Monthly Archives: March 2016

A middle-class pick me up?


The one political rubric that defies partisan ownership these days is the plight of the so-called middle class.

Everyone from U.S. President Barack Obama to populist rabble-rouser Donald Trump to former Canadian Tory Prime Minister Stephen Harper to current Liberal office-holder in Ottawa Justin Trudeau makes hay with this benighted segment of the North American labour market.

The problem is the middle class just isn’t what it used to be, so figuring out ways to solve its many problems is a little like looking for needles in several thousand bales of straw.

What, for example, does it mean to be middle class in New Brunswick? Do the same standards and measures apply in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, or, for that matter, Fort McMurray?

Are you middle class if you earn $60,000 a year pushing paper in at government job in Freddy Beach? Are you a card-carrying member of the bourgeoisie if you pull down $85,000 doing the same thing at Queen’s Park in downtown Hog Town?

In the old days, what signified your status as a middle-class worker was, as often as not, your job security. That depended on the quality of your employment contract and/or the stability and effectiveness of your union’s bargaining unit. Not anymore.

A nicely penned piece by John Allemang in the Globe and Mail a couple of years ago made the salient point: “So it has come to this: Even union leaders are losing faith in the power of their unions. ‘There used to be a time when we had great respect from the public,’ says Ken Georgetti, president of the Canadian Labour Congress. ‘But we’ve lost that. There’s this notion that unions are just out for themselves and not for society. You get that label hung on you, and you have to work to get rid of it.’”

Yeah, good luck with that.

In fact, New Brunswick may be one of the most middle-class provinces in Canada if only because the labour market here has not endured the tumultuous economic reformations of other jurisdictions in the country – at least, not to the same extent.

That should make the recent federal budget good news to the provincial populace. After all, as Globe columnist Rob Carrick wrote last week, “Stagnant wages, rising household debt, income inequality and declining economic prospects for young Canadians are all woven into a budget narrative of a struggling middle class that needs help. The question is, how much support does the budget deliver?”

The other question is, does it really matter?

The budget document, itself, appears a tad unclear.

On the one hand, it states, “With more money in their pockets, middle class families will be able to save more, enhancing their own financial security. They will also have a greater opportunity to invest – in their own future and that of their children. Finally, they will have more money to spend, which will boost economic activity in the short term, and also put Canada on a firmer growth path over the long term.”

On the other hand, in the section expressly concerned with the middle class, it notes, “It is widely recognized that increasing support for low-income families also has a positive and long-term effect. Poverty is not just a problem for individual Canadians all of Canada is affected. Poverty is particularly challenging in the case of children, and its effect can be long term. When children are lifted out of poverty, they are better able to develop to their fullest potential.”

Perhaps, then, we have found our new middle class, after all: poor people.

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Natural selection in our backyard


A blanket of snow covers the gardens that were white-free all winter long. Yet, the squirrels, raccoons and birds now come to visit. They know something that I, in my seasonal pique, have forgotten.

The world makes adaptation a necessary, not voluntary, rule of survival. We must, in New Brunswick, embrace new ideas for our own natural selection in an increasingly brutal, increasingly competitive society.

Or maybe the ideas are the old, gracious ones that we, in our haste to blame each for so many real and perceived ills, have forgotten.

Consider them, and consider them well: equity, inquiry, generosity, tolerance, and charity. These are the qualities of mind and character that nature selects exclusively for our species. These are the rules of survival we ignore to our shame and at our peril.

No Wall Street banker, hedge-fund manager, serial short-seller, greed is not good. It produces the vast gulf we see now between the tiny number of individuals who “have” everything, and the great mass of humanity who do not.

According to a Forbes Magazine report, quoting an OECD study, two years ago, “Rising (income) inequality is estimated to have knocked more than 10 percentage points off growth in Mexico and New Zealand, nearly 9 points in the United Kingdom, Finland and Norway and between 6 and 7 points in the United States, Italy and Sweden. On the other hand, greater equality prior to the (financial) crisis helped increase GDP per capita in Spain, France and Ireland.”

