Time to plant a tree

IMG_1398For years, this trick-or-treat month was also known – at least, in policy circles – as the four-week period during which to celebrate the achievements of Atlantic Canada’s small businesses and entrepreneurs, an overture that always seemed to me to be one part patronizing and two parts disingenuous.

After all, as any entrepreneur will tell you, this sort of enterprise is a 24-7, year-round proposition. There are no (or few) paid vacations. Supper is, more often than not, consumed cold over a kitchen sink. And don’t even think about a cushy retirement. Who needs a special month to contemplate the textured meaning of the late Steve Jobs’ assessment of the vocation: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Easy for him to say. Still, there’s little doubt that entrepreneurship has played – and continues to play – a disproportionately important role in the regional economy, something the University of New Brunswick must understand to its institutional bones. It just received a large gift of money to support innovative enterprise across the province. Meanwhile, in Fredericton, a non-profit organization recently joined up with a clutch of other like-minded groups to, among other things, spread the gospel of small business.

A few years back, a federal government monograph attempted, mostly successfully, to explain the character and dimension of this dynamic sector on the East Coast. “As we go about our daily routines, small businesses, defined as those that employ fewer than 100 people, are all around us,” it winsomely declared. “We see them in malls, operating out of homes and along the main streets of every town. But of what importance are these small businesses to our lives in Atlantic Canada?”

Answering its own question, the document continued: “Of the approximately 88,000 businesses in Atlantic Canada, 95 per cent are considered small businesses. . . The average annual entry rate of new businesses in Atlantic Canada from 1990-2000 was 18.2 per cent. When one considers that the business entry rate for Canada averaged 14.5 per cent during this period, Atlantic Canada asserts itself as being a very entrepreneurial region. . . In 2000, the self-employed represented 13.4 per cent of total employment in the region or 137,300 people, an increase of almost 20,000 individuals compared to a decade earlier. Self-employment has increased almost 17 per cent, whereas overall employment has increased only 9 per cent.”

What’s more, “The 2001 Census indicates that more than half the self-employed have at least some form of post-secondary education, with 19 per cent possessing a bachelor’s degree or higher. Interestingly, the highest rates of self-employment growth are occurring for those that have a university degree. This trend towards better-educated entrepreneurs is even more pronounced among females, a promising circumstance in light of the growth among female entrepreneurs generally.”

Still, there’s a downside and it remains as stubbornly challenging today as it did 15 years ago. “As the knowledge-based economy continues to grow in importance, so does the need for ongoing training and development of managers and employees to remain competitive,” the government report observed.

All of which suggests the surest path to a more enlightened and entrepreneurial society. That’s the trick, of course. But the treat is clearly worth the effort.

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We are all connected


It should surprise exactly no one that not one Canadian municipality makes the World Economic Forum’s list of most successful cities – not Toronto, not Montreal, not Vancouver, and certainly not any of New Brunswick’s three major urban areas.

We are, after all, in this province mere cartographic postscripts comporting ourselves in much the same way we always have: with one toe tentatively dipped in the future and one foot firmly planted in the past. I sometimes think we like it that way. In fact, there’s nothing particularly wrong with it.

Armies of retirees, fresh from their career conquests in other more economically vigorous parts of the world, have chosen communities like Moncton, Fredericton and Saint John to settle into their sanguine senescence. Here, crime rates are low, house prices are stunningly reasonable, and the natural environment is, by every comparison, downright pristine.

But, ultimately, no region can survive its own sleepy traditions and predilections by insulating itself from the rest of the world. What is virtuous about a place can eventually become disadvantageous. Whether we like it or not, we are all connected on this planet.

Over the years, the urgent conversation among those here who recognize this simple fact of life in the 21st Century has concerned the character of progress. How far can we go without compromising that which makes this part of the world unique and efficacious? We’ve not settled on a definitive answer, but we have found some enlivening clues.

The World Economic Forum offers some insight. “Forces of globalization, urbanization and technological advancement are transforming the definition of a ‘successful’ city and reshaping the global urban hierarchy in the process,” it recently posted on its website. “Success can no longer be measured simply by considering a city’s size and historical attributes. Today it is more likely to revolve around innovation, ‘liveability’ and the ability to transform and adapt.”

