Monthly Archives: January 2016

Altogether now


Imagining that Moncton (“The Hub City”), Saint John (“The Port City”) and Fredericton (“Freddy Beach”) have it within their independent wheelhouses of determination to come together as one, driving urban force for New Brunswick is a little like conjuring the offspring of a duck-billed platypus and a giraffe.

Still, that doesn’t stop municipal mothers and fathers from occasionally musing about the good ideas that such a miracle of nature might produce. What say you, the apparent mayor for life of the province’s capital city, nestled along the flood plains of the mighty St. John River?

“We’re a small province and as I have always said, I don’t consider Saint John and Moncton to be the competition, and I don’t think they think any differently. It makes no sense to pull 25 jobs out of Saint John and move them to Fredericton or pull them out of Fredericton and move them to Moncton. It doesn’t do anyone any good. So, we need to make sure that we have our own little pockets to nurture.”

Those words from Fredericton Mayor Brad Woodside, courtesy of some nice reporting by the Saint John Telegraph-Journal’s John Chilibeck, amount to some of the funniest observations to issue from a local public official in many a tidal bore.

Really, Your Honour, wouldn’t it be more genuine to admit, despite your evidently good wishes, that none of the province’s major cities are at all prepared to join hands and screech kumabya at the top of their municipal voices simply because such a display of solidarity runs counter to time-tethered, shop-worn approaches to municipal development?

After all, the thing about having one’s own little pocket to nurture is that it naturally invites competition, especially when you’re counting on two other levels of government to help finance your commercial and economic aspirations.

Just as soon as Fredericton scores a big deal in the IT sector, Moncton whines about the fact that, infrastructure-wise, it’s a far “smarter” city than its “bland” and “white-bread” rival to the northwest. Dude, so not fair!

Just as soon as Saint John snags a deal with the feds to do. . .oh. . .anything, actually. . .Fredericton throws itself down on the tiles and pitches a fit. Mama, where’s my soother?

Still, Mayor Woodside may yet be in possession of a kernel of imagination on this matter. It may be possible, in fact, to forge a tri-city social and economic development agreement – one that leverages the strengths of each community for the benefit of all.

A multilateral agreement on infrastructure spending that keeps the highways and byways among these municipalities in the best shape possible (girded by a concerted and collective effort to negotiate with the provincial and federal governments) might be a productive start.

An all-city development board that spends its time examining ways to reduce the costs that each city shares in duplication, and explore ways to goose economic opportunity across the southern, urban swath of the province might also provide a sense of communitarian purpose.

Apart from this, though, the Sea Dogs and the Wildcats will forever battle for the sentiments of their respective fans. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s inevitable. Within this context, though, we might still grow closer together.

So, what shall the new capital conglomerate be called? Greater Hubportbeach? Greater Portbeachhub? Greater Beachubport (pronounced: beech-a-pore)? I like the ring of that last one, if only because it drops an unnecessary consonant. You’re welcome, burgermeisters.

Dear me, can Maritime union be far behind?

What a miracle of nature that would be.

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The dread pirate “Wagegapper”

We could sell the snow. There's plenty of that

We could sell the snow. There’s plenty of that

Pity the poor rich man. In this economy, he just can’t catch a break. Oh sure his castle continues to glisten in the rising sun. His moat is pristine and his crocodiles are well fed. But can he actually accumulate money. . .you know, the way he used to?

According to a Bloomberg/HuffPost Canada post this past August 8, “The stock market rout gripping the world last week and today is bad news for just about anyone who uses money, but when the value of assets collapses, it’s the richest who lose the most.

“Take, for instance, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who lost $1.9 billion U.S. in a day’s trading on Friday; or Amazon co-founder Jeff Bezos, who was down $1.8 billion; or famed investor and Berkshire Hathaway head Warren Buffett, who lost $1.7 billion. And that was all last Friday – before Monday’s even wilder ride on the stock market.

