Don's Diary

July 11, 1997

Monday

Touchdown St John's Newfoundland at 3am after delayed flight from Toronto. Canada's first offshore oil platform, the Hibernia, is about to go on station 200 miles out in the middle of Iceberg Alley. The locals are dreaming of the black gold that will compensate for the fished out cod on the Grand Banks and an unemployment rate officially at 40 per cent. The same dreams we had in Scotland. My visit is to warn against the same mistakes.

Nine o'clock start at oil industry conference downtown. I avoid the exorbitant registration fee by claiming to be a journalist from a Scottish oil journal. Not a complete lie. Inside it is wall-to-wall suits with all the big players present. The atmosphere is euphoric - oil in the billions, gas in the trillions. Atlantic Canada is "the new global frontier". Heard that phrase before somewhere. In the evening my host takes me and the two Dobermanns for a walk around the bay. Luke is the senior Dobermann, an old warrior. It is a case of bond or die. Out in the bay is a small but perfectly formed iceberg. Amazing.

Tuesday

Oil industry conference again. Warnings from the big boys about the global market place and the need to avoid regulation in order to remain competitive. Strongly tempted to have my say but my turn will come. Back to the university to hear about the future of industrial relations in the Canadian offshore oil industry, a rather more uncertain prospect. Early evening jog through St John's, past quaint painted wooded houses. Try fresh cod and chips from local chippie. Just like Glasgow - friendly but unhealthy. Evening conference social. Not even free drink can unshackle colleagues from their inhibitions. Home for an early night. Not at all like Glasgow.

Wednesday

Early morning country music station says the fog is back and drivers should watch out for moose on the roads. I still have not decided precisely what to say. What exactly do you say in 15 minutes from a paper that is more than 10,000 words? The discussant, a senior Canadian industrial relations expert, is embarrassingly complimentary. Truly dreadful "folk group" at the conference dinner persuades me to leave after the main course. By departing swiftly I avoid being "screeched in" - a ceremony to achieve the status of honorary Newfoundlander involving kissing a fresh cod on various parts of its anatomy, swallowing a tot of rum and repeating certain local sayings.

Thursday

Early morning meeting with the minister to talk about safety and industrial relations in the oil industry. His deputy minister, a nice lady who used to work for Mobil, picks me up at 8am. Arrive to a room full of civil servants and go into full performance overdrive. Watch them slide into shock mode.

Next stop CBC Radio for interview, then on to the Hospitality Inn for my public "presentation" hosted by the trades unions. This is a two-and-a-half hour show including a call for union recognition and oil rig safety which compensates for the frustrations of yesterday. Incredible turnout. The deputy minister faxed the oil companies after I left and told them they should at least hear this. Expect them all to leave at the coffee break but they stay on for more punishment. Lively question time to say the least. Out for dinner as guest of the unions at St John's best. Inevitable food poisoning follows.

Friday

At nine o'clock a reporter from Toronto Star phones for an interview. Local radio and press interviews. Media are sympathetic to a degree. Good coverage of yesterday's event. Memories of the Ocean Ranger tragedy are still painful. Eighty-four men died when the drill rig was lost, mostly locals. Afternoon spent discussing future research agenda with colleagues from Memorial and the unions. Starting to suffer adrenaline overload. Night off to finish The Fishing News. Asleep by 8.30pm.

Saturday

Morning paper contains attack on my call for union recognition etc by Hibernia management (Mobil et al). Claims that Hibernia will meet or exceed current safety regulations. The problem here is that these regulations are still in draft form and have been so for seven years. Try to get the press to run with this story.

Sunday

Hibernia management concedes in today's paper that safety standards may not be the highest but are "consistent with those in other Canadian provinces. Quick trip to Cape Spear. Rugged cliffs, lighthouse and swirling fog. No whales but impressive iceberg. Dismantled a whole lobster for dinner, washed down with Hibernia beer complete with picture of the platform on the label. Cabot's replica sail ship is hovering off the coast somewhere having arrived early from England for the quincentennial "discovery" celebrations. Queen's arrival is also imminent. The First Nations are not amused. Time I was out of here. Bye bye Dobermanns.

Charles Woolfson is deputy convenor of the centre for regulatory studies, University of Glasgow.

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