On this score, it elaborates, “Many of the top 20 cities in the 2016 City Momentum Index – including London, San Francisco and Sydney – are home to vibrant mixed-used districts which create and amplify opportunities to conceive and commercialize new ideas. This reinforces the idea that city momentum involves much more than GDP growth. It also requires building an innovation-oriented economy through technology. It means creating cutting-edge new businesses. And it involves attracting talent and nurturing a diverse and inclusive workforce.”

Are we, in New Brunswick, doing enough of this? If the size of a place no longer matters as a determinant of economic and social health, where are the large and small innovations that really do make a difference? The New Brunswick Innovation Foundation insists they’re out there. “With over $70 million invested, plus $380 million more leveraged from other sources, NBIF has helped to create over 90 companies and fund 400 applied research projects since its inception in 2003, with a current portfolio of 42 companies,” its website declares. “All of NBIF’s investment returns go back into the Foundation to be re-invested in other new startup companies and research initiatives.”

Fair enough, but we need more of this. The fact that I can count the number of business incubators in this province that regularly garner mainstream media attention on one hand suggests that we haven’t truly leveraged the global innovation agenda to our full advantage.

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, Silicon Valley was a craggy patch of earth on California’s west coast. Shall we, in New Brunswick continue to consign ourselves to a similar condition, or shall we make our success stories convincingly and finally resonate?

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Trumped on trade

Following the first presidential debate between The Trumpster and The Hillanator, Saturday Night Live staged a bit in which the comic playing Mrs. Clinton suddenly broke down and wept tears of joy.”

“Tell me, what’s going on,” the fake moderator asked.

“Oh,” said fake Hillary as fake Donald paused briefly in his bloviating, blustering and cartoonish posturing, “I just wish we could have the election tonight, right after this debate Do you think that’s possible? Could we?”

Millions of Americans can be forgiven for seriously wanting to be rid of this goon show unfolding before them with nauseating relentlessness. But those who think Canadians, and New Brunswickers in particular, have no skin in the game south of the border (apart from the sort of awful fascination that sometimes overcomes one when passing a car wreck on the highway) should think again.

Until it became clear, only recently, that Mr. Trump was unlikely to recover from the serious case of foot-in-mouth disease he’s managed to contract, some odds makers had the man neck and neck with the former first lady. A few were even predicting a win for The Donald. Now, New Brunswickers, who actually understand something about how our economy works, are breathing easier.

Mr. Trump’s opinions about immigrants (he doesn’t like them), Muslims (he doesn’t trust them) and women (he likes them just fine as long as they submit to his masculine irresistibility) are well known. Less so are his views on international trade involving the United States.

On that, the Republican presidential candidate had this to say in a major speech in Detroit last August: “Trade has big benefits, and I am in favour of trade. But I want great trade deals for our country that create more jobs and higher wages for American workers. Isolation is not an option, only great and well-crafted trade deals are.”

Regarding NAFTA, Mr. Trump declared, “A total renegotiation is what I want. . .If we don’t get a better deal, we will walk away. . .Americanism, not globalism, will be our new credo.”

Give the man credit for his talking points, but dismantling NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) and installing an even more American-friendly trade framework would be a disaster up here in the Great White North.

Since the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement launched in1989, the volume of import-export activity in good and services between the two countries more than tripled. According to Trade and Investment Canada’s web page, “Thanks to this agreement and the North American Free Trade Agreement, the trading relationship between our two countries is so strong that we exchanged approximately $2.4 billion in goods and services every day in 2015. Canada is the U.S.’s largest customer, purchasing US$338 billion in goods and services in 2015. Canada buys more from the United States than does any other nation – including all 28 countries of the European Union. Canada and the United States are the world’s largest trading partners.”

Where does New Brunswick stand in that mix? In 2012, the United States was this province’s most significant export destination, with the value of inbound/outbound goods and services estimated at nearly 13 billion. The U.S. accounted for 86.3 per cent of the value of this province’s exports in that year, compared to 88 per cent in 2007.