“According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, the world’s richest 400 people lost $182 billion in wealth last week. It was the largest drop ever seen in the index, but it only launched last September. The recent drop in stock markets around the world means the world’s 400 wealthiest people have in total lost money this year, with their combined net worth at $3.98 trillion, down $75 billion from the start of the year.”
Under the circumstances, we in the Atlantic Maritimes should count ourselves lucky. We have managed to avoid such calamitous outcomes concerning money, as we don’t have any.

According to Environics Analytics two years ago, the median family income in New Brunswick was just about $57,300 – the second lowest in Canada, just ahead of Prince Edward Island. Since then, the numbers for both provinces have dropped by more than seven per cent (about the rate the central bank has reduced the cost of borrowing for businesses and consumers).

Meanwhile, unemployment in this region has spiked as wages have fallen. In fact, the Atlantic region has become a jurisdiction of “wagegappers”.

In economic terms, that simply means the more desperate an individual is for work to pay his or her bills, the more likely those with money will prey on his or her fears. This calculus drives down the cost of labour, and the vicious cycle of downward spirals ensues, further separating the moats of the rich from the slush puddles of the working poor (a class we once called bourgeois).

It’s not like we oughtn’t to have seen any of this coming. Back in 2013, Christine Saulnier and Jason Edwards of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives had this to say in a widely circulated opinion piece:

“Statistics Canada released new data on high income trends in Canada with nary a mention of the Atlantic Provinces. From a Canadian comparative perspective, the data told a story that was more striking for most of the rest of the country and in particular, Alberta, Ontario, B.C. and Quebec where 92 per cent of the top 1 per cent of tax filers are found, with only 3.4 per cent in Atlantic Canada. These data reveal that the Atlantic Provinces are all significantly less equal today than they were in 1982. The trends are. . .not surprising.”

Indeed they were not, and they are not today in this region, where the income gap between the rich and the poor has widened.

Pity the wealthy for their losses of late? Absolutely.

After all, they may soon join the club around the burning barrel beyond the moat in the deep, dark woods along with the rest of us.

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New Brunswick’s Picadilly’s circus


It came, it saw, it conquered; and now it leaves with practically no notice, but with some apologies.

Mark Fracchia told a packed news conference in Fredericton last week that he was utterly bereft: “This is just a very sad day for all of us. Most of all to the people who have given us so many years of loyal service, for the community of Sussex, for the province generally and certainly for all of us at PotashCorp.”

Mr. Fracchia, the honcho of the Saskatchewan resource company’s New Brunswick operations, was subdued as he announced the indefinite suspension of the conglomerate’s Sussex-based Picadilly facility built scant years ago at a cost of $2 billion.

Of course, the bottom line spins a slightly different tale: Through this move, the international conglomerate saves $50 million this year and as much as $135 million the following in capital spending, according to a CBC report.

Meanwhile, 430 people in rural New Brunswick lose the salaries they once used to pay for food, rent, mortgages, and their kids’ education.

Care to wager who, in this particular situation, is more devastated?

To be sure, PotashCorp. is promising to relocate at least 100 of these disenfranchised workers out west to work in its Elysian Fields. (Gee, folks, just what we need in a province that exports its talent as readily as it does its lobster). And, Mr. Fracchia, does appear genuine when he declares, “We had high hopes for Picadilly and my heart goes out to all the people who have worked so very hard for so long.”

Still, the rotten-egg-stench surrounding this full-scale route is as malodourous as it is familiar in this neck of the southern tundra.

To begin with, why weren’t people who worked for the company and live in the surrounding communities informed of its intentions? Local political representatives said that they were, in effect, gob-smacked by last week’s announcement.

But were provincial government officials also astonished by the pull-out of such an important employer at a time when they were assiduously pursuing their elected bosses’ agenda to build 5,000 new jobs in the province?

How likely is it that none of this reached the highest levels of political attention at cabinet well before the Christmas break?

Then, there are the stated reasons for the move, some of which simply don’t pass any sort of smell test. According to the CBC, Mr. Fracchia insisted “the New Brunswick (Picadilly) mine was the most expensive of its operations because of the geology in the province.” He also said “the decision had more to do with global market forces and (that) there was little the provincial government could have done to help the corporation.”

If this quote is accurate, then the obvious question is: Which is it?

