Monthly Archives: February 2016

Becoming a debtor’s paradise


Suddenly, the Great White North, recently famous for its probity and prudence the world over, appears ready to throw itself off a fiscal cliff.

What was forecast to be a small budget deficit in 2016-17 and 2017-18 now looks very likely to balloon to $25 billion in each of those two reporting years. The causes depend, of course, on whom you consult.

The Liberal government of Justin Trudeau blames its predecessors under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who, they say, underplayed the effect of falling oil prices even as they systematically told Canadians a far rosier tale of the nation’s basic economic strength than was probably justified.

The Opposition Tories, meanwhile, insist that the incoming Grits simply blew the budget by promising to pay for things they could never hope to afford (and, in the process, scrupulously avoided informing Canadians about the fundamental flaws in their accounting logic).

Indeed, there are a few skeletons in the fiscal closet that neither political party is especially keen to reveal.

For starters, the Conservative government never did have a handle on this whole business of running productive surpluses. It had a notion – and not a great one – that it could fool the country into believing that book entries in ledgers and cutbacks to essential programs, like infrastructure, would generate durable black ink in the public accounts for years to come.

Forget about crumbling roads, highways, bridges, canals, and military materiel. That was always someone else’s problem to solve. (It would have been theirs’, but electoral history spared them the humiliation of admitting to their own three-card-monte version of responsible government).

Secondly, the Harperites saw the writing on the oil sands years before they admitted they might be obliged to adjust their deficit and debt projections. In fact, the claim that no one saw cheap oil and gas prices coming down the pike as far back as 2012 is simply incredible.

At that time, the Americans were already moving aggressively towards oil and gas independence precisely because the Saudis and other OPEC nations were goosing their own production schedules and slashing margins at their state-owned facilities to squeeze western producers between a rock and a shale bed.

As for the nascent Trudeau government, it could never achieve its goal of simultaneously holding the line on deficits and opening the spigot. Anyone who thought it might. . .well. . .I own a bridge in Brooklyn you might be interested in taking off my hands.

In New Brunswick, we might properly wonder why we’re so concerned about our own province’s annual deficit, especially if the feds are so willing to increase the national one.

After all, Ottawa’s yearly shortfall could now increase by a per-capita factor of $1,000 (measured against the country’s population). That’s about 40 per cent less than ours in this East Coast jurisdiction.

But there is a difference, and it’s an important one.

Ottawa enjoys economies of scale that New Brunswick does not. The federal government has 33 million people whose open pockets they can pick. This province, meanwhile, still relies on the legal apparatus of transfers and Equalization from the ‘Centre’ with which to cover its debts.

Now, multiply that by 10 provinces and a territory or two, and you begin to get a sense of why a federal deficit is an entirely different animal than a provincial or territorial one. The former suddenly, if lamentably, becomes necessary.

If we want Ottawa’s books to balance, then we ought to begin in our towns, cities and regions. The fiscal cliffs are, in the end, our own to avoid.

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Who needs a weatherman?


Every year at about this time, I find myself unable to leave the weather app on my smart phone alone. I check it obsessively to determine what fresh hell will descend on southeastern New Brunswick just in time to ruin a planned trip to visit one my kids or, indeed, a largely unplanned getaway to a sunny destination.

For this reason, most winters here along the East Coast of Canada have been misery to me. Ruminating about what’s coming does nothing to ameliorate the dread of. . .well. . .knowing that the universe thinks weather apps, and those who trust them, are robotic idiots.

Exactly 12 months ago, my wife and I sojourned for 10 days in Charlottetown, tending our grandchildren while our daughter and son-in-law vacationed in Costa Rica.

“No problem,” I gamely offered to my beloved of 35 years. “My weather app says the days in these parts should be cold, but beautiful.”

“That’s good to know,” she who must be obeyed replied. “We are going to spend all of our time outside, making snowmen and snow forts with cups of hot chocolate to keep us warm.”

It sounded idyllic. And so, with visions of ice angels dancing in our heads, we hit the road from Moncton. Two days later, the news, courtesy of the CBC had this to say:

“People in Prince Edward Island are being asked by the province to stay home if possible today after a blizzard dumped a record 86.8 centimetres of snow at Charlottetown Airport on Sunday and Monday. The mainland was cut off from P.E.I. for more than a day and a half, as Confederation Bridge was closed at 4:50 p.m. Sunday and didn’t reopen until 7:20 a.m. Tuesday. General manager Michel LeChasseur told CBC News this may be the longest the bridge has been closed to all traffic since it opened in 1997.

