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February 5, 2004
 Newspage

 


Doug House moves back to the hill
University key to growth


By David Sorensen
Memorial University will play a crucial role as the new government moves to develop the provincial economy, according to the sociology professor assigned to assist that growth.

Dr. Doug House was appointed deputy minister of the Department of Industry, Trade and Rural Development on Jan. 20. In an interview with the Gazette, Dr. House said the university is essential to a knowledge-based economy.

“It’s extremely important that the university be seen as a resource and gear itself up to take an active role in helping with the economic development of the province.”
“We need to recognize in this province that we are now in – it’s not a matter of going to be – we are now in a knowledge-based economy,” said Dr. House. “And what’s the most important institution in the province for generating knowledge and people with expertise? It’s Memorial University of Newfoundland. So it’s extremely important that the university be seen as a resource and gear itself up to take an active role in helping with the economic development of the province.”

Dr. House said the agencies affiliated with Memorial — such as Genesis Centre, P. J. Gardiner Institute for Small Business and the Centre for Regional Development Studies — have significant roles to play.

“One of the issues that we have here, and one of the reasons the premier has put me in here, is [to determine] how we get that expertise out to all different parts of the province. It’s easy enough in St. John’s for people to get access to Memorial and its resources. It’s much more difficult in other parts of the province but we’ve got to find out the ways to do that.”

Acknowledging that the province’s current financial situation will hamper its ability to recruit graduates in the short-term, Dr. House said the provincial government will need to hire Memorial graduates when its situation improves.

“The most important resource we’ve got to get mobilized in support of what we’re trying to do is the bright young people in Newfoundland and Labrador.”

Dr. House said the main responsibility of his new position is to manage the department on a day-to-day basis, and to work on policy with other senior officials and the minister of Industry Kathy Dunderdale.

“The big challenge for our department is — we’ve got certain human resources, certain financial resources, certain programs and services — how do we make sure that those are being used effectively in order to support economic development initiatives from different people in the province?” he said.

“Government officials don’t do economic development themselves. They provide the setting and the support services to help, whether it be small businesses in rural Newfoundland or large industries wanting to set up a branch plant operation in this province. Our job is to smooth the way for those things to work effectively.”

For example, his department is trying to develop a working group with industry organizations such as the Newfoundland Alliance of Technical Industries to get their input on how the province could help those industries succeed. “We’re trying to get all these different players working together to help develop this sector in our economy.”

Aside from working with different sectors of the economy, Dr. House said his department will work with different regions of the province.

“One of the things that I want to do, and the minister wants to do is to get west of the overpass. We’ve got to get out there in the different regions and meet with the people and see how things are working on the ground, at the community level.”
Premier Danny Williams said it is Dr. House’s experience in economic development and his understanding of rural issues that made him the right fit for this posting.

“Government’s agenda is very much focused on improving our fiscal circumstances,” said Mr. Williams. “While this involves tightening our expenditure belt, it also means a heavy reliance on growing our economy. Dr. House’s strategic advice will assist government in identification of growth sectors and implementation of appropriate short and long term measures to improve the province’s economy overall.”

Dr. House has been appointed to a four-year term. He said it will take a couple of months to get settled in his new role, and it will be the next fiscal year before you can hope to see results. “I would say a year from now things will be quite different than they are now.”

Dr. House has been a professor in the sociology department at Memorial University of Newfoundland since 1975. During his academic career, he has served as head of sociology and research director of the Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER).

Dr. House holds the degrees of BA (Hons.) from Memorial University, MA from Oxford University (which he attended as Newfoundland’s Rhodes Scholar) and PhD from McGill University. He is the author of six books and more than a hundred articles, papers and reports. His previous experience with the public service includes chair of the Royal Commission on Employment and Unemployment (1985-86), chair of the Economic Recovery Commission (1989-96), chair of the Board of Enterprise Newfoundland and Labrador Corporation (1989-1993), and provincial co-chair of the Task Force on Community Economic Development (1994-95).

He was a key contributor to Building on Our Strengths: The Report of the Royal Commission on Employment and Unemployment (1986), Change and Challenge: A Strategic Economic Plan for Newfoundland and Labrador (1992), and Community Matters: The New Regional Economic Development in Newfoundland and Labrador-Report of the Task Force on Community Economic Development (1995). For the two years leading up to the recent provincial election, Dr. House served in a part-time capacity as a policy advisor to the Office of the Official Opposition.

 


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Next issue: February 19, 2003

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