Is the problem related to the “geology” of the province? In that case, why did a supremely successfully exploration and development company, with worldwide operations and the best scientific and engineering advice available to it at the drop of an email, throw two billion bucks into what, it must have known, years ago, would eventually become a losing proposition?

Or is the problem a function of “global market forces” – that is, low commodity prices, which are afflicting almost all resource-extraction industries? Again, though, companies of PotashCorp’s size, reach and sophistication know when to, in effect, hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.

Was the unavailability of shale gas in New Brunswick a factor?

Gosh, does the sun rise in the east?

Or does it merely set with no notice, but merely apologies?

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Where the barrel hits the road


We New Brunswickers are enormously adept at imagining the worst possible future for ourselves.

And why not?

After all, we endure among the most deleterious financial predicaments in the nation (a $500-million annual deficit on a long-term debt approaching $13 billion in a province that supports barely 750,000 souls).

Our economy teeters between states of mere sustainability and outright failure, especially outside the small cities that do manage to keep the overall employment rate at a steady, if still shameful, 8.9 per cent.

Meanwhile, our poverty rates are rising; our income inequality gap is widening; our energetic, educated children continue to leave in droves, though, likely, not to Alberta, any longer.

Our entrepreneurial start-ups are suffering; our fiscal relationship with the federal government hangs in limbo; oil prices are down; food prices are up; and everywhere malaise hangs like a funk over the body politic, whose members believe that almost nothing issuing from the mouths of provincial and federal politicians is even remotely trustworthy, let alone hopeful.


But, what if, for one glittering moment, we imagined the best possible future for ourselves? Again, why not? What, exactly, do we have to lose?

Only this: our shopworn certainty in the specious value of whining constantly about how others, elsewhere in Canada, have calumniously wrecked our various lots in life.

Imagine, for a moment, a small province of a vast nation that, overnight, stops grieving over past sleights and starts examining the ways and means, within its own borders, through which it may become a world-beating center of excellence for the founts, modes and foundations of durable enterprise.

How, indeed, would that future appear?

It might begin with a full-court social compact on the crucial importance of early childhood education, universally accessible across New Brunswick and fully integrated into the public school system. The objectives would be nothing less than full literacy in both English and French languages, regardless of family resources and geographic location.

Paying for this might involve nothing more than identifying underused bricks and mortar in individual communities at which to install highly skilled teachers and cutting-edge pedagogical techniques and technologies.

At this point, do we actually need to build new schools?

A superbly literate student body matriculating into any one of New Brunswick’s magnificent institutes of higher education might then find any avenue of opportunity on which to travel. Imbued with the benefits that first-class language studies purchases for critical thinking, this province’s youth would find more opportunities than challenges: In business, marketing, global finance, engineering, the arts, and sciences.

If, then, New Brunswick’s universities convened, in the most collegial ways, their administrative characters and charters to establish a joint bureau of educational innovation that dismantled barriers to student mobility between institutions, the likelihood of retaining brain power in this part of the country would rise precipitously, if only because the labour pool of intelligent, educated, breathlessly hungry young people would remain focused on the lands and coasts and towns and cities from which they came.

Imagine that, for a moment.

Imagine the best possible future for New Brunswick: An incubator of ideas; a center of private and venture capital to commercialize those ideas; a durable and long-term vector, thanks to our innovation, for compellingly reducing the province’s deficit and debt; the ways and means to build our future without regard for the past that has, for far too long, persuaded us that we can’t, and won’t, do much about our chances in the great, grey world.

Imagine, for once, that we are enormously adept at hope.

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St. Andrews by the ‘red sea’


There is nothing quite like an ancient hotel, full of political ghosts, creaking timbers and medieval-sized crackling fireplaces at which to stage a retreat for the reigning government of Canada in the middle of a Maritime winter.

Justin Trudeau’s cabinet may mouth “sunny ways” on cue.

I, on the other hand, prefer to invoke “The Shining”, if only as a mischievous branding exercise for those who would never consider themselves to be axe men and women, let alone psycho-killers, but who would, nonetheless, chop their courtiers in backs, fronts and necks if it suited their practical purposes.