Perhaps it is already occurring to certain Americans that what happens in their country’s political system has ramifying effects virtually everywhere else. A Trump win could ruin New Brunswick’s economy. That his chances grow increasingly unlikely is cause for shedding the odd tear of joy.


Cap and fade

It was never going to be a winsome decision, but the federal government’s determination to impose some form of carbon pricing on the provinces is proving to be the first great test of the proposition that when it comes to both the environment and economy, one can have one’s cake and eat it too.

As Nova Scotia’s, Newfoundland and Labrador’s and Saskatchewan’s environment ministers stormed out of a meeting convened last week to explain the Trudeau government’s determination to unilaterally impose a framework that would exact a $10-per-tonne price on carbon beginning in 2018 – a levy that would increase by $10 per tonne each year until hitting $50 per tonne in 2022 – New Brunswick’s man on the ground shrugged sanguinely and, in effect, declared, “Hey, no big deal”.

Repeating his government’s oft-sung melody on the subject, Environment Minister Serge Rousselle trilled, “Any price on carbon brought forward by our government will be revenue neutral. And we learned from the Trudeau government that all the money received from this province will be sent back.”

That money could, by some estimates, amount to as much as $800 million a year, depending on the mechanisms the Province uses to fulfill its climate-change obligations to Ottawa. But, says Premier Brian Gallant, not to worry. “If we in New Brunswick are to get any type of monies from a price on carbon, we would reinvest that money right away. It would very be investments that would spur economic growth and a green economy. . .We agree with a lot of what is happening with the Trudeau government. They have focused on growth and they’re focused on making sure our economy is sustainable and that we transition to a low-carbon economy, which we agree with as well.”

Still, the devil is in the details. The degree to which a carbon tax – or, alternatively, a cap and trade system – properly addresses the larger problem of greenhouse gas emissions depends entirely on the technological savvy of any given province. Put another way: Are we, in New Brunswick, ramped up to pour the money clawed back from polluting industries into cleaner ones? Or will taxpayers simply be left holding bag of good government intentions – again?

On paper and in theory, the World Bank says there’s plenty of evidence that carbon pricing works. “A price on carbon helps shift the burden for the damage back to those who are responsible for it, and who can reduce it,” it notes on one of its many web pages. “Instead of dictating who should reduce emissions where and how, a carbon price gives an economic signal and polluters decide for themselves. In this way, the overall environmental goal is achieved. The carbon price also stimulates clean technology and market innovation, fuelling new, low-carbon drivers of economic growth.”

Moreover, it observes, “Some 40 countries and more than 20 cities, states and provinces already use carbon pricing mechanisms, with more planning to implement them in the future. Together the carbon pricing schemes now in place cover about half their emissions, which translates to about 13 per cent of annual global greenhouse gas emissions.”

What this observation fails to clarify, however, is that where carbon-pricing plans appear to achieve the desired results, they do so as a result of many years of coordinated implementation schemes engineered by both governmental and private-sector players. In New Brunswick and, indeed, the rest of Canada, we do not enjoy the luxury of time.

We may, one day, have our cake and eat it too. But, for now, the taste will be bittersweet.

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Oh, we lucky few

Certainly, we in New Brunswick face some tough problems, some hoary challenges. Even a casual review the public accounts will tell you that. So will the unemployment rate, systemic poverty in certain parts of the province and persistent illiteracy and innumeracy.

But, in our quieter moments, even the most disenfranchised or cynical among us must admit, all things considered, we have it pretty good. After all, consider the alternatives.

The other day, CNN reported: “Donald Trump – struggling to move past a week of one controversy after another – is making clear that he’s willing to go it alone in the final weeks of the campaign. As the Republican nominee tries to recover from one of his toughest stretches, few prominent GOP leaders – other than those who advise him or are on his payroll – seem willing to launch a full-throated rescue effort. So Trump sought to do the heavy lifting himself, delivering a feisty speech that attempted to reframe the campaign and extract him from the quagmire of the past week, which included a disappointing debate performance, a roiling controversy over whether he paid taxes, and ill-advised attacks on a Latina beauty queen – a feud he couldn’t seem to let go.”