Ahem. . .so much for my vaunted weather app. Still, I check it. I just can’t seem to help myself.

So it was the other day – whilst happily trolling through the long-range forecasts for Los Angeles; London, England; Halifax, Nova Scotia; and Guysborough County, Nova Scotia – I landed on Moncton.

There, I saw how gentle the temperatures would be in late February, how mild the predicted snowfall was. Then, I came upon a report for March 4: Thirty-five-to-forty-five centimetres of the white stuff with at least 15 more the following day. What?

I immediately phoned a tech-savvy friend and demanded an explanation.

“You know I actually have a job,” he began, alluding to the fact that he was at work and that I am a lowly freelancer who prefers to scribble in his “leisure suit” between bouts of weather-induced paranoia.

“Sure, sure,” I conceded, “but what do you make of this forecast? I mean, how can they know 14 days in advance what’s going to happen in my backyard?”

One word, he said: “Algorithms . . .The less snow that falls in any given winter, the more snow gets computer modelled and pushed to the end of the year. It’s math, boy, simple math.”

That, I protested, doesn’t make any sense. In fact, I declared, “It’s not fair.”

No, it’s not, he sighed. “Neither is the fact that you’re an idiot.”

I went back to my weather app and found that the forecast had changed again. It would be, after all, much milder and gentler. Crisis averted. Paranoia mitigated. All’s right with the world again. Thank you, weather app.

It’s funny how I never do this in the middle of summer.

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Smart money from slow learners



New Brunswickers should harbor no doubt that Premier Brian Gallant, with the best of intentions, wants to transform the province into an oasis of educational innovation and attainment. But where’s his plan?

Some intrepid reporting by Brunswick News reveals that there isn’t one – or, at least, not much of one. A big chunk of the $261-million ‘smart-province’ initiative has yet to be assigned.

In fact, so little is known about the government’s priorities on this file that a legislative committee convened to review spending plans at the Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour has been adjourned until more information becomes available.

Predictably, this has aroused the ire of the official Progressive-Conservative opposition. “The education minister (Serge Rousselle) could not answer the simplest questions about the premier’s new education and economy fund,” Tory Leader Bruce Fitch thundered.

For their part, Liberal spokespeople are buttressing the ramparts. Says one Molly Cormier, a mouthpiece for the province’s rather attenuated departments devoted to education (there appear to be many): “Senior officials as well as the minister are meeting with stakeholders in the post-secondary sector. . .The (new education and economy) fund was created to ensure government makes strategic investments into New Brunswick’s priorities of jobs and education.”

Fair enough. But Mr. Fitch and his colleagues across the aisle also make a decent point: If education is so important to the Gallant government – if, indeed, it is the architecture necessary for creating a brand, new, economically productive society in this part of the country – then why doesn’t it know what it’s doing, down to the penny, with $261-million in scarce, publicly raised capital? Why can’t it answer the questions its laudable ambitions have raised?

Some months ago, Premier Gallant told me: “I am a huge proponent of the role that education can play in developing our economy, and, of course, what it does for every individual in giving them opportunities in our province. So I am very happy, despite the fact that we face many challenges both fiscally and economically, that as a government we were able to prioritize education to the extent that we did, increasing the budget by $33 million.”

Still, specificity is the jewel in the crown of democratic leadership.

What value does the Gallant government assign to publicly accessible early childhood education?

How much money is it willing to designate to the training and support of early childhood educators?

As it cuts primary and secondary-level teaching positions, how much material value is it investing in literacy, numeracy and critical thinking to benefit the flower of New Brunswick’s youth?

Should all of this cost $100 million, $200 million, $300 million? Shouldn’t we know that $261 million in a government spending priority is properly appropriated before it’s charged against the taxpayer’s ledger?

Or, if this government doesn’t have a smart-money fund to build an innovative, creative province, then say so. And say it now.

I have heard this sort of tripe from our provincial leaders almost daily and for years: “Fellow citizens, we have nothing to fear but fear itself. We must embrace the better angels of our own nature. . .blah. . .blah”.

I would rather hear honesty, however brutal, from Freddy Beach.

