In the annals of economic perdition along Canada’s benighted East Coast, Cape Breton is often cited as the exemplar of Murphy’s Law, where everything that can go wrong always does.
An Alberta colleague of mine in the Toronto newsroom of the Globe and Mail in the mid-1980s once japed that about the only government-funded development scheme that region of Nova Scotia hadn’t tried was building a monorail around the picturesque Bras d’Or Lake for rich European, American and Asian tourists.
“Because,” he shouted giddily, pointing an index finger to the sky, “there’s an idea that might actually work.”
Canada is vast enough and diverse enough that its various laughing stocks are never in short supply (much, of course, to our national discredit).
So, it seems odd that outside of a few bureaucratic enclaves at Industry Canada, New Brunswick has yet to receive the brunt of scorn and ridicule its sister parts of the Maritimes – such as Cape Breton – have endured for generations.
After all, as the lovely butt of other people’s jokes, it’s a perfect candidate. Even our very own native son, Donald Savoie, isn’t above cracking wise every now and then. . .sort of.
The Moncton-based economic development authority and university professor was in fine form last week as he chatted with the Saint John Telegraph-Journal’s John Chilibeck. Referring to the ticking time bomb that is the province’s aging population, Mr. Savoie invoked several figures of speech, including “waiting to explode” and “bite us very hard”, either or both which could involve “slow, painful economic death spiral.”
Whichever case may, ultimately, transpire, the economist’s main message is clear: We’re in for a whole lot of fear and loathing unless we get off our collective derrieres and grab the bull by the horns and go for the brass ring in our effort to prove that, if nothing else, academics aren’t the only members of provincial society who can mix a wicked metaphor.
His larger point, though, is that “we’ve being saying ‘no’ to a lot of economic development over several years. We can’t (here comes the jokey part) turn all of New Brunswick into a national park.”
Of course, we can’t. Apart from any other consideration, national parks cost big bucks and – in case some of us haven’t been paying attention – we don’t have even little ones. Oh, we have the trees, alright, but not the variety on which money grows.
Perhaps, then, we should go with our strengths – or, rather, turn our weaknesses into competitive advantages the way we turn lemons into lemonade.
Take one-part aging population, add one-part pristine environment, shake, then pour. Hey presto: we’ve got ourselves an instant, province-wide retirement community. Forget about merely visiting the old folks’ home. New Brunswick is the old folks’ home
If we’re shrewd, we can sell this brand all over the world to, you guessed it, rich Europeans, Americans and Asians.
See what we did there? In one dramatic swoop, we’ve boosted badly needed immigration. And – thanks to the money pouring into provincial coffers from fat, international retirement trusts and savings plans to pay for new sanitoriums, nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, and then some – we’ve solved the fiscal crisis.
But let’s not stop there. If we start building a few monorails to replace the roads nobody will soon be driving through the countryside nobody will soon be fracking we’ll manage to keep our productivity up until, of course, we all just drop dead from natural causes.
As my Alberta chum might say, “There’s an idea that might actually work.”
Indeed, what could go wrong?