When we reach the end of our ropes, I wonder if we’ll ever look back and reckon the moments when we might have done something but, defiantly, didn’t.
Of course, looking back is what we do peerlessly well in this province.
If a sense of entitlement, broad anger, bold arrogance, and a slavish devotion to dead leaders is any indication, then sentimentality and nostalgia are our greatest market capitalizations – the ones we offer to the world.
The problem is, simply, that the world isn’t buying any of it.
In fact, the world is beginning to laugh its collective butt off at the spectacle of New Brunswick’s quasi-serious posturing to become anything but a welfare state in, paradoxically, one of the richest, most economically accomplished nations on Earth.
Here, in one corner, is a series of single-term governments vowing to balance their budgets and retire their long-term debts over periods in which they have no mandates.
They choose to do this by keeping one of the nation’s largest civil service rolls, relative to the general population, largely intact, and nibble around the edges of gold-plated public pensions, for fear of inspiring any more court challenges to their electoral credibility.
Here, in another corner, is the current Liberal government inveighing against a proven, effective, efficient and reliably responsible form of gas extraction in New Brunswick, even as it welcomes, arms open, the construction of a pipeline, carrying some of the dirtiest crude oil on the planet, from Alberta’s tar sands (yes, folks, not oil sands) to an East Coast refinery in Saint John. Throughout, the distinction fails to make any difference to public policy.
Look there, in another corner, and you’ll find one local burgermeister battling another for scraps from the federal government’s now-ancient Economic Action Plan.
One wants a hockey rink and will do anything to persuade Ottawa, and the provincial government, that he has the best interests of his community’s fat, bloated, Internet-addicted youngsters in mind (even as the federalistas do their level-best to keep the next generation of voters firmly planted in their cushy chairs with appeals to low-cost providers of full-spectrum, online infotainment).
The other wants a soccer pitch and will bend over backwards to convince Harpertown, and Freddy Beach, that his motives are pure, even though his ulterior angles have more to do with boosting his electoral prospects, year after year after unchanging year, than they do with true, durable, sustainable community development.
Meanwhile, the old people keep dying; and the young ones keep leaving.
Away, the youth cry, away. Maybe, they allow, they’ll come back when things get better, when life improves.
When, I wonder, will that great regeneration occur?
Now, we are reliably informed, New Brunswick’s unemployment rate has dropped for the first time in a very long while. That should be good news. But statistics can also be cruel mistresses. Read between her lines and you understand that fewer people in this part of the country are actually looking for work, so impoverished are the opportunities for gainful employment here.
Now, according to economic think tanks, this province’s major capital projects are in limbo, because if we can’t guarantee that we’ll capitalize on what is literally in our own backyard, we are unlikely to persuade anyone else to invest there.
Or, as Atlantic Provinces Economic Council President Elizabeth Beale said last week in Saint John, “The investment activity coming into (Newfoundland and Labrador) to develop the large oil and gas fields. . .has completely revolutionized their economy and it has driven up very strong wages. Consumer spending there is very high. Employment income has grown. Young families are moving into the province because there are jobs now where there weren’t in the past, so, obviously, if you don’t have that kind of investment, you are going to see things proceed on a much slower path. . .It doesn’t mean nothing is going to happen. . .Good things can still go on here (in New Brunswick), but it does mean you have lowered your horizon in terms of your expected growth in the province.”
And, in the process, we have lowered the horizon on our province’s future.
On that, too, we might someday look back in jaw-dropping wonder.
You say: this province’s major capital projects are in limbo, because if we can’t guarantee that we’ll capitalize on what is literally in our own backyard, we are unlikely to persuade anyone else to invest there.
I see no reason to believe this. Economic development in the province was in limbo long before the prospect of shale gas came onto the scene. Blaming opposition to shale gas is very much a red herring.
The real reason nobody will invest in the province is that the province is in the grip of an existing population and incumbent industries who doggedly hold on to their own interests and resist any incursion by outsiders.
Citizens in the province know that industry won’t share any benefits of shale gas with them (indeed, they would use royalties as an excuse to lobby for further corporate tax reductions).
Until attitudes shift in the province – until we lose our fear of sharing the wealth, until we understand that we’re all in this together – we will not succeed economically. I see no prospect of that happening soon.