The age of high anxiety

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In electoral politics, the mood inexorably swings between fear and hope. Rarely do voters declare that they feel merely okay about the traffic of ideas that whizz past them on the left and right sides of the ideological divide.

Over the past decade, or so, fear has become the predominant emotion in the public square, where we gather as fellow citizens. In fact, these days, we seem to be afraid of just about everything.

Criminals and “evil-doers” stalk us at every turn, or so we are told as certain parties agitate for more prisons and longer jail times. Meanwhile, international terrorists are ready to infiltrate our communities, schools and public institutions, which is why, presumably, some national leaders are happy to crack down on refugees as never before.

Even more easily terrifies us.

When not scared by our own shadows in New Brunswick, we tremble at the prospect of getting old and not having enough money to cover our geriatric care. Where will we go? How shall we live? Who will look after us?

Then there are the kids, who, frankly, are not all right. Will they ever learn to read and write in a public education system that fails them year after year? What sort of jobs can they expect? How will they pay the bills?

Speaking of stiff duties, what are we to do about New Brunswick’s multi-million-dollar annual deficit and multi-billion-dollar structural debt? Despite repeated attempts to chisel down these burdens, the last couple of governments have made precious little progress in recent years.

On the other hand, a certain degree of economic stagnation is par for the course in this province.

According to a CBC news report about a year ago, “A report card comparing the economic performance of all 10 provinces with each other and 16 advanced countries puts New Brunswick at the bottom of the pack. New Brunswick finishes last among the provinces and second last overall in the report by the Conference Board of Canada, which measures the economic performance of the provinces against countries for the first time. New Brunswick was given an overall grade of D and was ranked ahead of only France in the list of 26 provincial and national economies that were examined.”

Specifically, the Board said, “The sluggish U.S. recovery has hurt export demand and both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have also had very weak domestic economies in recent years. These two eastern provinces have been burdened by excess production capacity, as they have not benefited from the boom in commodity demand over the past decade like Alberta and Saskatchewan.”

Now, of course, Alberta’s economy is in the dumpster thanks to weakening commodity prices and demand, which will, in turn, malevolently affect prospects of a new oil pipeline into this province, where we have already abandoned any plans we might have nursed for building an environmentally responsible shale gas industry.

Indeed, considering all the threats to fret about in this region of Canada, it’s tempting to concede that things don’t change, except for the worse.

Still, a morose attitude is as habit-forming as fear is self-perpetuating. These are what stop us from remembering that for every Great Depression there is a Great Recovery. We must only search for solutions to our shared problems – even those that have become especially entrenched thanks to the partisan mumbo-jumbo that has cluttered the path of progress.

If the mood swings in electoral politics, as it surely will on Monday, we are long past due for a new age of high hopes in New Brunswick.

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