“Fellow New Brunswickers,” Mr. Gallant might say. “I made a mistake. I should have done my homework before I decided that $261 million was sufficient to meet my ambitions for a smart province. I should have figured out what that sum was supposed to do. I didn’t. Now, though, I will.”

Then, perhaps, we’ll have a plan we can trust.

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What’s in a word?


It’s awfully nice work, if you can get it, though I suspect a facility with words – specifically, the ability to pull them from thin air – doesn’t hurt.

Meet Sir Michael Barber, once a high-ranking serf in the former British government of Tony Blair and now co-chair of something called the Centre for Public Impact (a creature of the Boston Consulting Group).

He’s been hanging around Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s various offices of late, banging on about a little something he likes to call “deliverology”, which is, as near as anyone can tell, the art and science of getting things done in the civil service.

Actually, it’s a tad more complicated than this, as Sir Michael and co-authors Paul Kihn and Andy Moffit explained in their 2011 monograph, Deliverology: From idea to implantation.

“Now more than ever, governments are under pressure to deliver results in public services while ensuring that citizens’ tax dollars are spent wisely and effectively,” they write. “Nearly all governments – and individual public agencies – have set ambitious reform goals and developed strategic plans to achieve those goals. . .The challenge for public-sector organizations is to find ways to define and execute their highest-priority objectives so that they have the greatest possible impact.”

Enter deliverology, an approach the authors say “leverages and extends the key principles of best-in-class performance.” (In fact, they also say the word was originally crafted as “a light-hearted term of abuse” for the process adopted by the Prime Minister Blair’s Delivery Unit, and only later transformed into the expression it is today, replete with positive connotations).

Whatever its derivation, Prime Minister Trudeau and the Privy Council Office appears to be taking deliverology with deadly seriousness. News reports say that Deputy Secretary to Cabinet, Michael Mendelsohn, now runs the new Results and Delivery unit. According to Tony Dean, quoted by the Globe and Mail last week, “I suspect (he) will be talking to the Prime Minister and his senior staff about whether or not there are top-level, five or six, high-level priorities that the delivery unit will be initially rallying the system around.”

And why not? As silly as the word sounds, there’s some evidence that the management approach it represents actually works. Even the venerable, sometimes stodgy, Economist has given Sir Michael’s innovation a mild endorsement. “The lesson is that doggedness and consistency are of more use to the deliverologist than popularity,” a review last year of the former civil servant’s book on the subject reads. “(The) 57 rules for success range from the commonsensical – ‘Review the capacity of your system to deliver agreed goals’ – to the controversial – ‘Successful markets and effective government go together’, which has as many exceptions as proofs around the world. Yet this account of a potentially dry subject has an uplifting brio to it.”

All of which suggests, apart from anything else, that after years wandering the political wilderness in Canada, high-powered consultants have re-entered public life. Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper was famously intolerant of any advice, save his own, on how to run a government. Mr. Trudeau is a far more consultative sort. And it seems to be going around.

Last week, Brunswick News reported that one of New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant’s friends and, until recently, a provincial Liberal Party operative, has been recently enlisted by TransCanada to lobby the feds on the Energy East file. According to the story, Justin Robichaud will “seek government support for the proposed project, including updates on. . .development and stakeholder consultation progress.”

Can we then expect a little more pipeline deliverology in the offing?

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Yankee come home!

Oh to be a bluenoser now that the three-minute-long spring becomes us

Oh to be a bluenoser now that the three-minute-long spring becomes us

New Brunswick’s department of tourism (or whatever they’re calling it these days) should take a page from one Cape Breton radio personality’s playbook on luring wandering Yanks to these shores.

As Canadian Press playfully reported last week, “The creator of a cheeky website that encourages Americans to move to Cape Breton before Donald Trump can be elected president says he’s been shocked by the response. . .Traffic to the website has increased steadily, reaching over 35,000 unique visits on Wednesday (February 17).”

The spillover effect has also been pretty commanding. Said the CP story: “The site includes a link to Destination Cape Breton, which promotes tourism on the island. CEO Mary Tulle says U.S. traffic to her website over the past three days has jumped from almost 1,300 visits last year at this time to almost 12,000 this week.”

