The general rap about New Brunswick is that it is a minor principality of Canada, possessing neither the breathtaking vistas of Cape Breton nor the urban sophistication of Halifax nor even the vital, village atmosphere of Newfoundland and Labrador.
As for comparisons with Prince Edward Island, “fuggedaboutit”, as the New Yorkers say. That province has received so much federal money since God created the East Coast, there’s just no point in competing with it for tourists or, as the case may be, aerospace money.
Still, there are a few things demonstrably good about the “picture province”.
We are, for example, good with potatoes. In the early 1950s, a couple of middle-class brothers from Florenceville invented a way to harvest, process, and sell frozen French fries. Within a couple of decades, Wallace and Harrison McCain had conquered the world for these tasty treats. Today, their descendants operate a $5-billion a year conglomerate, employing nearly 25,000 people on six continents. Not so bad for a boring stopover, a la New Brunswick, en route to somewhere more, we shall say, exotic.
We are also good at oil and gas refining, having mastered the craft through the diligent efforts of the Irving family in Saint John. In fact, that outfit in New Brunswick’s “Port City” is among the most sophisticated in the world. Recently, the company announced that it would, according to a CBC report, “spend $200-million and employ up to 3,000 workers over 60 days to upgrade existing processing units at the New Brunswick plant. The Saint John facility is Canada’s largest refinery.”
Beyond this, we’re preternaturally good at making technological infrastructure and producing entrepreneurial options to traditional resource industries. We are, and have been an early-stage incubator (mostly for Information Communications applications) for innovations that have been exported and implemented across North America and around the world.
Lamentably, what we have not always been good at is blowing up the silos that separate us from the rest of this country and, in fact, from ourselves – the ones that keep the rural north and the urban south apart; the ones that cultivate differences between the three, major urban centers of Fredericton, Saint John and Moncton; the ones that persist between First Nations and non-aboriginals; and (surprise, surprise) the ones between Anglophones and Francophones in the nation’s only, officially bilingual province.
Maybe the worst thing we do is to make a meal of systemic mistrust of our own political representatives and public institutions. Our inability to get together to solve our joint economic and social problems has been our biggest problem – the only intractable hurdle that has held us back for 100 years or more.
Still, New Brunswick has produced some of the smartest men and women in the global room. Many have actually understood their responsibilities to the their fellows; they have decided not to break the world they helped build.
One of them is Donald Savoie of the University of Moncton. Another is David Campbell, chief economist of New Brunswick.
Still others include: Louis Leger, Mario Theriault, Ben Champoux, Nancy Mathis, Aldea Landry, and Brian Murphy.
All have spent their productive lives pondering the productive question about this province, about their communities: How do we come together?
How do we blow up the silos that separate us and render us vulnerable to those who continue to retail the general rap about New Brunswick?
The questions are crucial. The answers are vital
Unless we know how to become, how will be ever know what we must be?
How do we become who we must be?