No politician, pundit, incessantly talking head, dogma is not good. It generates the appalling amount of decidedly uncritical thinking that hobbles enlightened decision-making – the sort of decision-making that engineers effective policies to fight climate change, systemic poverty, family violence, illiteracy and, yes, even crime.

These societal woes also come with a price tag, numbered in the billions of dollars a year. Poverty, alone, is one of the biggest line items in most governments’ account balances. Says the Canada Without Poverty website, “Poverty, thought of as economic deprivation, could be seen as expensive. In reality, poverty is one of the biggest burdens on the economic, healthcare, and criminal justice systems in Canada. In 2011, the federal government spent $19.9 billion on Employment Insurance benefits.”

It necessarily follows, then, that a more equitable, inquiring society is a more generous, tolerant and charitable one. It’s also, in straight economic terms, a more durably successful one.

It is one in which enlightened governments, following rules for maximizing the greatest good for the greatest number of people they represent, intervene when regulated capital markets flout the rules of survival for all but themselves (before, not after, economic calamity descends).

It is one in which the premiums on education, literacy and numeracy are subservient to no other public priority. According to one authority with the IZA World of Labour organization, “In many countries, even relatively low levels of basic skills in numeracy and literacy attract a wage premiums.”

Here, in New Brunswick, we possess the means – as scarce as they sometimes appear – to remake our economy as a more equitable, inquiring, generous, tolerant, and charitable one.

The effort would take no more money – in fact, less – than the federal government is already willing to spend on amorphous notions for funding short-term, job-creation schemes related to infrastructure and clean-technology initiatives in this province.

Our best ideas for our own natural selection are still the old ones – the ones that rarely, if ever, generate headlines on the government-funding circuit.

If we can adapt our thinking, we can survive. We can prosper.

Remembering school daze


Sitting in my fourth-floor hotel room at the corner of Quinpool and Robie Streets in downtown Halifax some years ago, I watched as the bulldozers demolished what was left of my old high school.

The experience was surreal, requiring as it did a stiff drink to keep me company. After all, this was the place where I finally managed to prove to myself that I wasn’t a hopeless math dummy. This was the place where I actually scored a perfect 100 in one term of Grade 11 Geography. And, of course, this was the place where I met my future wife, who was now beside me peering out the window, shaking her head.

“Isn’t this weird?” she mumbled. “I can’t even see where I parked dad’s car. I think it’s under that pile of rubble, which used to be the French lab.”

Naturally, I had to correct her. “No, it’s where the auditorium used to be. . .Do you remember that play we were in? I think it was Grade 12. You had this scene where you had to slap me. During final dress rehearsal, you hit me so hard, you broke my glasses.”

She started to laugh.

“Oh sure,” I mused. “You giggle now, but when I got home I had to explain to mum what happened to my face and where my expensive spectacles were. I remember telling her something like, ‘No big deal. . .I got into a fight with a jock.’”

My beloved continued to laugh. “Remind me again,” she queried, “why you didn’t just tell her the truth.”

I looked down my nose as the last of the school’s library quite literally bit the dust. “What,” I said, “Tell her that I got beat up by a girl?”

I was reminded of this afternoon of reverie after reading, the other day, accounts of the sturm und drang associated with the future disposition of the downtown Moncton High School site. As far as I know, no one is seriously suggesting bulldozing the grand, old building, but rather “repurposing” (awful word) it in any number of ways.

Still, it doesn’t matter. Mess with a building as formidable as a person’s high school and you’re bound to elicit debate. As for me, I recall entering through Moncton High’s hallowed doors only a few times while my daughters were in roughly dutiful attendance.

The first was on an impossibly hot May afternoon sometime in the late 1990s to give a speech to my eldest child’s journalism class. (Since then, I have delivered many addresses to movers and shakers, power brokers and bankers; none, I warrant, was more terrifying than that one at ye old alma mater, as I looked down the business end of teenage derision for 40 minutes, which felt more like 40 years in purgatory).