After all, whose ideas will best suit the new “Emperor of Canada”? Whose will be dismissed and who will be admonished and vilified by the evolving sun king? Who will be pitched (at least, metaphorically) into the frigid Fundy?

The gabfest convened quickly earlier this this month, and ended just as precipitously, for Mr. Trudeau and his chief lieutenants at the only hotel worth mentioning in St. Andrews, New Brunswick. Apart from their good company, the place was empty (golf season being months away).

I imagine each and all of them having slunk down the cavernous halls of that haunted establishment, preoccupied by the various obsessions of their own minds, muttering “red-rum” and “all work and no play makes Johnny a dull boy.”

Honey, they’re home. Watch them now wield their rhetorical hatchets.

The venue may change from year to year, from ruling party to party, but the objective remains the same from generation to generation: political retreats are places where the weak are culled from the herd just in time for the next big policy commitment – in this case, that would be the federal budget next month, where cuts and spending will either broadly expand or savagely curtail the territories of individual, elected nobles in this country.

Did I say that this exercise resembled “The Shining”? Allow me to switch up my metaphors: Henceforth, think fulsomely about “Game of Thrones.”

Already, and somewhat unexpectedly, our Maritime knights in armor appear ahead of the pack. Having delivered to Mr. Trudeau in the past federal election the best margins in at least three ridings of any in the entire nation, the boons for this performance appear ready to flow.

As Adam Huras wrote in a report for the Saint John Telegraph-Journal, “The Federal Liberals may pay a larger chunk of new infrastructure pending projects in efforts to get shovels in the ground more quickly, the government realizing provinces may not have matching funds at the ready.” Said Mr. Trudeau: “A certain degree of flexibility (is) in order to make these things happen.”

Added Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi, “We want to have consultations with the provinces and territories and municipalities to see where there are capacity gaps, where are areas that we can improve – whether we continue to be one-third partners (with the provinces and municipalities) or whether we come up with increasing that (federal) support.”

Unsurprisingly, any change to national infrastructure share-funding agreements will benefit the Maritimes disproportionately, if only because this region has almost no money left to invest in its own roads, sewers, bridges, and waste disposal facilities (having spent the last largess-leveraged-Ottawa-vote-getting program on hockey rinks and home improvement grab-bags under the previous Stephen Harper administration).

Well done, Dominic LeBlanc, Government House Leader and New Brunswick’s man on Ottawa’s ground. You are certainly worth every vote your constituents gave you.

There is, indeed, nothing quite like an ancient hotel in the middle of winter to stage a true game of thrones.

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Just to be Frank


The work of an ex-premier of New Brunswick invariably fades into history and, if he’s lucky, decorously memorable. In the case of Frank McKenna, who also happens to be a former Canadian ambassador to the United States and current Deputy Chairman of TD Bank, that’s unlikely if only because his work, and his mouth, has never stopped.

He’s been nearly 20 years out of provincial office and the man is still making pronouncements and consequent headlines concerning the here and now of the picture-perfect province that cradled his upbringing. Though he lives and works in Toronto – and has for several years – New Brunswick, it seems, remains Mr. McKenna’s passionate hobby.

Not too long ago, he had this to say about shale gas development in the province: “The way I look at it, the real win comes when we take our indigenous shale gas in the province and hook it into the Canaport liquified natural gas (LNG) facility in Saint John. We have in situ now, calculated by Corridor Resources Inc., 67 trillion cubic feet of gas. That’s bigger than western Canada. It’s a huge deposit! If 10 per cent is exploitable, that’s enough to create a revenue source for New Brunswick for decades to come. All in, it would result in about $15-20 billion in investment and 150,000 person years of work. And for governments, it would result in between $7-9 billion worth of royalties and taxes.”

As for the proposed Energy East Pipeline, he opined, “What we need to understand is that just by the roll of the dice, we have landed in exactly the best position on the board at this moment in time. We have a Canaport facility with massive storage and with a jetty, getting right into deep water. We have a port that’s ice free and has the capacity to accommodate the biggest vessels in the world. The West Coast can’t do that.”

