Last Breeding Pairs

I thought this piece I wrote for the April 2014 edition of The Overcast should be revisited in light of St. John’s Council slashing its grants to artists by 50%


Last Breeding Pairs

“Absolute bullshit”, declared Danny Williams of the Conference Board of Canada’s population projection for Newfoundland and Labrador.  Rather than a ballsy stand against math I suspect our prickly former Premier misread doubts about our spirit of enterprise into an extrapolation of deaths verses births and current rates of immigration.

Demographics, it is said, are destiny. If we don’t commence breeding like rabbits, and/or our diaspora return, the Newfoundland and Labrador we know will cease to exist.  Without a bonanza of bay-bies there will be no one to pay taxes and so no means of diapering the few remaining specimens of Homoterranovas.

Williams and others argue that untapped oil under our sea promises industrial activity that will lure people to our shores.  That’s by no means certain.  Banking on commodities is a mug’s game and the North Sea precedent doesn’t suggest that expanded hydrocarbon extraction would create the jobs required to avert the crash we face.  The disinterested architecture of that tower violating the parking garage at 351 Water Street betrays how short-lived are non-renewable plays. A legacy building it ain’t. Oil will, for a time, be our economy but what we really need is diversification.

Why would anyone move here?  There are Hooters and Boston Pizza in places with higher wages. No one comes for the climate or the easy access it affords … anywhere, save Fogo. There are only four reasons someone will relocate to Newfoundland and Labrador; for love, to plunder resources, for the natural world, or because of the vitality of its culture.   It’s this last attribute that will allow us to attract the artists that are the primary agents of economic diversification.

“Follow the paint” is a New York real estate adage recognizing the role artists play in revitalizing neighbourhoods.  Richard Florida famously identified the “creative class” as a key engine of growth.  You can hate them, but the economy needs painters and writers and players because they are the wellspring of the crazy new ideas that spawn innovation and invention.

From where will they come? Housing is extortionate in Vancouver, Toronto is ruled by hillbillies and Halifax has the misfortune of being in Halifax.  Easy pickings.  Perhaps we can even entice some of the homegrown talent we’ve exported to countervail our trade imbalance in hockey players.

Coupled with funding to a national standard we can trigger the migration by eliminating the provincial income tax for bona vide, full-time, professional artists resident in Newfoundland and Labrador.  The province loses little to gain much. It’s not an original idea, in Ireland

“Section 195 Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 empowers the Revenue Commissioners to make a determination that certain artistic works are original and creative works generally recognised as having cultural or artistic merit.

The first €40,000 per annum of profits or gains earned by writers, composers, visual artists and sculptors from the sale of their work is exempt from income tax in Ireland in certain circumstances.”

Danny Williams is all over his Irish roots, I wager it’s an idea he’ll get behind.