All of which is to say I do not have the degree of connection to Moncton High as do the men and women of this city who are debating the disposition of its edifice. But I can sympathize. To paraphrase Canadian songwriting great, Neil Young, some places in life are where all your important changes occur.

That was certainly true for me and Vivien at Queen Elizabeth High School in the 1970s.

As we sat watching the old girl’s final humiliation, pouring ourselves another drink, mixed feelings overwhelmed us. So did the memories. It’s funny how we hadn’t thought about these things for years – the teachers we liked, the ones we didn’t.

Nothing lasts forever, of course.

But, in memory, the important stuff somehow manages to endure.

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Opening the spigot


To describe the federal Liberals’ first budget, as “massively” beneficial to New Brunswick is to engage in the sort of hyperbole that typically induces sudden, involuntary eye rolling among the non-politicos in the reading public.

Still, House Leader and Member of Parliament for Beausejour Dominic LeBlanc may have a point. In interviews with the Saint John Telegraph-Journal this week, he said, “There will be greater flexibility in how (infrastructure) funds are allocated. One of the things that we heard is that many of the smaller communities cannot match the one-third model.”

He was referring to the standard agreement that divvies up the cost of any given public works project equally among Ottawa, the provincial government and municipal authorities – a regime that many officials in New Brunswick have repeatedly said they can’t afford.

Added LeBlanc: “It disproportionately disadvantages the smaller municipalities that don’t have the tax base. The provincial government, in the case of New Brunswick, will have difficulty on some of the larger mega projects that we are hoping to do in the next few years.”

So, he declared, “We’ll (Ottawa) pay more and there will be ways for the province to access money that’s more favourable than the current model. The one-third straight jacket will be loosened to reflect the financial need of some municipalities and provinces.”

Boil it all down, and it seems that the New Brunswick government will have access to more than $8 million in public transit infrastructure money (not a lot, but still better than a boot in the pants). That’s to say nothing about its share of the $2 billion Low Energy Carbon Fund, the $125 million Green Municipal Fund, whatever’s left in the former Harper government’s Building Canada Fund, and $52 million earmarked for three ferry services in the Atlantic region, including the perennially imperiled Saint John-Digby service.

Indeed, the munificence of the Trudeau government doesn’t end with bricks and mortar.

There’s the new Canada Child Benefit that will remit more than $8,000 a year to most New Brunswick families with two children under the age of six. Mr. LeBlanc predicts this measure, alone, will pour more than $200 million into the provincial economy over the next 12 months.

There are also changes to the Employment Insurance program – key to the economic well being of seasonally employed regions of the province. The budget effectively reverses the broadly unpopular restrictions imposed by the former Tory government in Ottawa on claims, commute times for work and wait periods for payments.

All of which leaves the strong impression that in the early spring of 2016, munificence is Mr. Trudeau’s middle name.

On the other hand, fellows like Scott Armstrong, the Conservative critic for Atlantic Canada, are not entirely offside when they question the Liberal government’s spending priorities (though sour grapes may be the federal opposition’s choice of liquor these days).

“For all their talk about creating growth,” Mr. Armstrong told the T-J, “there’s no talk about a jobs plan. I think it was recognized by everyone that infrastructure is a way to create jobs, but from looking at what they decided to do, they put their other spending priorities out in front and infrastructure and job creation on the back burner.”

In reality, the larger risk this budget carries is the uncertain effectiveness of its measures to re-energize regional and national economies before the next inevitable recession, when the $30-billion deficit it now engineers balloons to some unspeakable level.

At that point, what’s now described as “massively” beneficial might well be viewed somewhat differently.

The devil, of course, will be in the details.

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No room at the inn


A dangerously divisive tendency raises its ugly head whenever people’s lives are on the line. It’s understandable. But that should not mean that we succumb to the point-counter-point of public stupidity.