The man behind the fuss, Rob Calabrese, was, himself, gob smacked by the reaction. “I’m in disbelief,” he told the wire service. “I wish everyone from Cape Breton could read them (emails from Americans), because they really make you proud of living here. Some are writing about how it feels nice to know that they are welcome somewhere. A lot of Americans think that they’re not very popular in the eyes of the world.”

Heavens to betsy! Wherever did they get that idea?

Here, then, are a few collected quotes (courtesy of the CBC) of Mr. Trump from 2015:

“I don’t need anybody’s money. . .I’m using my own money, I’m not using the lobbyists, I’m not using donors, I don’t care. I’m really rich.”

“The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems.”

“When Mexico sends its people they’re not sending their best. . .They’re sending people that have lots of problems. . .They are bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists.”

“Obamacare really kicks in in 2016. Obama’s going to be out playing golf, he might even be on one of my courses. I would invite him. . .I have the best courses in the world.”

“I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created. I will bring back our jobs from China, from Mexico, from Japan, from so many places. I’ll bring back our jobs and I’ll bring back our money.”

“I’m a free trader, but the problem is you need really talented people to negotiate for you. . .But we have people that are stupid.”

“I like China. . .I love China. . .Their leaders are much smarter than our leaders.”

Need we say more?  Or, as Heather from Missouri points out on the ‘Cape Breton if Donald Trump Wins’ website, “As an American who has spent time in Nova Scotia exploring new opportunities and the idyllic landscape over the last three years, I would highly recommend a visit Northeast – destination Cape Breton Island. Fair warning, though, you WILL be charmed and delighted. Political asylum seeker, curious traveler, or modern nomad seeking jaw-dropping beauty, rich culture, and inspiring collaboration value, oceanside? Pack your skill set, and explore island life beyond the confines of a tourist/visitor visa. Consider the NAFTA Skilled Workers Program as a path to legal residency for American immigrants.”

In fact, the website has received an enormous amount of publicity over the past few days, having received write-ups in mainstream print and online news organizations across North America, including The National Post, Winnipeg Free Press, Vancouver Sun, Fortune, and the Huffington Post.

All of which may only prove that Mr. Trump is the greatest gift God ever created for improving Atlantic Canada’s anaemic immigration record.

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Polling for the truth


If you are New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant, reading in a provincial newspaper that a recent poll indicates he’s no longer the flavor of the month among voters, you might be tempted to issue your own press release sardonically headlined, “alert the media”.

Except, oh yeah, they already know.

The relationship between the public, per se, and public opinion surveyors (and purveyors) is both close and ancient. It started sometime back in the 18th Century when a guy with a quill and piece of parchment stopped a passerby on a fetid London street and queried, “What ho, young man; what say you about the Jacobites? Aye or nay?”

Naturally, the results of such straw polls quickly traveled far beyond the coffee houses and gin dens and eventually made their way into the hands of the era’s pamphleteers who dutifully reported that, according to popular opinion, the king was a fool, the queen was a harlot and that even the most educated man couldn’t spell the word ‘Jacobite’, let alone venture an opinion on what it signified.

Thusly, dear reader, was born what we affectionately, if somewhat ruefully, refer to as popular democracy. As a member of the modern Fourth Estate who spends altogether too much time parsing opinion polls in the interest of hearing himself talk, I have. . .ahem. . .only one thing to say, a rare example of concision, if you will, amongst my ilk: You’re welcome.

Specifically, you are welcome to my conviction that public opinion polls are, for the most part, blunt instruments (with a margin error of plus or minus 100 per cent, 20 times out of 20) for digging at the truth about the electorate.

You are also welcome to my belief that the recent craze in this industry for providing online surveys to all and sundry (except, naturally, to those without high-speed Internet connections) only further blunts these instruments.

Still, let none of this dissuade the Angus Reid Institute from pursuing its appointed rounds. Its new survey indicates that 33 per cent of New Brunswickers approve of Brian Gallant’s performance in office. That’s a point lower than he scored in December, but a convincing improvement from his 25 per-cent showing in September. (Las Vegas odds makers must be salivating over their potential windfalls in April, when the latest provincial budget fully influences opinion).

According to a piece in the Saint John Telegraph-Journal, the premier’s performance numbers put him right in the middle of the pack of his provincial peers across Canada, which is a sort of glass-half-empty-glass-half-full result. After all, if a third of New Brunswickers like the man, then as much as two-thirds do not.

What, exactly, does that mean?