That was in 2013, and what a dog-day’s difference two years can make. Still, even if shale gas is as dry an economic well as any in this province and the chances of receiving Alberta bitumen for refining are dwindling faster than the price of a barrel of oil, I have to hand it to Mr. McKenna: He refuses to shut up about issues that are pertinent to this neck of the East Coast woods and personally important to him.

Lately, print, broadcast and social media have vilified him over an Op-Ed he scribbled for the Globe and Mail. In it, he somewhat immodestly suggested that immigrants to Canada should spend some quality time in Atlantic Canada as a condition of their tenure in this country.

In his recent Op-Ed, he declared, “The government’s decision to direct certain immigrants to certain parts of Canada allows us to dust off an old idea, that concept of a social contract, which is urgently needed, particularly in Atlantic Canada. It is not a coincidence that Atlantic Canada is especially enthusiastic about receiving Syrian immigrants. . . We need a new program dedicated to the needs of Atlantic Canada. . .We do not have to reinvent the wheel. As far back as 2002, the immigration minister, Denis Coderre, (proposed) the idea of a ‘social contract’ whereby immigrants would be required to live in a community specified by the government for a period of at least three years, as part of the conditions for citizenship.”

Thus, Mr. McKenna floats another trial balloon on behalf of New Brunswick. And why not? At least he’s working, and not just his mouth.


Here we go again


A sense of déjà vu, every once in a while, is thrilling, even titillating.

It’s as if you’ve been afforded another rare glimpse behind a barely familiar curtain where you once saw steam-punk-demi-gods, masquerading as policy makers, market traders, Bay Street bankers, and other assorted auguries decide how much money you’ll make and how long you’ll live to spend it.

But when the same, old horse entrails insist on coming round the corner once again. . .well, it all just gets so very, depressingly boring.

Hello 2016. Do you remember 2008?

Here, according the online People History, is what was preoccupying us eight years ago:

“Property prices continue to fall on both sides of the Atlantic in Europe and America causing hardship to many homeowners, and problems for financial institutions . . . Bank of America is to take over the country’s biggest mortgage lender, Countrywide Financial, which (is) rumored to be close to bankruptcy. . . Citigroup, the (United States’) largest bank, joins a number of other financial institutions and reported a fourth-quarter loss of $9.83 billion. . . President (George W.) Bush and (Congressional) House leaders agree to a $150 billion stimulus package, including rebates for most tax filers of up to $600 for individuals. . . President Bush signs the $700 billion bailout package bill . . .The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act is signed into law.”

Here, according to many others, and me, is what is preoccupying us now in the breaking days of the 16th year of the 21st century:

Property prices continue to fall across the Great White North, causing desperate, overextended homeowners to sell their stories (and, thereby, avert certain bankruptcy) to HGTV reality-show producers.

Commodity prices continue to plummet, transforming Canada into a great, vacant wasteland of missed opportunity and once-promising technological innovation (though, still, a marvellous overland runway for Maritimers suddenly heading back home as every Alberta oil and gas derrick shudders to shutter).

Of course, the banking sector in this most frigid reach of the North American continent remains strong, proud and free, even as just about every other segment of the economy is wondering where and how to boil its next egg.

Finally, Canada’s self-appointed national rag reports that Ottawa intends to “fast-track stimulus spending” over the next few months because, as one confidential government source disclosed for the Globe and Mail’s front-page story, “The (economic and fiscal) situation has deteriorated since our (election) platform last July.”

Really? No kidding, Sherlock.

This is déjà vu all over again.

It’s an undercurrent that New Brunswickers know only too well. Boom, bust, boom, bust, boom and bust again. It might as well be the market tempo that prompts our nervously tapping feet.

Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz calls it an “undercurrent that will last for several years. It typically takes three or five years to adjust to a significant shift in your terms of trade, which is what we’re going through.”

In important respects, though, we are “going through” something much different than we have in the past.

In the past, a rise in commodity prices and foreign exchange rates compensated for a drop in manufactures and related exporting. Now, in this country and at this time, we face a general malaise in all engines of the economy.

