We are coming down, dear reader, to end of the line, if not our rope, in this, the 38th general election for Canada’s picture-perfect province. Naturally, it behooves us to review what we’ve learned thus far, which may not be much.
Nevertheless, by now we should all fully appreciate the dimension of New Brunswick’s fiscal dilemma, which some observers have characterized as more of a calamity. A $500-million annual deficit and $12-billion long-term debt hang like millstones around our collective neck.
To some extent, we have been conditioned to believe that this is an intractable problem that can’t be ameliorated, let alone managed.
But this is not, strictly speaking, true. Many jurisdictions have faced tougher challenges and recovered nicely (think Saskatchewan). Others have staged convincing turnarounds in relatively short order (think Prince Edward Island).
But to do this for ourselves, we are going to have to work together and on an unprecedented scale. Defying their partisan straight jackets, politicians need to collaborate. Setting aside our ideological differences, unelected citizens must reach out to one another and share their good ideas without hesitation.
Above all, we’re going to need a few big ideas to get us where we want to be: To a place where innovation meets compassionate pragmatism, where natural resources integrate with sustainable development, where healthy communities seed the fallow economic fields of less successful ones.
To say that what this province needs most is jobs is merely to mutter a truism. What sort of jobs are we talking about?
Are these short-term positions, back-stopped by Employment Insurance. We already know what these do for us. Or are the jobs we need more durable and promising than this? And if they are, how do we generate them not just for this generation, but also for future ones?
The steady outmigration of young people from this province to points west is not a problem that we can fairly lay on the shoulders of any political party or government. The exodus has been underway for many years.
To keep our kids – and bring some back – we need to build a truly creative economy; one that implicitly recognizes that economic sectors should be not silos, but incubators that manage to cross-pollinate the province with ingenious, new approaches to entrepreneurship. And we need to remove the unnecessary, baroque regulatory barriers that continue to imprison our thinking, our imagination, within an old, threadbare box.
The federal government has done us no favours with its various jobs and immigration policies. But we can’t let that stop us from forging ahead, implementing our own plans and priorities that reflect and address our distinctly New Brunswick circumstances.
What, dear reader, do we want to be when we, all of us together, grow up?
I envision a province whose cities greet every commercial, social and cultural opportunity with a view to leveraging its main chances for the benefit of everyone, not just of a neighbourhood, a constituency, a tiny corner of the municipal steppe.
I envision a province whose government makes targeted, strategic investments in areas for which it is properly responsible – education, health care and social services – and rejects the obvious and costly cattle calls to candidates for corporate welfare.
I envision a province whose political culture finally embraces the contributions that both those in power and those in opposition can make to advance the cause of social improvement, if not human perfectibility, in this place that 750,000 people still call home.
The world beyond our borders is full of dangerous places, full of treachery and depredation. In this world, where 50 million individuals are either literally or virtually stateless, left to their own devices, without the democratic protections and safety nets we have come to expect, we are exceedingly lucky.
Shall we squander this by retreating into our separate cocoons?
Or shall we come into the light together, knowing that we are the champions of our own, formidable passion to do better, and be better, together; knowing that if we can think a thing, we can do a thing.
It’s always tempting to perceive an election as a chance to review what we’ve learned and moan about it.
But, really, elections are about the future, where our minds should wander with hope and wonder, not regret. Never regret.