Yet, the man is polling at 41 per cent public approval. His rival, Hillary Clinton, is barely squeaking ahead at 45 per cent exactly one month before the U.S. federal election. Oh, brother!

Still, our American cousins might take some solace from the fact that their institutions of justice, law and morality have not entirely crumbled. Can we say the same about Syria, from which refugees arrive in Canada every day? Can we say the same about Zimbabwe? Ask Mark McKinnon. He’ll give you an earful.

He and his wife owned a farm in that southeast African country until last month when government operatives summarily expropriated his land, animals and chattels. Forced to flee the land his family had worked for generations, he and his spouse, children an relatives are now ensconced in Canada.

“We had to get out,” he told The Zimbabwean the other day. “I was going to just send the family out and fight it myself but they’re following me and would have locked me up. . .I was in hiding. . . The Canadians have been amazing. I’ve never been here before but we’re going to build a new life until we can come home. We’re on one side of Canada staying with an aunt, and my parents are on the other side staying with my sister.”

According to the story, posted online, “Mark is one of the latest victims of Zimbabwe’s state of lawlessness. The well-ordered farm that his grandfather carved out of virgin bush when he arrived from Canada and bought the land in the late 1960s, is already descending into chaos. . . It was a familiar scenario. Government ‘lists’ the farm and issues an ‘offer letter’ to a few connected people. They simply chase the owner off – with the help of the police – under the guise of the ‘Land Reform’ programme. . .If the land falls within the peri-urban area around towns, they change the land usage status, subdivide and sell off hundreds of small plots to make themselves millions.”

We walk down the streets of Moncton, Fredericton and Saint John and never fear that bombs will fall on our heads. We stroll through the back-40s of our farms in rural New Brunswick and never worry about government thugs evicting us from our lawful livelihoods.

We have, in short, much to be thankful for – we lucky few

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The take on clean tech


Assuming my personal pantheon of household gods – including the one that lords over my bank account – continues to gaze affectionately at my ramshackle abode in the west end of Moncton, I can imagine one day installing solar panels on my roof’s southern exposure.

I can even divine a day when a compact, ridiculously efficient wind turbine installed against my back fence feeds power to my smart-grid controller, which, in turn, tells my fridge when to run and my furnace when to start. Meanwhile, my spiffy, new Tesla Model S sits happily in my driveway fully charged until its next trip to the neighbourhood electrical boosting station.

Flights of fancy are the territories of the future. But, in important respects, the future might be just around the corner if certain federal and provincial officials in Atlantic Canada have anything to say.

The extent to which New Brunswick may expect to participate in what’s being billed far and near as the nation’s “clean technology revolution” depends entirely on public and private-sector willingness to get out in front of these developments. That this province – which needs all the innovative economic opportunities it can digest – should not hesitate is an obvious no-brainer.

Not long ago, while making a speech in Alberta, Navdeep Bains, the federal minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, announced more $206 million in funding for 36 clean technology projects across the country.

In a prepared statement, department officials stipulated that “Investing in innovation, supporting clean technology and encouraging sustainable practices will help create jobs, expand access to international markets and make Canadian companies more competitive in the global economy.

“The minister announced the investment in Sustainable Development Technology Canada,” which will, among things, provide “support for clean technology companies at a critical point in the innovation spectrum: it allows innovators to develop and demonstrate their technologies prior to entering the market. . .To stay competitive, Canada must lead the way in innovation and must embrace opportunities to create the clean jobs of the future. The Government of Canada will continue investing in innovative clean technology projects that grow local economies and promote environmental sustainability.”

Minister Bains, himself, stated, “Now is the time for Canadian companies to capture their share of the global market for clean technology. From waste management to biofuels to greener solutions for the oil and gas industry, these Canadian companies are leading the world in intelligent, environmentally responsible and economically sound solutions in a number of key economic sectors. . . Canadians understand that a healthy environment and a strong economy are not competing priorities.”