Former premier David Alward held onto power within the first few months of his mandate with less than 30 per cent of the popular vote; his approval ratings actually rose in the weeks before the provincial election that ended him.

Again, what does that mean?

In the Telegraph-Journal piece, reporter John Chilibeck issued the following caveat: “While Angus Reid says its results are based on a sample size that carries a margin of error of plus or minus 1.2 per cent, 19 times out of 20, the sample size in New Brunswick was the smallest, with only 301 people polled. . .The margin of error (here) would be plus or minus 5.6 per cent.”

Statistically, then, that would mean Mr. Gallant is either enjoying the best ride of any sophomore premier in the history of the province or the worst.

In either case, alert the media.

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Who’s on first?

The gorilla in the room

The gorilla in the room

Whenever the stars align to produce a conjunction of leadership at both the federal and provincial levels, those in opposition invariably fuel suspicions that latter is merely a handmaiden to the former.

It is a time-honored political strategy, designed to undermine public confidence in the proper separation of powers in this country.

So it was some months ago when highly placed Tories in Fredericton solemnly informed me that the Liberal government of Brian Gallant is more than happy to do the bidding of the Grit forces of Justin Trudeau. So it was just last week when federal Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose urged the premier of New Brunswick to get tough with Ottawa over the Energy East pipeline proposal, the implication being that he his loath to challenge his so-called patrons in the centre of the nation’s political universe.

Ms. Ambrose’s comments immediately drew fire from New Brunswick MP and federal government House Leader Dominic LeBlanc.

“Rona Ambrose is party of a Conservative record of complete failure in respect to pipelines,” he declared. “Every time somebody who served in (former Prime Minister) Stephen Harper’s cabinet talks about the importance of getting natural resources to tidewater, it reminds us of how they failed for nine years.”

What’s more, he pointedly noted, “The idea that she would reproach the premier (Mr. Gallant) for not advancing his own viewpoint on this issue is rich. He (went) tow-to-toe with the mayor of Montreal on French television to state his case for the pipeline, speaking forcefully for the interests of this province.”

Now, some may say that Mr. LeBlanc, by speaking out in this way, is doing no favours for Mr. Gallant; that his defence of the premier’s comportment on this issue actually reinforces the argument that Ottawa exerts too much influence over affairs in Fredericton.

Still, it’s hard to credit this viewpoint with any degree of verisimilitude, even as, for some, it’s easy to interpret what amounts to a productive, mutually supportive relationship between two levels of government with playing footsy.

The irony, of course, is that the former Progressive Conservative government of David Alward in New Brunswick would have given its eyeteeth to build a happy alliance with Stephen Harper’s hardline Cabinet. That it could not was no comment on its skill or effort; the former prime minister wasn’t much of a fan of any provincial government.

Beyond this, it should be clear that Mr. Gallant is quite eminently his own man with his own agenda.

Some weeks ago, before handing down his second budget, the premier told me, “To me, our focus in the province has to be about growing the economy and creating jobs. And we also want to ensure that New Brunswick is a great place to live, work and play. Obviously you need many efforts and investments to make that a reality, but I think it’s pretty clear that education is the one area that gives you those things. I am a huge proponent of the role that education can play in developing our economy, and, of course, what it does for every individual in giving them opportunities in our province. So I am very happy, despite the fact that we face many challenges both fiscally and economically, that as a government we were able to prioritize education to the extent that we did, increasing the budget by $33 million, which represents an increase of over 3.1 per cent.”

We may not agree with any or even all of this, but there should be no doubt about who’s in charge in this province.

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A fossilized vision of the future



As the planet continues to warm, the battles lines in the debate over the causes continue to retrench and harden.

Where once climate science informed popular understanding about carbon dioxide emissions from human industry, and the effect these have had on average global temperatures over the past century, now this research is being hijacked by two diametrically opposed ideological camps bent on formulating fundamentally irreconcilable solutions to the present crisis.

On the one hand, the rising tide of environmental radicalism argues that the only way to save the world from ecological catastrophe is to abandon every mine and every drill. “Leave the carbon in the ground, where it belongs,” the mantra goes. “We must become clean and renewable; and we must do it now.”

It’s a nice, even necessary, idea. But it fails to recognize the essential truth about global society’s dependence on the stuff: It’s cheap and addictive. Virtually nothing we do or consume is unaffected by oil, gas and coal. Going cold turkey overnight is simply no option.

