For the second time in the space of six months, thousands of luckless New Brunswickers will sojourn a week or more without power. This is, without a quibble, the story of mid-summer, knocking almost everything else off the front pages of The Fourth Estate.
Sooner than we care to admit, however, the days will shorten, the shadows will lengthen and the sun-kissed air will begin to present a familiar chill.
Suddenly, the lights are back on, the kids are toddling back to school and the rest of us are heading straight for that temporary purgatory known as a provincial election campaign.
The race for the ballot box will undoubtedly dominate the headlines day after breathless day. But, in the absence of any new, bold ideas, any workable solutions for the province, I wonder if it should.
In fact, despite my well-worn sandwich board broadcasting my disdain for anyone who actually chooses not to vote, I’m wondering if I should sit this one out. In this respect, at least, a recent Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development survey puts me in ignoble company.
On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the best, New Brunswick scores 5.2 relative to other regions in the country in its residents’ intention to vote. P.E.I. ranks 6.6; Quebec, 4.5; Nova Scotia, 4.3; Ontario, 4.2; British Columbia, 4.0; Manitoba, 3.8; Alberta, 3.0; Northwest Territories, 2.6; Newfoundland and Labrador, 2.3; and Nunavut, 0.9.
It’s depressing. But no more so than the stunning lack of imagination available to our various political classes – a circumstance, I hasten to add, that is not unique to New Brunswick.
Unquestionably, in this province the big issues of the past two years and foreseeable future are economic malaise and dissolution, and the commercial development of natural resources, including shale gas and pipeline construction.
Premier David Alward’s Progressive Conservative platform does address these rather concrete matters but, given the stakes, somewhat flabbily.
“We choose to take advantage of the opportunities before us – to develop our natural resources, to promote innovation and to put in place the economic strategies that will allow business to grow and provide jobs,” his party’s website declares. “We’re saying yes to bringing our people home and building a stronger future for our province.”
Well, of course, they are. Who isn’t “saying yes” to in-migration for a change? The question is: how?
“Our goal is to increase the tax base in New Brunswick, so we can better fund needed public services,” the site continues. “With additional investments in healthcare, social programs and infrastructure, we’ll strengthen the quality of life for all New Brunswickers, but particularly for families, seniors, and the most vulnerable.”
That’s laudable, but, again: how?
The provincial Tories “believe New Brunswick has an incredibly exciting and prosperous future. By putting all our resources to work here at home we can build the kind of province where we want to live, and the kind of province we want to leave our children and grandchildren. This is our time. This is New Brunswick’s time.”
In largely faux contrast Liberal Leader Brian Gallant’s messages include becoming the “smart province. . .We will revitalize our economy, create jobs and ensure that everyone has the opportunity to succeed. We Liberals believe that, properly governed, the province can offer good jobs and a good standard of living, so we can keep our people right here in New Brunswick.”
Good and proper government, it seems, means becoming “the smartest province in the country. We need to invest in education, training, and literacy. By making strategic investments in education, training and literacy. . .We can fill the skills gap. . .We can grow New Brunswick’s traditional industries. . .We can grow emerging industries. . .We can create a healthier, more socially-just province.”
In every election cycle, there is a time for grand generalizations and lofty pronouncements. In New Brunswick, that time is just about up.
Specificity must, at some point, enter the political arena. Innovation, ingenuity and worthwhile risks must, one day, play central roles in the affairs of government.
Call it a hurricane of decidedly welcome change this time, but it, too, would be a headline worth reading.