He’s right. Canadians do understand this – or, at least, they’re getting the picture. A study released last month by the group, Clean Energy Canada, found that spending on this sector in 2015 amounted to $10 billion. That was the second-best performance on record. Said the group’s executive director, Merran Smith, in the report: “We’re living in a new era of political resolve to tackle climate change. . .Spending on clean energy will likely grow again in the years ahead.”

Intriguingly, Clean Energy noted, spending on the sector in Atlantic Canada last year jumped by 58 per cent to just about $1.2 billion. Given the region’s relatively small population, that result compared favourably to Ontario’s $5.3-billion investment in renewable energy in 2015.

The trick, of course, for this region will be learning how to transform its traditional industries even as it embraces new, cutting-edge ones. It’s encouraging that this process seems to be underway.

My hunt for solar panels might not be so whimsical, after all.

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Away in a manger

It’s a sign of the times, perhaps, that federal and Atlantic provincial leaders chose to meet in a barn the other day. After all, as any farmer will testify, barns are where the action is.

In fact, this particular barn was more of a renovated convention space located on federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay’s bucolic property in rural Prince Edward Island, but the significance of the location wasn’t lost on anyone observing the rare conclave of government officials. They had come, ostensibly, to get things done. And, by all accounts, they succeeded.

According to a news release, “The Government of Canada and the governments of the four Atlantic Provinces are working together to build a vibrant economic future for Atlantic Canada by focussing their efforts and resources to stimulate the region’s economy, support the middle class and address both long standing and emerging regional challenges.”

Specifically, the group – which included premiers Stephen McNeil, Brian Gallant, Wade MacLauchlan and Dwight Ball, and federal ministers MacAulay, John McCallum, Scott Brison, Dominic LeBlanc, Navdeep Bains, and Judy Foote – announced a new plan to “stimulate the region’s economy, support both innovative and resource-based industries, and increase job opportunities for Atlantic Canadians.”

High on the list was a commitment to boost immigration to the region. According to the post-meeting communiqué, “The first area of action focuses on skilled workforce and immigration with the introduction of a new three-year immigration pilot project aimed at addressing the unique labour market challenges in Atlantic Canada.

“When in place, the pilot project will help to better match the needs of local employers with the skill sets of immigrants while helping to improve the attraction and retention of newcomers in Atlantic Canada. Through this project the Government ‎will admit up to 2,000 immigrants and accompanying families in 2017, with rising numbers in the following years depending on performance. This is a substantial increase, amounting to almost half the current number of provincial nominees in Atlantic Canada. The federal and provincial governments will continue to undertake cooperative actions that will bring stable and long-term economic prosperity in Atlantic Canada and additional joint actions will be unveiled over the coming months.”

This is eminently good news, and for a variety of reasons.

For one thing, it demonstrates, for the first time in a very long time, that federal and provincial leaders are both able and willing to work together. Gone, one hopes, are the days of table-thumping and hand-wringing that were so unproductively numerous during the years of Conservative reign in Ottawa.

Secondly, and even more importantly, the decision to actively increase immigration to the region – a crucial bulwark of long-term prosperity for each of the Atlantic Provinces – is a clear indication that our elected officials not merely understand the key challenges facing the economy, but are actually equipped to do something about them.

Said Wade MacLauchlan, Premier of Prince Edward Island, in a statement: “To build on our successes and create sustained prosperity for Prince Edward Island, we must grow our workforce and continue to foster an environment of innovation and entrepreneurship. Working together with our Atlantic, federal and community partners, we will grow our population and create economic opportunities for the Atlantic Region.”

This might not sound like much. But consider the rising tide of acrimony, anger and outright hate welling in other parts of the world. The Atlantic region, and Canada as a whole, stands in sharp contrast to the vicious anti-immigrant rhetoric in the United States and Europe – a beacon of light, as it were, from a barn by the bay.

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The HST bogeyman


Okay, I get it. Everyone hates taxes. But there are taxes and then there are taxes – a distinction that certain business groups and assorted advocates routinely refuse to make as they stir their various pots of public outrage.

Here’s the background, courtesy of Chris Morris, who works the Legislature Bureau of the Saint John Telegraph-Journal: “According to numbers obtained from the provincial government through a right to information request, the (Canadian Taxpayers Federation) said (last) Monday promised tax credits won’t cover the additional costs for average working families.”

