On the far eastern edge of Canada sits Little Bay Islands, a beautiful, dying village divided by crisis. The fish plant was shuttered half a decade ago, and most supporting businesses – as well as the school – have closed with it. Perry Locke is among the tiny population that’s left. He served as the mayor, the fire chief and now runs the power-generating station. His son was the last student enrolled in town.
Fishing villages like this one built Newfoundland and Labrador, a coastal province sent into a tailspin by a fishery collapse, oil-price slump and mounting debt that left it with Canada’s most severe fiscal and demographic crisis. The provincial government now is pushing to close places like Little Bay Islands altogether rather than service them, offering Locke and his neighbors at least C$250,000 ($189,000) each to leave – and spurring a bitter, three-year fight over whether to cash out or endure.
‘It’s like a disease. Once a community gets infected, there’s no cure for it. You’ll either stay sick from it, or you’ll die,’ said Locke, 51, standing on his porch in July overlooking the bay. He voted to stay, worried he’ll lose his job if everyone leaves and the power station closes. Many residents now blame him for ruining a windfall. ‘Nothing we can do to change it now. The damage is done. And the damage is irreversible.’
Little Bay Islands is a world away from Canada’s glamorous global cities: Toronto and its big banks, Vancouver and its housing boom, Calgary and its oil patch. The town, and all of Newfoundland for that matter, have come to represent the grim underbelly of Canada’s economic outlook: a commodity bust, weak growth, mounting provincial debt and an aging population. The province is closing libraries and schools, reining in health care and boosting taxes, all while International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde and others praise Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for using fiscal policy to drive national expansion.
This post was published at bloomberg