When the mayors of Moncton and Fredericton, New Brunswick, ask the federal government to slow the stream of Syrian refugees into their urban areas, they do so with heavy hearts, not light heads.

They do so because their own community advisors have told them that their cities are simply not equipped to accommodate hundreds of newcomers in such a short period.

They do so because they know that those who will suffer most are not the apartment complex owners or hoteliers, but the refugees, themselves – the last people anyone wants to see jumping from the Middle Eastern frying pan into the cold, baleful fire of a late Maritime winter.

Yet, here we are, witnessing another disgraceful display of politics-as-usual in New Brunswick.

In a speech earlier this month, Premier Brian Gallant took a backhanded swipe at both Moncton and Fredericton city officials, declaring, “First off, we should remind ourselves that taking in Syrian refugees is the right thing to do. We have a role to play as a country to help these people who are living in a terrible situation. Secondly, this is good for New Brunswick. We have an aging population – more people means more people in our workforce, more people buying and our economy expanding.”

With all due respect Mr. Premier, but have you spent any time in the communities you purport to represent?

No one, and I mean no one, is raising the ugly specter of xenophobia (even as you quite casually equate desperate refugees with a jobs-boom opportunity in the province).

Syrian newcomers across this province, this country, are bivouacking in hotels where there’s nothing to do, no one to talk to, no schools to speak of, and little food they can tolerate. Community leaders and charitable groups are running themselves ragged not to bend over to refugee demands, but to compensate for the appalling lack of logistical support from all levels of the Canadian government – especially the federal one.

As Rouba Al-Fattal, a part-time professor of Middle East and Arab politics at the University of Ottawa, wrote in the Globe and Mail recently,How many of the first 25,000 (Syrians) have been resettled (in Canada), and how effectively will they be helped?

“More than 1,000 of the newcomers are living in temporary housing. And we still have a shortage of family doctors, a lack of proper dental care for low-income adults and a lack of subsidized daycare spaces for parents who want to learn English. University-age refugees, or those who already have foreign degrees, can’t afford our postsecondary system, sending many to low-income jobs instead. What future do refugees have without proper language training, Canadian education or Canadian work experience?”

The knee-jerk reaction of politicians – if you’re against our latest, bumble-headed policies, programs and procedures to lighten the load on the most disadvantaged among us, then you must be against the most disadvantaged among us – is rhetoric at its most despicable.

Governments: Fix the housing problem, the educational problem, the social integration problem, the language problem for refugees and immigrants, alike. That’s how you make earnest citizens, frankly, of everyone.

As for the vast majority of Moncton and Fredericton residents, we can’t wait to provide this new wave of newcomers everything a decent, tolerant life in a peaceful, open society offers.

We just wish our federal government, and some of its provincial mouthpieces, had come to the same conclusion.

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The wisdom of the crowd


When protesters shut down access roads to a Donald Trump rally in Arizona recently, prompting the improbably coiffed billionaire and reality-show host to instruct the interlopers to “go home” to their “mommies”, media broadcasters readily assumed those in his audience stood solidly with him.

I’ll wager, though, the truth was a little more complicated.

If I had conducted a straw poll onsite and at the time, I’m almost certain a third of the participants would have said the protestors should be arrested and tried for public nuisance, another third wouldn’t have cared much, and a final third would have shrugged their shoulders and mumbled something about every person’s right to free speech, even the disagreeable variety.

Politicians (especially candidates for office) and members of what was once classified so quaintly as “The Fourth Estate” expect black and white responses from John and Jane Q. Public on any issue – large or small, consequential or insignificant, even though they almost never get them.

Yet, the mantra is wearingly familiar: You are either for us or against us. You can’t be both. You certainly may not cradle any notion that democracy, in practice, is anything but fractious and polarizing.

It’s the same assumption that the chattering classes in the Atlantic Provinces make about the East Coast hoi polloi right around election and budget times, when the partisan bunting luffs ever so vigorously in the hot air.