She continued: “The harmonized sales tax in New Brunswick will increase by two percentage points on Friday, Canada Day, to 15 per cent from 13 per cent. Kevin Lacey, Atlantic director of the taxpayers federation, a not-for-profit citizens group that lobbies for low taxes, said figures obtained from the Finance Department show that of the 331,309 households in the province, 225,361 – or 68 per cent – will pay more tax even after HST credits are factored in.”

As for Mr. Lacey, here’s what he told Ms. Morris in an interview: “If you are an average, middle-class working family, you are still going to pay big dollars under this HST increase. That is on top of income tax increases brought in three years ago. New Brunswick is going in the wrong direction with regard to taxes. Taxpayers are shelling out more and more every year.”

I understand that Mr. Lacey has a job to do, and more power to him. But a couple of things occur.

Firstly, the income-tax hike in New Brunswick came after a sustained period of income-tax reductions. So, as economists like to quip, it’s a zero-sum game. That said, taxes on income must be the most inequitable way possible to separate a middle-class family from its money.

The poor pay little or no taxes on their earnings. The rich have, at their disposal, plethora schemes (legal and otherwise) to avoid levies on their fat hauls. It’s the poor slobs in the middle (meaning, most of us) who bear the brunt of satisfying the taxman.

Secondly, virtually every economist in the world agrees that taxes like the HST, which is a consumption claw-back, is vastly more efficient and fair than an income one, as long as the former is not regressive – that is, it doesn’t hit the poor disproportionately hard, as they tend to spend most of what they earn.

As Laval University economist Stephen Gordon wrote in the Globe and Mail a few years ago, “The basic idea comes down to the role of taxes in determining the rate of return on investment. Higher returns generate higher levels of investment and – as investment accumulates – higher levels of productive capacity. That increased capacity in turn generates higher levels of output, employment and wages.”

On the other hand, he noted, income and corporate taxes reduce rates of return to the point where stuff doesn’t get done and people don’t get employed. Consumption taxes, meanwhile, levels out the playing field: You pay on what you buy. Again, though, they only work fairly if those who have little money to purchase anything qualify for timely rebates.

If the middle class does exist in New Brunswick (and the jury is still deliberating that point), Mr. Lacey and his ilk should advocate for rollbacks in taxes on income, not cuts to a regulated, humanely applied regime of consumption levies.

Even more useful might be pushing for a system that does not slip into regressive HST charges on the very people the Taxpayers Federation represents.

After all, some taxes are better than others.

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Yes we can


As a callow politico early in his career, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper once lambasted the Maritimes as a place where brooding mopes go to thrive. In fact, his exact words were: “There is a dependence in the region that breeds a culture of defeatism.”

He figured that his rebuke of the birthplace of Confederation – where he, himself, could trace a family connection – would play well among members of his archly conservative western base of voters.

In the end, of course, he paid the political price for his remark. Atlantic Canadians never forgot or forgave the criticism, though it took them more than eight years to help the rest of Canada show the good fellow the door.

On the other hand, was he altogether wrong?

Reflecting on this, some years later, I wrote that we, in this corner of the country, are most animated when others are picking on us. On these occasions, we stir from our Equalization-induced torpor and proclaim with one voice, and regardless of our internecine rivalries, “You, sir, are a cad.”

I observed how we love to foam and fulminate. We write letters to newspapers, post angry ripostes online and grant our premiers the right to defend our honour on the nightly news, as if we were so many swooning debutantes. And when we’ve had our fill, we return to our chambers to do what we do surpassingly well: Wait for things to happen to us.

Of course, I noted, it would be nice if the federal government didn’t cut us off at the knees whenever we managed to achieve something productive for ourselves. The history of this country has been a litany of taking from those who “have” and giving to those who “have not”. So many westerners remain deaf to the irrefutable argument that this nation was built, in tangible and evident ways, on Maritime ingenuity and wealth.

Still, in the end, I concluded, we mustn’t continue to blame Fat City for the structural weaknesses of our regional economy. This is all on us. And it’s time we do something; something extraordinary.

