And now for something completely obvious.
News flash: New Brunswick (Nova Scotia, too) is in the grip of its very own, made-in-the-Maritimes “death spiral”. The question, of course, is: what does the afterlife look like?
Former Premier and current Deputy Chairman of TD Bank in Toronto didn’t actually pronounce the time of this province’s passing – under the weight of its own inertia and all that sand that’s piled up around the hole into which its head has been stuck lo these many years – at a ballyhooed energy conference in Saint John last Friday. But he came darn close to pulling out the heart panels.
“Clear. . .zap. . .clear. . .again. . .clear. . .zap. . .clear.
In fact, Mr. McKenna said this: “Our regional economy is flatlining. We are depopulating. Our population is not just leaving; it’s getting older. It’s aging at twice the rate of Alberta’s. (Well, naturally it is, as that’s where capital markets and the current federal government encourage every mentally healthy, able-bodied young person in this country to go and become reliable, God-fearing taxpayers).
Here’s another snippet from Mr. McKenna’s all-too-familiar tirade against complacency:
“We are in an endless cycle of high deficits, declining population, higher interest rates and payments, a aging population, higher cost of services, less equalization, less personal income, higher taxes and consumption taxes. It’s a death spiral that we’re in if we don’t do something about it.”
Ah. . .and therein – as the Bard might have said, watching the surfer dudes ride the Pettitcodiac’s mighty tidal bore – lies the rub. What, indeed, is to be done?
We could eschew the costly histrionics surrounding shale gas development, based on a largely discredited “docu-drama” some years back, which featured (among other provocative absurdities) a guy lighting his tap water on fire (Reality check: the water table in upper Pennsylvania had been laced with trace amounts of methane long before fracking technology was the apple in the drilling industry’s eye).
We could concentrate on building the safest means – pipelines – of transporting crude oil from Alberta to Saint John and, in the process, create thousands of short-term, and hundreds of long-term, jobs for New Brunswick.
We might even work to leverage these energy opportunities to lure much-needed venture capital to the province for. . .oh, I don’t know. . .economic diversification away from natural resources and into educational centres of excellence that would pioneer commercially viable, sustainable, renewable, and exportable manufactures in the fields of wind, tidal and solar.
Or, we could go the other way.
We could put the province and all its lands and buildings up for sale to all those national and international bidders who boast the biggest coin in their pockets.
Dear China, the ad would read, “We, in New Brunswick, know how polluted your mega-cities are. Come on over to New Brunswick. We’ll treat you right fine. We’ll sell you our property, and we won’t even charge you minimum wage for the privilege of cleaning your kitchens and bathrooms – you know, the ones that used to be ours.”
Hey Alberta, we might exclaim, “We know you have our children in a ‘death-spiral’ of expanding expectations and blossoming debt. Someday, you know that bubble is going to burst. And when it does, you might like a safe haven to park your aging human capital.
“Consider New Brunswick as Canada’s preeminent retirement village. After all, as we never risked a damned thing on anything, including natural resources, our minds and hearts are clean. We are your last, best hope for a comfortable, easy death. . .Just bring your cheque books, because our B&Bs and private hospices are going to bruise those babies American-style.”
Indeed, given New Brunswick’s appalling fiscal condition, it’s dreadful demographic decline, its moribund economy, its listless and fearful political classes, it’s astonishing that this province has anything to offer the world or even its own people.
Of course, it is our own people – our entrepreneurs, in every shape, size, colour and stripe – who will (who must) save us from our collective inertia.
That, too, remains completely obvious.