Fortunately, we Maritimers know how to jump that particular shark as long as we remember how to use the lessons of history to avoid making mistakes in the future: Stay lean, nimble, innovative and fundamentally entrepreneurial.

Let’s keep our sense of déjà vu hopefully fresh.

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The reading solution


The other day, I counted the number of hours I sit in front of Netflix every week, live-streaming old movies. Then, just to ensure that I became genuinely depressed, I tallied the same roll on my iTunes account.

Let me just clarify that I read thousands of words a week from every genre, from every source available. (I also write a few).

My point is I’m not sure when was the last time I read a real, paper-bound book – the type whose spine I sniff to get a real sense of its provenance: from whence it came and how far it has had to travel to my nose.

Was it at least as long as I’ve held Netflix and iTunes accounts?

At the risk of boring those who still read (at least, this column), I profess that I, growing up in rural Nova Scotia and the “big town” of Halifax in the early 1970s, consumed books as if they were candy at Halloween, Christmas and Easter, and any other high holiday in the offing.

I would trundle down to the local purveyor of second-hand folios (of which there were many) and happily plunk down my pennies, dimes and quarters to purchase a well-thumbed, evidently well-loved, copy of “Brave New World” or “1984” or “The Stars My Destination”.

I would grip these works to my adolescent chest, flee home to my sparsely appointed bedroom, and read them ravenously until Morpheus lulled me into a long, happy, dream-filled sleep.

Lately, New Brunswick’s Lieutenant-Governor Jocelyn Roy-Vienneau, issued what the Saint John Telegraph-Journal termed as a “challenge to New Brunswickers aimed at moving the dial on the province’s stubbornly low level of literacy.”

It is a good and noble effort, and perfectly appropriate to their stations in the province’s pantheon of influential people.

But it won’t work – at least, not from her vaunted perch.

Until New Brunswick’s parents, the literate and the illiterate, alike, build a groundswell of support for reading, mathematics, philosophy, and a broad curriculum devoted to critical thinking, nothing will change low rates of literacy – which now hover at between 20 and 60 per cent, depending on the demographic and geographic slice of the population ­– in this province.

The people, who are all of us, must understand that literacy is the road to economic renewal. Knowledge of the world and our place in it is the path to enlightenment, tolerance, and vigorous, durable happiness.

When we reside in the dark, we stay there, munching on our grievances, believing to the depths of our decaying souls what others tell us is true or fine or mundane or simply unachievable.

When, however, we occupy the light, we pursue it, delighting in ideas and opportunities we hadn’t conjured before, inventing new futures for ourselves and our fellows, extending our hands like tethers of hope to our brothers and sisters around the world, building communities.

That’s what literacy does.

Still, the reading solution in New Brunswick will take more than a challenge from privileged readers, such as the province’s L-G to achieve.

It will take a far more concerted public policy effort by this provincial government to convince the people who put power into its parlors where Netflix and iTunes run daily that literacy is not merely a fine idea – it is the only engine of economic development that will return productivity to the private sector, tax revenues to the public sector and opportunity to a province where, once upon a time, all of Canada’s most heroic stories once began.


Good habits become us

Permanent winter for a Moncton events centre?

The world may be a dangerous place, full of gnashing teeth, but unless you’re fond of swimming with crocodiles, the chances that you’ll die from anything Mother Nature throws at you are slim to none.

In fact, all the evidence convincingly shows that when it comes to tempting fate, human agency is all it takes to do anyone in; indeed, our own bad habits are dispatching ever greater numbers of us with each passing year.

An NBC report back in September put it this way: “Americans may worry about pollution and harmful chemicals in their air and water, but a new study of the major causes of death confirms what most doctors know: We are our own worst enemies. The leading causes of death have to do with bad habits, including smoking, poor diet and a lack of exercise, the report from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington finds.”

According to Statistics Canada, the leading causes of death in this country – barring accidents – are all related, in some way, to the trials and gauntlets to which we willingly subject ourselves: tobacco, alcohol, narcotics, poor diet, overwork, sleep deprivation, even sitting around on our ever-expanding derrieres.