Lately, however, in my travels around New Brunswick, a different picture of average members of the body politic emerges – one that’s more nuanced than monolithic. It suggests that most people are willing to entertain often-radical points of agreement to reach consensus on how to solve the persistent problems that afflict regional society.

Surprising are the number of voting citizens who firmly believe, regardless of their party affiliations, that forging much closer economic ties between provinces is a durable way to cut public deficits and debts.

They also think that the amount of government spending is less worrying than the lack of material return on each dollar invested. They are, for example, more likely to concur with the proposition that small-p politics should play no role in allocating (or curtailing) resources to higher education.

In fact, they are broadly convinced that entrepreneurship and innovation are functions of literacy and numeracy (not the other way around); that culture and the arts are engines, not byproducts, of prosperity; and that health care planning lacks only from a paucity of imagination among public officials who refuse to consider delivery models other than those prescribed by the status quo.

Most striking, perhaps, are the definitions people embrace for that long-abused rubric – the favorite of every politician, wearing his or her partisan colours proudly, who ever went to Government – leadership.

The notion that good leadership is “strong” or “unwavering” – that it springs, unbidden, from the souls of the anointed few who assume elected office; that it is impervious to the corrupting influences of circumspection and changing conditions – is, most average folks contend, ludicrous.

Rather, good leadership is about “respect” and “listening”. It’s about “setting an example” for others to emulate. Yes, it’s “decisive” and “consistent”, but it’s neither “rash” nor hidebound.

Few, it seems, are alarmed about peaceful, deliberate protest – except, of course, politicians and other members of the chattering classes who attend them.

Few are prepared to concede the point that holding an opinion precludes changing one’s mind.

These are the principles around which effective governments must finally rally if we have any chance of solving the problems that plague our various societies.


Banking on survival

 Resurgo is action in latin. And that's a dead language. Get 'er done boys and girls

A government budget is not that different from a personal one: In either case, we invariably break our promises to ourselves.

We start with the best information and the best possible intention. We tell ourselves that our revenue and income streams are stable; we make spending and savings plans accordingly. We close the books and go along our sunny ways until a computer model or online robot tells us we’re way too optimistic; too stupid to trust our own flawed perceptions of reality.

That’s precisely how the global economic collapse occurred in 2008. To my American cousins, I will provide a recap. (And listen up my fellow Canadians, because this affects you, too).

It all started with the assumption that the housing market in the United States was impervious to ups and downs. After all, weren’t mortgages the safest investment vehicle since God created sliced bread? No bank would make credit default agreements against this industry’s eventual failure. Until, of course, they did. In the end, that made the short sellers – who bet on a housing downturn thanks to utterly irresponsible interest rate spreads between homeowners and mortgage companies – rich, and the rest of the turtles. . .well, poor.

The poorer they, the average turtles, got, the richer they, the short-selling fund-managing sharks, became. Home-induced bankruptcies fuelled the new instruments of financial insurance, which finally decimated almost every major lender in the United States, before the feds swooped in like a batman with a broken wing to save them, with public money, from imminent perdition. In other words, my American cousins were twice. . .um. . .compromised through no particular fault of their own.

Welcome, dear reader, to the way the world works.

Welcome to the meaninglessness of splashy federal budgets.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s latest economic report does little for New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador. How could it?

To compensate for the utter lack of investment in strategic infrastructure – education, health care, roads, innovation and technology programs – by the former government of Stephen Harper, Mr. Trudeau would have had to drop the country into the $100-billion-deficit range, as opposed to the current $30 billion he’s just barely willing to tolerate.

Again, this is not precisely Mr. Trudeau’s fault. Oddly enough, it’s not even Mr. Harper’s. In their own ways, both have had to pretend to run Canada’s budgets in the interests of all Canadians. But the cause of the Great Recession of 2008 – the global financial meltdown of 2007 – is still with us, still perniciously affecting us today.

It reveals itself in the way so many middle-class people in New Brunswick can no longer buy affordable homes, pay for their kids’ university educations, build durable retirement accounts, or acquire sufficient credit to invest in small enterprises.

