New Brunswick’s chance for change

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It should be clear by now that if New Brunswick has a three-card-monte player’s chance of turning over a new leaf and leaving the mean streets, where gambling on the future is a permanent feature of economic policy, it will be through the resilience, courage and conviction of individual men and women.

Call it the “New Prohibition”. And its temperance leaders include social activists, political players and even a few economists.

“It’s crunch time, New Brunswick,” the provincial minister for strategic review, Victor Boudreau, wrote in a commentary for the Saint John Telegraph-Journal earlier this January. “In one month’s time, we will complete the Strategic Program Review (SPR) process.”

Why anyone would want to slap an acronym on what should be business as usual for any elected government has mystified scholars and plebeians, alike, for at least the past 5,000 years. Still, I digress.

“The. . .process,” Mr. Boudreau said, “consisted of several engagement opportunities allowing New Brunswickers to provide input and ideas on how to right our fiscal ship so we can sail to a better, sustainable future.

“Those opportunities included: 14 public dialogue sessions, five regional stakeholder sessions, community groups hosting their own session, Strategic Program Review forums, and online input through email or by regular mail.

“More than 1,200 people attended our public dialogue sessions, more than 100 representatives of stakeholder groups attended our meetings; more than 9,000 ideas were submitted online, by email or mail.”

All of which might suggest that this provincial government will have to hire back all the people it has laid off just to scrum through the suggestions it has received to, among other things, cut the size of the civil service.

Folks, let’s be clear. These exercises are almost always rigged to separate a fool from his or her aspirations for democratic representation. These road-show barkers don’t really want to hear what you have to say; they desire only to convince you that what you crave for your corner of the world is more important than inspiring you to embrace a true communitarian response to the problems that, to one degree or another, afflict all of us in this province.

What did Machiavelli say about dividing and conquering?

Like three-card-monte, this is a chump’s game that no one but the dealer can win on the mean streets of the villages, towns and cities of one of the least promising provinces in Canada. This is politics, and it rarely changes, though the partisan colours it variously adopts shift and adjust with nauseating frequency.

When will we learn that we are one people in a small, undistinguished part of the world whose best chance at long-term prosperity is to work together in creativity, good humour and risible innovation?

And yet, through the predictable darkness comes some light. Over the past several months, men and women of good conscience in New Brunswick have come forward to embrace the game of chance at a new future. One of these is my colleague and good friend David Campbell, the province’s chief economist. On a mild, wintry day before Christmas, he sat down with a few people in Moncton and outlined his growth plan for the province. It wasn’t perfect, but it was honest, genuine and compassionate.

I’m certain that his provincial bosses coordinated his effort. His disposition and ideas, however, were all his own.

In the end, it will be through the resilience, courage and conviction of people like him – and, like us – that New Brunswick turns over a new leaf.

Call it the “New Prohibition” against the status quo.

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