Here what a CBC piece reported last year: “Sitting on one’s butt for a major part of the day may be deadly in the long run – even with a regimen of daily exercise, researchers say. In an analysis that pooled data from 41 international studies, Toronto researchers found the amount of time a person sits during the day is associated with a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and death, regardless of regular exercise. ‘More than one half of an average person’s day is spent being sedentary, sitting,’ said Dr. David Alter, a senior scientist at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, who helmed the analysis.”

Still, our tendency to form bad habits need not only lead to our early demise. We’re so adept in the risky-business department that even the way we ritualistically approach our economic and social challenges and opportunities could injure us in palpable ways. It could, plainly, bankrupt us, render our public institutions unworkable, or undermine our faith in our system of government.

We’re not quite there in New Brunswick, but I wonder if there is not some correlation between the fact that residents of this province are more prone than their fellow citizens elsewhere in Canada to drop dead from a preventable disease and the fact that our socio-economic grid and public finances are also reeling under a clutch of preventable causes.

After all, if we’re prone to ignore the facts about our physical health, and embrace our addictions (nicotine, booze, sugar), how less likely are we to comport ourselves similarly when it comes to deficit spending?

Shortly, New Brusnwickers will have the chance to steel themselves to the reality of their shared circumstances in this province, as the Liberal government of Brian Gallant prepares to apply some version of cold turkey. The degree of the cuts and tax hikes, which are sure to come, remains to be seen, as does their long-term effectiveness in a jurisdiction that spends more than $600 million a year just servicing its more than $12 billion debt.

But there can be no doubt that austerity and self-denial will become the new normal.

Make no mistake, detoxing from profligacy addiction will be rough. Still, it won’t be anything like quitting cigarettes (trust me).

And with our bad habits behind us, we have a chance to form some good ones for a change.

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The walking cure


I rise from my perch, where I scribble, throw on a parka from the back closet, grab my keys, wallet and phone, and struggle to lock the door behind me. I face the wind, look both ways before I cross the threshold of the front porch and then I begin. I am going for a walk.

I do this every day, but I do not do it lightly. At a specific time, usually mid-morning, the sun squeaks through the blinds of my downtown Moncton home as if to remind me that my feet must move, my legs must stretch, my lungs must breathe. Take, it says, the walking cure.

The cure to what, you may ask? Well, whaddya got?

The fact that more Canadians live in poverty than at any time since the Great Depression of the last century; there’s that. The realization that big corporations in this country are literally flowing with retained earnings, yet penny-pinching their employees to the blood-blister point; there’s that too.

But, no, the real spiritual malaise in all of us stems from a desperate certainty that we have become pawns on the chess board of global politics; that the right hand of power meets the left, daily and dutifully, in the assemblies and parliaments we once assumed were ours to direct, as citizens of elected democracies, from the muddy, munificent middle.

No more, no more. I’m walking.

I trudge through the streets of the old West End of Moncton, admiring the modest homes that a socially democratic nation made possible 60 years ago. I pause, occasionally, to stare at the mansions that absurd wealth and privilege have purchased only recently.

Should we be that rich? Should we be that poor? How shall we all live together, living, as we do, in such close quarters?

I march down Gordon Street, which inexplicably becomes Queen Street, past the halfway houses and empty lots, past the real estate companies and condo developments, past the placards that taggers have signed, “What do you have to hide?”, past the agents’ billboards that declare there are dreamy properties in the offing if only you will offer, perhaps, your first-born cheque on a dare of belief in the future of a province that can’t seem to balance its books, care for its invalids, and educate its precious young.

No more, no more. I’m walking.

I walk the way a man stumbles into the woods: with one knee pounded into the ground and one hand splayed angrily against the sky.

As the late, great polemicist Henry David Thoreau wrote in the 1900s, “We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return; prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only, as relics to our desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again; if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man; then you are ready for a walk.”

Are we, then, men and women in Canada, in New Brunswick, prepared to ask, challenge and agitate – in effect, to rise from our various perches for a gritty stroll that risks changing our attitudes, our very minds about what we can achieve?

How many of us are actually willing to go for a truly meaningful walk in this country, in this province, in this city, in this time of our lives – to cross the threshold and, in the wind, begin again?

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