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The big octopus

Sharon Horan’s, “It’s our city - have a say” (The Telegram, Sept 6, 2014) deals mostly with the draft plan of the City of St. John’s. She encouraged residents and the business community to read it, be involved, as their opinions matter.

She also wrote:

“Our city is the medical hub of the province, a regional destination for shopping, a centre for educational excellence, a host of conferences and the home seat of the provincial government and most of its services.

It is also the major port for the East Coast and the airport hub for all travel to and from the island.

That means lots of people who don’t pay taxes in the City of St. John’s still require our roads and our infrastructure to be maintained and operational for their use”.

She concluded with, “Other municipalities and the provincial government should step up and participate in paying for the necessary infrastructure that we provide as a capital city.”

St. John’s is much like a big octopus, our very own living, breathing giant squid, with its tentacles wrapped around anything of importance in the province. St. John’s has it all, but according to Ms. Horan, it needs, another tentacle, to grab more cash to pay its bills!

Ms. Horan (Chair, Board of Trade, St. John’s) left out the fact that St. John’s also has its tentacles wrapped around all the big federal buildings and jobs in the province as well as the cream jobs and office space associated with the offshore oil industry.

Nevertheless, she is quite right by pointing the finger directly at the provincial government. None of the province’s seven largest municipalities, including St. John’s and Grand Falls-Windsor, receives as much as a nickel for a municipal operating grant (Grand Falls received just over $1 million in grants in 1981 - $2.5 million, in 2014 dollars). The provincial government is keeping millions of dollars for its use and has dumped the cost of running municipalities on the backs of homeowners. Shame, shame!

Yet, St. John’s is just as shameless by giving others, mostly outsiders, the tax shaft. Since 1999 it has imposed an accommodation tax (to pay for Mile One Stadium) that is applied to stays in every hotel, B&B, and MUN residences. That gold mine of tax revenue, now at four per cent, will have gouged visitors by end of this year (just from 2011) for a whopping $11.1 million. What a disgusting, vile tax!

The booming Newfoundland economy is mainly centered in St. John’s and environs. No doubt, the money from the oil industry affects us all with lower taxes, fees and services. But the bulk of the jobs, offices and incomes are St. John’s centered.

And it gets even better for the big octopus with donations from the oil industry. Google - Hibernia, Suncor, Husky, Petro Can, Chevron and ExxonMobil - and start counting up the millions of dollars in donations from them that have stayed in St. John’s institutions. That money translates into more jobs, more spending and more taxes for the City.

As for Ms. Horan’s concerns about urban sprawl, it could have been lessened years ago by spreading out the provincial and federal jobs. Hydro, forestry and the RCMP headquarters could have been easily here in this town or region - with neither out of place. The bulk of hydro generation is nearby. We are in the center of the forest. And this town has the largest RCMP detachment in the province. No such moves ever happened. And unlikely, ever will.

However, there now exists an opportunity, to spread out jobs, as the province needs a new penitentiary to replace the one at Quidi Vidi Lake. The feds have large prisons in Dorchester, New Brunswick (pop 3868) and Springhill, Nova Scotia (pop 1123). Thus, why not choose Botwood or Buchans for the site of the new prison?

A prison in the port town would guarantee stable jobs and inject more money in our regional economy on a long0term basis. And with an airstrip nearby, emergency situations, medical or otherwise, could easily be handled.

As for Buchans, a new prison in a region noted for being cooking hot in summer and freezing cold in the winter just might have the criminal element think twice about where they would have to do their jail time. Imagine the weather affecting a downturn in crime!

However, it is highly unlikely Botwood or Buchans will ever see the new prison. Politicians in this province can’t see beyond the fog of the Avalon. And when they do, they sidetrack us here with big announcements - like more money for cranberries. Ugh!

All the best to Ms. Horan and the Board of Trade in pressuring the province to pony up with worthwhile, proper, municipal grants for St. John’s; and thus, all the larger municipalities. Homeowners definitely need and deserve a break on property taxes!

But to expect us, out here in the hinterland, to pony up more money for St. John’s - forget it. The big octopus needs to focus on keeping its tentacles in its own pockets. And out of ours!

Andy Barker can be contacted at

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