© Star photo by Geraldine Brophy
Significant investment in things like Grenfell Campus of Memorial University was supposed to grow the economy of western Newfoundland.
In three terms of public office there were many accomplishments for Tom Marshall, but he admits to having some struggles.
The current premier and MHA for Humber East says he set out with a goal to better the lives of the people of Corner Brook and the surrounding area.
With things such as a new courthouse, long-term care facilities, significant investment in Grenfell Campus of Memorial University, a new regional hospital, there were times people accused government of overspending in the districts of this area.
“It was catching up,” Marshall said of those investments.
Government spending is one thing, but the investment was supposed to fuel the economy, says Marshall. Preparing to leave politics after nearly 11 years, he said he is disappointed in the level of development through the private sector in western Newfoundland.
He said public objection to private sector development stopped growth.
Many people see Grenfell Campus, Memorial University as a stimulus to grow the economy of western Newfoundland. With young professionals and students, there is the intelligence to spark research and development.
Marshall expected that would lead to private sector growth, with students being a catalyst for both economic and social development in the region.
“I wanted to see the university inculcate in those students the entrepreneurial factor — to take a chance, to build something, to invest,” he said.
Instead, what he says he has seen from faculty and students has been considerable opposition to projects. Two of the more known areas have been with hydraulic fracking and Corner Brook Pulp and Paper. The controversial methods of mining oil and tire-derived oil were both met with public scrutiny and opposition.
It’s not that projects have stalled completely, he said, but that the private sector could be generating a lot more.
“We have tremendous programs to help, but if the people don’t want it, it makes it difficult.”
Marshall was also critical of the opposition, saying their argument was not based on a full appreciation of the science and evidence.
“I support economic development, but only if it can be done within a framework that protects the environment and the health and safety of the workers,” he said, adding people need to be more welcoming of private investment, which will in turn create jobs.
“I believe, if there was no paper mill here today and somebody wanted to put a paper mill there, it would never happen.”
Antony Card, Grenfell’s associate vice-president of research, said the administration’s goal is also for Grenfell to be an economic driver.
Within their areas of expertise, he says, the university campus is connected to local industry. Environmental, artistic, forestry and agriculture are fields in which Grenfell has made particular strides, he says, through such things as Campus City Connect — a post-secondary partnership with Grenfell, Academy Canada and the College of the North Atlantic and the City of Corner Brook.
A good example is the creation of the Boreal Ecosystem Research Institute (BERI). Card said Grenfell has spent $8.1 million to build labs with cutting-edge equipment to drive agriculture, which he called a “game changer” for the campus and the west coast.
He also said the business faculty is more connected and there are some small-scale developments in relation to the oil and gas sector.
As for the opposition of particular projects or developments, Card said Grenfell allows its professors the freedom to express their views and research publicly. An example is the Environmental Policy Institute, which will present science-based views.
“They are not lobbyists,” he said. “There is a difference between a scientist and a lobbyist, and that’s where we see ourselves positioned. Individuals have their rights to say what they feel on particular issues.”
Nalcor not the enemy
Marshall is also bewildered by the response and reaction to Nalcor throughout the province. He refers to it as the people’s energy company.
It was established to take the province’s energy and create the cheapest energy at the lowest rates for the people, the premier says. It would then use the surplus energy to generate revenue for the province. Through oil and gas, he says, Nalcor will fund services and build infrastructure, he says.
“I find some people are treating Nalcor as some sort of enemy that they have to be protected against,” he said. “Nalcor is us. If Nalcor does well, the people of the province will do well.”