Where the barrel hits the road

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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.

Granted.

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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