Sticking out our economic chin

Oh yeah, baby, we are stuck where the sun don't shine

Oh yeah, baby, we are stuck where the sun don’t shine

Of course, precisely 11 months before the next provincial election in New Brunswick, the urgent conversation would have to shift, the channel change, the page turn. After all,  there’s only so much bad news one person can digest before he succumbs to the hallucinogen of wishful thinking.

Now, the question for all to ponder is whether we are, at base, a glass-half-empty or a glass-half-full kind of folk. And in so doing, the campaign slogans of yore will no longer suffice. We will no longer respond to heady promises of prosperity any more than we will believe desperate warnings of imminent penury.

Right down the middle, between all possible extremes of human circumstance, is where we are and where we want to stay. The political party that understands the true power of self-delusion will win the day, as it brands its march to the ballot box with a few, well-chosen words: “Hey, here in New Brunswick, it could be worse.”

The province’s annual deficit is now projected to reach $499.9 million by the end of fiscal 2013, the result of lower-than-expected revenue. “That’s due mainly to weaker than anticipated results from NB Power,” Finance Minister Blaine Higgs told reporters last week. “We’ve had this information on the first quarter for a few weeks but we were intending to be able to line it up to the year-end results from last year.”

As for the three-month period ending this month, he’s no more sanguine: “We’ve seen some signs of growth in sectors like in the forestry sector, but I’m not expecting a huge uplift in revenue for the second quarter.”

Cheer up, though: .

“If we had not made that decision (to cut government spending) early on, looking at the continued economic performance and the issues of revenue, we as a province would be in very dire straits,” Premier David Alward reassured the press corps.

Unsaid, but implicit, was the proposition that a province of 756,000 souls, with an annual lien of half-a-billion bucks and a structural long-term debt approaching $12 billion, is not, technically speaking, in dire straights. Clearly, Mr. Alward’s definition of the word ‘dire’ departs somewhat from the Fraser Insititute’s, which concluded in April, “It’s hard to deny that New Brunswick’s finances are in a dire state.”

Indeed, wrote the Vancouver-based think tank, “The province has splashed red ink every year since 2008/09. . .With the provincial government persistently spending beyond its means, New Brunswick’s net debt (financial liabilities minus assets) is set to dramatically increase from a recent low of $6.7 billion in 2006/07 (25.4 per cent of GDP) to $11.6 billion in 2013/14 (34.2 per cent).”

On the other hand, that’s just the Fraser Institute: Always raining on everyone’s parade. Should we more properly worry that we continue to lose the tax base we need to get our finances shipshape and Bristol fashion?

This week, Statistics Canada reported that New Brunswick shed 947 people during the 12-month period ending July 1, 2013. Michael Haan, a population expert at the University of New Brunswick, told the Telegraph-Journal, “I would estimate we will see year-over-year declines for the next five years or so. We are at a point in history where we have a large group at the age of migration. The baby boomers’ children are between 15 and 30 now. The prime year for moving is around 28.”

Again, however, it could be worse. The year before, New Brunswick lost more than 2,000 people to better jobs and rosier opportunities in Ontario and Alberta. Besides, at least we’re not Greece or even Spain where, as Bloomberg Businessweek reported in June, “The nation’s population fell last year for the first time since records began in 1971, and the main reason was an 18 per cent increase in the number of foreign nationals leaving the country. Romanians, Moroccans, and Ecuadorians led the way out.”

Rest assured, gentle reader, all is not woe in New Brunswick.

In fact, given our stubbornly sunny disposition, it’s remarkable we’re not all on skid row.

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