It continues to keep our revenue-generating private enterprises gun shy. Many no longer hire worthy youngsters to train. Banks no longer readily lend capital. Debt-riddled government guarantees are no longer worth what they used to be.

In the end, we continue to break all the best promises we ever made to ourselves in sunnier days.

Still, none of this is inevitable.

We can remake the world, right here in New Brunswick, without recourse to federal budgetary promises that are, at best, temporary, and, at worst, illusory. We can, in vibrantly unique ways, re-energize the entrepreneurial culture we once exported to the rest of Canada.

We merely need to remind ourselves that the promises we make to ourselves, our children and our grandchildren are the only ones that are worth fulfilling.


Leading sheep to a dog’s breakfast


One of my favorite jokes about economists goes a little like this:

“Man walking along a road in the countryside comes across a shepherd and a huge flock of sheep. Tells the shepherd, ‘I will bet you $100 against one of your sheep that I can tell you the exact number in this flock.’ The shepherd thinks it over; it’s a big flock so he takes the bet. ‘973,’ says the man. The shepherd is astonished, because that is exactly right. ‘OK, I’m a man of my word, take an animal.’ Man picks one up and begins to walk away.”

Then, suddenly: “‘Wait,’ cries the shepherd, ‘Let me have a chance to get even. Double or nothing that I can guess your exact occupation’. Man says sure. ‘You are an economist for a government think tank,’ says the shepherd. ‘Amazing!’ responds the man, ‘You are exactly right! But tell me, how did you deduce that?’

“‘Well,’ says the shepherd, ‘put down my dog and I will tell you.’”

That comes courtesy of the Wharton School of Business, via the Internet. My only edit would be that, in the end, the “man” refuses to reveal his true identity. After all, no self-respecting economist I’ve ever known can ever get enough pooches whose entrails are healthy enough with which to predict the future of humankind.

All of which suggests that New Brunswick’s corps of economists must be the smartest professionals of their ilk anywhere in the world. Not only have they unanimously deduced (in a bevy of Brunswick News Inc. organs) that the provincial economy is failing, they have picked up the right animal to prove their point (it’s a sheep, in case you missed the metaphor).

Said New Brunswick’s Chief economist David Campbell (who is actually a good friend of mine), the degree to which the labour market in the province is winnowing is alarming. In fact, noting a recent Statistics Canada report earlier this month, the 6,000 jobs we lost in February, amounts to the “size of your capacity to meet the labour needs of your economy.”

Added Craig Brett, an economist at Mount Allison University: “I don’t usually put much stock in month-to-month unemployment figures for small provinces. . . But a trend like this over several months is worrying.”

So concurred David Murrell, an economics professor at the University of New Brunswick: “I think there has to be a dynamic provincial economic plan that has to be followed and I don’t see it realized.”

No kidding. Currently, the overall unemployment rate in the province is a hair’s breadth shy of 10 per cent, up from 9.3, 8.9 and 8.7 per cent in each of the previous three months. The workforce participation rate is lower than it’s been since the early days of the global financial crisis of 2007-08.

What’s to be done? That, lamentably, is a question no economist can answer convincingly. The issue is not actually within their various wheelhouses of expertise. They can tell us that elected leaders are leading the rest of us, like sheep, to a dog’s breakfast. But changing the menu is ultimately up to the rest of us, and that process starts with asking hard questions, and demanding good answers – not only of the people we send to office, but of ourselves.

What, exactly, are the collaborative economic, commercial, social, and fiscal tools that we need to wield among us to build the durable, sustainable, prosperous society that befits neither sheep, nor dog, but just us: we helpless, hopeful, humans?

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N.B. keeps growing higher


As if to prove that this picture-perfect province takes a back seat to no other jurisdiction in Canada for sheer, gutsy innovation, the man in charge of New Brunswick’s liquor commission seriously wonders whether you’d like a joint with that bottle of brandy you’re buying.

I can only imagine how that conversation would transpire in the checkout line of my local, neighbourhood magasin d’alcool.

