Not so long ago, I was walking down the street and bumped into an old friend who owns a furniture store. Naturally, the conversation turned to business and I asked him how he was doing.
“I’m just like everyone else around here,” he said with a huge smile on his face. “Business is booming. I can’t keep stock in the store – it’s going out faster than I can bring it in.”
The boom is a marvelous side effect of Atlantic Canada’s blossoming energy economy, and I’m happy to see it. At the same time, I have to admit it has me worried. A lot can change in 10 years. We didn’t have five petroleum projects operating offshore a decade ago, plus ongoing expansions and a sixth project in development. We had dreams of developing the Lower Churchill, but they were nowhere near as close to reality as they are today. We longed for an intra-regional power transmission system, while doubting it could ever come to pass – yet here we are with plans on the table to connect Labrador hydroelectricity to Newfoundland, the Maritimes and the energy-hungry American market.
My worry is about what could happen in another 10 years. With so much opportunity around us today, will we become so accustomed to wealth that we’ll lose our competitive edge? Are we at risk of going soft?
Another chance encounter with another long-time acquaintance soon set my mind at ease. He pointed out that the pre-petro economy is still so recent that people here haven’t had a chance to forget the hard times. He also noted that we aren’t without our challenges today either, with continued provincial debts and deficits, health care problems and other non-energy industry issues.
“None of us is taking anything for granted,” he said. “We’re used to scraping and scrabbling. We’re as aggressive now as we ever were. And this recent wealth hasn’t taken our edge away. If anything, it’s made us hungrier for more.”
With that kind of energy and spirit fuelling the sector, I expect my furniture-selling friend is going to be sold out for some time to come – and I couldn’t be happier for him.