfoundland and Labrador is ready and poised for continued growth.

Newfoundland and Labrador must continue to be smart on its investments in education, health care and transportation infrastructure. We need to manage our wealth and spend our hard earned dollars wisely. We must be competitive and innovative, but not spendthrift for political purposes.

We must stay with our plan to be an energy warehouse and embrace clean energy solutions. We must continue to improve our marine and air links to the province to stay up with the ever increasing demand for our tourism product. We must streamline and rationalize our fishery so that those who risk their lives to earn a living get a decent return for their hard work.

Business, labour and government must work together to find just and meaningful solutions to our common challenges, compromising where necessary to reach consensus.

Government must partner effectively with our learning institutions � our colleges and our university � to work together to leverage the vast amount of knowledge and skills in all institutions for the betterment of the half million people that live in this wonderful place.

We cannot rely upon on others outside of this province. We must rely upon each other as we continue to chart a course of prosperity for Newfoundland and Labrador in good times and bad. We have endured the worst of times and learned; the best is yet to come but it is ours to lose if we are not tenacious, vigilant and wise.

There is a new aura surrounding this place. A new confidence. A new optimism. A renewed sense of self.

Here on this rock between Europe and America, we will be the new Atlantis rising, a centre of a bold new resurgence of culture and education, industry and ingenuity, wealth and promise and equality of opportunity for all.

As I said earlier, Newfoundland and Labrador is THE place to be. I plan to spend more time getting out there and delivering our message, promoting this great province and all of our promise, and ensuring we continue to position our people for greatness.

To the members of the St. John�s Board of Trade I say, keep up the excellent work. Keep believing. Keep innovating. Keep striving to be better, always better than the day before; and there will be no turning back. Thank you.


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