On the other hand, the burgeoning call for more drilling, more mining posits that fossil fuels are the glue that binds civilizations together. Without them, the argument goes, humanity will simply devolve into brutal clans forever warring over scarce resources; after all, internationalism is predicated on more or less equal access to the same suite of energy resources.

This, too, can be persuasive. Still, the reasoning also conveniently ignores the inconvenient truth of our shared predicament: Science indisputably proves that our time plundering the earth for cheap sources of energy is running out; sooner or later our industrial habits will make much of the planet uninhabitable.

In either scenario, the outcome is disastrously similar: millions will die and millions more will become economic refugees, merely waiting to die.

To avoid the coming zombie apocalypse, there is, of course, a third option: We could start using our minds (which are, I am reliably informed, in great abundance) and stop flapping our gums from the ramparts of our two fortresses of solitude.

If we can’t quit fossil fuels altogether, and we can’t live with them as we do today, then why don’t we stop thinking about them as commodities to burn and begin to appreciate them as strategic assets to deploy in the effort to build a largely clean, broadly renewable future?

In other words, use them as the feedstock for new manufacturing technologies that more effectively capture and distribute in-situ wind, solar and tidal sources of energy. Use them to power research into cleaner forms of short- and long-range transportation systems. Use them to, in effect, eliminate them as anything but the necessary evils they are for advanced research and development.

To some extent, this process is already underway in countries that maintain offshore drilling operations and yet pull as much as a third of their non-locomotive energy from clean, renewable sources.

Lamentably, it’s not underway in any convincing fashion in Atlantic Canada. New Brunswick may possess one of the world’s greatest wind resources, but its infrastructure woefully lags its renewable energy potential. Thanks to its high concentration of universities and advanced institutes, this province could become a living laboratory for this type of urgent research, the results of which might actually spark a durable, sustainable economic development boom with global consequences.

Naturally, this would require the sort of foresight, vision and collaborative determination we rarely witness in this province.

But without this resource available to policy makers, politicians, industry representatives, and environmentalists, our fossilized vision of the future is secure.

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Between ‘The Rock’ and a hard place

Newfoundland's debt is as immoveable as a neolithic obelisk

Newfoundland’s debt is as immoveable as a neolithic obelisk

For an object lesson on the capricious nature of economic dependence on fossil fuels, we need not cast our weary eyes westward to Alberta. We need only scan the eastern horizon to where Newfoundland and Labrador hover into pale view.

Not long ago, we may recall, this province was Canada’s miracle child – for decades, a perpetually slow learner that, seemingly overnight, became the highest achiever in the land.

Oil and gas reserves were plentiful (they still are) and commodity prices went through the roof. The province of fish and cut bait was reborn as the proverbial one of milk and honey. Public coffers were full to brimming with billions of bucks. Incomes in St. John’s soared, as did house prices. Road works and other infrastructure projects dotted the craggy landscape.

Then, a funny thing happened on the way to the Big Rock Candy Mountain: The bottom fell out. A reckoning was nigh. In fact, it’s right about now.

According to a recent report by the Fraser Institute, a private think tank based in the West, writing about the newly benighted East, “Newfoundland and Labrador’s provincial finances are in a dire state. The government’s latest projections have the province facing a nearly $2 billion operating deficit, equivalent to almost a third of its total annual revenue. After adjusting for the size of its economy and population, Newfoundland and Labrador will have by the far the largest deficit among the provinces in 2015/16.”

Indeed, says the Institute, “It gets worse. The government currently projects deficits averaging approximately $2 billion from now until 2020/21. Meanwhile, provincial net debt (a measure that adjusts for financial assets) is set to almost triple in nominal terms from the recent low of $7.8 billion in 2011/12 to $22.9 billion in 2020/21.”

What’s the cause? It’s simple: Overspending based on rosy projections about a singularly fickle industry.

Says Fraser’s researchers: “A popular narrative holds that falling revenues are to blame, particularly as the energy sector and consequent government revenues have been hit by depressed commodity prices. And there is no doubt revenues have taken a big hit in recent years, declining by 31 per cent since 2011/2012 and placing considerable pressure on government finances.      “Nevertheless, the view that declining revenues alone are responsible for the province’s fiscal problems ignores the important role that provincial spending growth has played in creating the crisis.