Times change, and oftentimes for the better. Over the past few years, I have detected a gradual, yet palpable, shift in attitudes in many parts of the Maritimes, where an almost fierce sense of cheerfulness in the face of continuing economic adversity prevails. This isn’t quite reflected in the condition of our various governments’ finances.

But in many communities, optimism has replaced pessimism and the dreadful word, “defeatism”, is rarely, if ever, uttered. Conclaves of leaders from all walks of life routinely gather to forge their joint futures together. Moncton is famous for this – constantly reinventing itself to anticipate the challenges and opportunities it faces. Yet, Fredericton does it, too. So does Saint John. So does Halifax and Charlottetown.

Meanwhile, the entrepreneurial class has, to my mind, never been stronger, never more vibrant.

I think of Malley Industries, which, it says, “manufactures ambulances, wheelchair accessible vehicles, specialized commercial fleets and plastic products for a wide range of industrial clients.” I think of Innovatia, a knowledge development company, which, it says, “is connected by passion for developing strategic solutions, and commitment to collaboration and teamwork. It’s all with the intention of delivery best-in-class client service.”

To be sure, we, in this region, still face obstacles. And we’re still prickly when people call us names and assume the worst about us.

But the mood is changing. Though we sometimes cleave to that tired trope, “No we can’t”, these days, we’re more often inclined to agree: Yes, we can.

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The sleep-walking cure

Oh to be a bluenoser now that the three-minute-long spring becomes us

It is one of those nights that occasionally afflict a man over a certain age when Morpheus refuses to show his drowsy face. I cannot get to sleep. Nothing works. Not chamomile tea. Not hot lemon water. Not even my regular go-to sedative: a good, stiff belt of New Brunswick’s very own gin thuya.

I think I’ll go for a walk.

One of my favorite observations about putting one foot in front of the other comes from American comic, Steven Wright: “Everywhere is within walking distance if you have time.”

Which is another way of saying the first rule of ambulating is to avoid destinations. If you know where you’re going, you’re not walking; you’re beating a deadline.

U.S. President Barack Obama once said, “If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress,” which might have been a rejoinder to 20th Century author C.S. Lewis’s point that “We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.”

Personally, I’m not all that interested in the progressive nature of my temperament. I’m going for a walk, and I’m going nowhere.

At 2 o’clock in the morning, my street is empty, and the air is as clear as my mind is cluttered. A mild breeze blows from the southwest, carrying on it the sweet scent of apple and cherry blossoms. I move down to the corner of Moncton’s Main West drag and Vaughan Harvey boulevard and head towards the new downtown event centre, rising lazily from the rubble.

I link my fingers through the fence and wonder what strange new structure will encompass the dinosaur bones of iron girders and cement foundation there. Will it be something the city’s citizens embrace, patronize, use? Or will it be another hockey arena? I begin to worry, so I move on. I am walking again.

I travel past the derelict storefronts just beyond the subway underpass, where restaurants and boutiques once delighted the urban core. Old signs about moving to new locations still festoon one window. I remember that time when, years ago, my wife and I entertained relatives at an early August lunch in that tiny, perfect district, and how we skipped home up Robinson Court, thinking about the little things that make life in a small city precious.

I trudge past the Capitol Theatre and stop, remembering my good friend, the late, great Marc Chouinard. As the General Manager there for many years, he was, in every important respect, “Mr. Downtown”.

I recall his acerbic wit and wisdom. Sometimes, he would turn to a patron of one of the city’s outdoor cafes and instruct: “Those pigeons up there aren’t going anywhere. I’m sure you don’t want poop in your soup. Tell the owner to clean up his act. We’ll all be happier for it.”

I laugh and head toward the river and remember the great effort to restore the mighty Petitcodiac to its former self – before the causeway of 1968. I conjure the image of California surfers riding the newly refreshed tidal bore 90 miles up from the estuary and into downtown Moncton.

As I walk home, I realize that I’ve been here longer than I’ve been anywhere – longer than the place of my birth and the place of my upbringing.

I crawl into bed, careful not to wake my wife, and as I drift into sleep, I realize that this nowhere is everywhere.

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