Don’t fear the reaper

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Sooner or later, the horseman with the scythe was always coming to New Brunswick, brandishing his blade to cut down the high and low among us. Still, who knew he would materialize in the form of a 33-year-old lawyer-cum-politician from a Sleepy Hollow known as Shediac Bridge?

Premier Brian Gallant, and his operatives in government, are deadly serious about reducing the province’s annual spending load by $600 million, hoping, in turn, to replenish the public accounts and avoid structural bankruptcy before bond-holders on Wall and Bay Streets get wise to the fact that we haven’t known, for years, what we’ve been doing (economically and fiscally, at least) to Canada’s picture-perfect province.

We know now; and it boils down to this: With a $600-million deficit, a $12-billion debt, a population tipping 750,000 on a good day, and an out-migration rate that rivals historical exoduses in almost biblical terms, we simply can’t afford ourselves. Under these circumstances, who could?

Of course, we may know this, deep in our East Coast bones, but do we accept the consequences of our perennial profligacy? Do we actually “get” the fact that we are the authors of our own misfortune? After all, to paraphrase the inimitable Bob Dylan, the hour is late and all along the watchtower, princes keep the view. . .Outside in the distance a wildcat does growl. Two riders are approaching, and the wind begins to howl.

That’s winter for you in southeastern New Brunswick; but one of the riders who now visits us is an all-season, equal-opportunity reaper and nothing, it seems, will distract him from his appointed rounds.

Here’s the latest on the issue from the editorial desk of the CBC last week:

“The New Brunswick government is proposing a long list of cuts, measures to boost revenue and ways to overhaul the delivery of government services to eliminate the province’s $600-million structural deficit. Health Minister Victor Boudreau, the minister responsible for the strategic program review, announced the report at a news conference on Friday.”

Specifically, the minister said, “We want to provide for more opportunity for New Brunswickers to comment on the report. But it is not necessary (to conduct)another round of public consultation, like I did before.”

That’s code for: “Yeah, we’ve talked to New Brunswickers till we’ve gone blue in the face; so, dear citizens, deploy the public porto-potty of open opinion, or. . .well, vacate the pot forthwith.”

Here’s what’s heading towards the political abattoir over the next few months: The idea that drivers get to ride the roads in this province for free (some form of tolls for casual and industrial wheel-men and women are practically inevitable); the notion that smokers and drinkers will be saved from another hike in the cost of their so-called vices (of course, we’d quit, if we didn’t understand how valuable our shekels are to the provincial economy); and the long-standing, utterly absurd protest against a prudent hike in the Harmonized Sales Tax.

As for this last measure, a two per cent increase (from 13 to 15 per cent), accompanied by reasonable exemptions for low-income New Brunswickers, would generate an additional $250-million a year for this province.

Regardless, the horseman comes, brandishing the tools of his trade.

Now, it remains for us to duck his scythe by building the innovative, inventive, productive private sector that will prevent us from ever again laying down our heads on the chopping blocks of economic necessity. 

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