“Government spending in Newfoundland and Labrador took off after 2004/05, coinciding with the commodity boom when energy prices and development began to rise. Subsequently, the provincial government continued to aggressively increase spending as revenues quickly poured into the provincial coffers. In fact, program spending is now almost 80 per cent higher in nominal terms than in 2004/05. From 2005/06 to 2011/12, the government increased program spending by a whopping 8.4 per cent each year on average – much faster than the rate needed to keep pace with increasing overall.”

All of which may only prove that governments, when faced with a windfall of found money, are loath to replenish their “rainy day” funds in favour of spending like sailors on shore leave.

In any case, by comparison, New Brunswick’s rather ill fiscal condition looks almost robust. After all, with a population about the size of Newfoundland and Labrador’s, our $400-million deficit and $13-billion debt seems almost manageable.

Still, it only seems this way. Unless we begin to diversify and innovate, own resource-based, commodity-dependent economy will surely find itself in the circumstances those of our brethren to the northeast now face:

Between a rock and a hard place.

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We don’t mean to be rude, but. . .


We’re the best, the brightest, the fastest. We’re so exquisitely fine, the sun glints off even the ugliest girders in our fast-corroding downtown core, just as it does off the brand, spanking new strip malls along the ribbon roads and circumferential highways that encircle us.

Welcome, Canada, to the eighth-fastest growing ‘metropolis’ in the country, the purebred greyhound of the Atlantic region.

Say hello to Greater Moncton. . .again.

Sure, we’ve been here before – before your adoring eyes. You know we have. You’ve read about us in the headlines. We’re the little city that could. We’re the home of social and economic pugilists who famously (if sometimes nauseatingly) “punch above their weight class”. Does the phrase “resurgo” ring a bell? It should.

We’re one of the world’s “smart cities” (if only because we weren’t entirely too late to the global party of installing free public Wi-Fi in our downtown). We’re the nexus of economic dynamism in southeastern New Brunswick (whatever that means), of transportation, light manufacturing, university innovation, and information technology. We’re great, and we know it. We just don’t brag about it; that, after all, would be rude.

And we don’t want to be rude. Heaven forbid that we let our hubris run away with our modesty and bury it in a muddy flat of the Petitcodiac River, which, in case we failed to mention, now hosts one of the greatest displays of tidal-bore activity on the freaking planet. Did I say planet? I meant universe.

Of course, we don’t have to brag about our achievements here in the Hub City. We have Statistics Canada to do that for us. Except for Moncton, said the agency in a recent report, “Preliminary estimates indicate that the seven CMAs (Census Metropolitan Areas) with the highest population growth rates were all located in Western Canada. In 2014-15, the population growth rate was two per cent or higher in four CMAs: Kelowna (+3.1 per cent), Calgary (+2.4 per cent), Edmonton (+2.4 per cent) and Saskatoon (+ two per cent). They were followed by the CMAs of Regina (+1.9 per cent), Abbotsford–Mission (+1.4 per cent) and Winnipeg (+1.4 per cent).

“In contrast, the CMAs that posted population decreases were all located in Eastern or Central Canada. The population decreased in the CMAs of Greater Sudbury (-0.3 per cent), Saguenay (-0.2 per cent), Peterborough (-0.2 per cent) and Thunder Bay (-0.2 per cent).

Population growth also varied in areas outside of the CMAs. In 2014-15, the non-CMA part of Alberta grew at a rate of 0.7 per cent, the highest among the non-CMA areas for the provinces. Population decreases were recorded in the non-CMA parts of three provinces: Newfoundland and Labrador (-1.1 per cent), Nova Scotia (-0.7 per cent) and New Brunswick (-0.4 per cent).

Except, naturellement, good, old Moncton, which posted a population growth rate of 1.3 per cent over the past year and a bit.

We are obviously overjoyed to be counted in this company of speedy CMAs. We also mourn the loss of vigour amongst our closest civic neighbours (Saint John at -0.4 per cent? Oh, for shame!).

But I wonder what any of this actually means in the larger scheme?

New Brunswick’s population can’t compete with Mississauga’s. Noting that Moncton is a “fast-growing” community is akin to observing that a snapping turtle runs more quickly than a tortoise.

If this province hopes to reverse its economic and demographic fortunes, its major communities must work together to determine how we all become the best, the brightest and the fastest.

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