They queued in long, broken lines, some still bleary from the shanks of many recent evenings of farewells. Some stood, laden down with boxes and suitcases; others carried their entire lives in their wallets and satchels. Each waited patiently for his individual moment of truth to arrive.
At five o’clock on an iron-cold January morning, it was hard to believe that the most vibrant place – where the cultural, social and economic roads converged – in New Brunswick’s Hub City had become the boarding lounge of the Greater Moncton International Airport.
Here the infamous provincial diaspora was well underway: hundreds of young, middle-aged and elderly people voting on their respective futures with their feet.
Sure, some declared that they would one day return from Alberta’s dirty brown fields of opportunity. But just as many or more insisted that they were leaving for good.
“There just isn’t any point in staying,” one traveller told me. “The jobs aren’t here, and most of my family is out west, now, anyway.”
Added another: “I don’t get a sense of any direction or vision in New Brunswick. I mean, what’s the overall plan for the economy?”
Still another captured the zeitgeist of the moment perfectly: “I’m just tired.”
That’s it, isn’t it? We’ve all grown bone weary: utterly, achingly tired.
We’re tired of politicians making promises they can’t possibly keep. We’re tired of tabulating the province’s $538-million annual deficit and $11-billion longterm debt. We’re tired of public sector cutbacks that either go too far or don’t go far enough and, in any case, don’t seem to make a lick of difference.
It is so much easier to heed the siren’s call, beckoning us to leave, to move and never to return.
Why, out in Fort McMurray, if one played his cards right, one could become a project engineer or a maintenance coordinator or an electrical engineer or a mine maintenance manager.
Why, out in Fort Mac, where the tundra mice play, one could earn $100,000 a year driving a truck.
What’s keeping us here? Tradition? Roots? Family ties?
Sentimental nonsense! Off we go and (not looking back), good riddance!
In fact, we have a point, though it’s not an especially novel one.
Outmigration has been one of New Brunswick’s (indeed, all of Atlantic Canada’s) signature demographic features for 150 years. Wave upon wave of Maritimers and Newfoundlanders have left their homes in the East to build new ones in new communities in the West. This transfer of knowledge, skills and capital is what built Canada’s great industries, institutions and infrastructure, from the CNR to the drilling derricks of the oil sands.
What’s unique about the current exodus, however, is that, nowadays, few western-bound sojourners seem particularly interested in the fundamental reasons for our regional ennui. Fewer still are willing to risk their livelihoods and living standards by staying put and lending a hand in what surely must become The Great and Awesome Fix of New Brunswick, circa 2014.
For, without exaggeration, this is what’s required: a thorough overhaul not only of the way we spend public dollars and account for public programs, but of the way we govern ourselves and even of the expectations we create and maintain for ourselves and our neighbours.
In this, our finest resource may well be the self-reliance for which we have, until recently, been known. From this has stemmed the optimism, energy, derring-do and entrepreneurial courage and savviness that is always necessary to people who want to get important things done.
Important things like a downtown multi-purpose events centre for this city, a facility that Toronto developer and Moncton native Vaughn MacLellan hopes to complement with his own in the near future.
“We believe that the property is ideal for high density, multi-use office, retail and multi-residential development,” he told the Moncton Times & Transcript the other day. “At the end of the day, we want to try to create a lively, energetic area where people live, work and play.”
And not, dare we hope, find ourselves too tired to grab our future by the scruff and give it a good shake.