New Brunswickers: It’s time to go big and stay home

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Recent research out of the University of New Brunswick suggests that time never courses backward but only and inexorably moves forward until time, itself, has nowhere else to go in the deep, dark, mournful realm of all creation.

Sort of like the New Brunswick economy, if you think about it.

Still, as they say, misery loves company.

Now look who’s entering the cosmic pity party: the Province of Ontario with its $12.5-billion annual deficit and its $300-billion debt. (Not for nothing, on Tuesday morning just after sunrise, the mercury in Toronto barely cracked 18 below).

So, then, what else is there for us on our sea-bound coast to do but welcome our fellow travellers in penury, paucity and poor fiscal management from the centre of the formally gilded universe? Indeed, let us sympathize with, not rejoice over, their plight (which, on the East Coast, would be a feat of saintly sentimentality).

Once upon a time, Ontario was the undisputed king, among Canadian provinces, of economic opportunity. It was the place, Stompin’ Tom Conners insisted, where the “Maritimers are told. . .They always get a pot full, but they never get a pot of gold.”

When I was but a mere pup growing up in the Yorkville neighbourhood of central Toronto, newspaper editorialists routinely derided the “windbreaker-and-mutton-chop” crowd (that is to say, under-employed Maritime men) who hung out down the road a piece by the railway lands, at Front and Spadina, hoping to score a few bucks worth of day labour before the shelters closed for the night.

Now, they’re at it again, except this time, 40 years later, there are no more railway lands and the ones who beg for tuppence are not Maritimers; they’re true, blue Ontarians at the corner of Yonge and King who haven’t yet managed to pull together enough large change to book their flights to Alberta, the new centre of Canada’s economic universe, where money, don’t you just know, flows as freely as oil in the streets of Fort Mac.

According to David Parkinson, the Globe and Mail’s economic reporter, writing in the Tuesday edition of that venerable publication, “In Ontario, the key takeaway (from Finance Minister, Charles Sousa’s fiscal update on Monday) was that the province’s struggle to rein in its chronic budget deficits is getting harder. (Mr. Sousa) reported that revenue for the 2014-2015 fiscal year, ending March 31, now looks to be more than $500-million short of what the province had budgeted last spring. The tepid provincial economy is growing even more slowly than the government had hoped, and that is slowing tax revenue.”

In fact, Ontario, economically speaking, has been a shadow of its former self since the 2008 recession all but eviscerated its once unassailable manufacturing base. Once, this sector accounted for 28 per cent of the province’s GDP growth; today it’s responsible for a paltry 11 per cent of annualized 1.4 per cent expansion. And that’s not likely to change in the near, even long-term future.

All of which inspires many economists to wonder whether Ontario will ever fully recover its economic mojo. Already, it has become a “have-not” equalization province, claiming $3 billion a year in domestic aid from Ottawa.

Sound familiar?

Here, in beautiful New Brunswick, we endure rolling, yearly deficits of between $300- and $500-million on a structural debt of $12 billion. Demographically (Ontario’s population is 15 million; ours is 750,000 on a good day) that actually puts us deeper in the fiscal soup than our cousins in Upper Canada.

Where Ontario’s manufactures have taken near-mortal blows, New Brunswick’s resource industries have suffered the death of a thousand cuts. In both places, exports – the lifeblood of the national economy – have been moribund for years.

None of this is fatal, of course. Imagination, innovation and hard work can, and does, reverse pernicious outcomes in the lives of people, communities, provinces, and even nations.

But as long as we insist on being bystanders to our fate – as long as we elect governments that propagandize the virtues of abandoning our homes to become vassals of other, more economically robust jurisdictions – we are forever doomed.

In this, at any rate, time does not progress or regress.

It simply stands still.

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