Clerk: “I see that you like a fine cognac. I’m wondering if I could interest you a high-quality Indica or Sativa to go with that drink?

Me: “Huh?”

Clerk: “Well, you are obviously a man of distinction and taste. A good, smooth spliff is the perfect complement to distilled wine. Might I suggest our latest point-of-purchase offerings?”

Me: “Can I have my receipt?”

Clerk: “Of course, sir, but before you go, allow me to educate you about the lovely qualities of our cannabis products. . .As you can see from the display, we have ‘White Widow’, ‘Big Bud’, and ‘Bubblegum’. . .all of which are supremely smooth and go very well with soft French cheeses. . .Then, of course, we have the specialty brands, ‘Ice’, ‘Northern Lights’, and ‘Purple Power’”.

Me: “No thanks. Again, can I have my receipt?”

Clerk: “Certainly, sir. . .uuuummm. . .would you like it pencil or crayon. I’m always about the customer service.”

According to an exclusive scored by Brunswick News reporter Adam Huras, “The president and CEO of NB Liquor has quietly been heading research by liquor boards from across the country to prepare for the sale, distribution and regulation of marijuana, now that the federal government is moving toward legalization. Despite the New Brunswick government remaining relatively silent on how it could handle the sale of pot. . .Brian Harriman currently leads talks on the impacts of the impending federal move.”

Well, at least someone is leading something in New Brunswick.

As for weed?

I’ve never liked it much. The last time I ‘inhaled’, I ran screaming from a party, convinced that a seven-foot clown wanted to be my ‘best friend’. (On the other hand, that could have been the brandy talking in my ear).

Still, I have to hand it to Mr. Harriman and his friends. Sales of stock beer and table wine are down in New Brunswick even as purchases of specialty liquors are up – everything from botanical gin to absinthe. Give the boys and girls at N.B. Liquor their props for getting ahead of the curve.

As for their provincial bosses. . .well. . .not so much. At least, not yet.

“We’re kind of in a bit of a wait-and-see mode,” New Brunswick Health Minister Victor Boudreau told the Saint John Telegraph-Journal late last year. “It’s the responsibility of the federal government to kind of make the first move, if you will. I would say all provincial provinces are probably looking at when they do make that move, what would be the next steps for the provinces. It’s a discussion that is starting to occur in anticipation of what’s coming.”

And why not? Some estimates suggest that a regulated, legal pot market would be worth billions of dollars a year to provincial coffers. A fraction of that sum might just offset the cost of caring for ailing tobacco smokers (who indulge in a far more deleterious habit than do recreational users of marijuana).

On the other hand, should N.B. Liquor pioneer this customer innovation, it will have to spend a few dimes reproducing its in-store posters:

“Nice mustache, but if you don’t look 30 years old, no spliff for you.”

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Between a rock and a hard place


I’m not much for easy metaphors, but it’s hard not to read some broader meaning into the recent collapse of one of New Brunswick’s iconic Flowerpot Rocks along the Bay of Fundy, home to the world’s highest tides, which ebb and flow much like. . .well, the provincial economy.

Methinks, I’m not the only one of my professional ilk in danger of spraining a back muscle making that stretch. Otherwise, why would an entirely predictable event, the product of natural erosion, garner the press attention it has.

From the Chronicle-Herald to the Toronto Sun to the Globe and Mail to the Huffington Post to the nation’s public broadcaster, mourning for the dearly departed Elephant Rock (named so because it resembles, or used to, an oversized pachyderm) has commenced in earnest.

“Formed by the world’s highest tides in the Bay of Fundy, the Flowerpot Rocks – as they are also known – have been carved out of the cliffs in the area by time, tide, and wind,” reported the CBC.

“The (Fundy) park’s website explains that the formations aren’t ever 100 per cent safe ‘but are even more dangerous this time of year. This is a particularly volatile time for the rock as spring temperatures rise and the nights stay cold.’

“Elephant Rock is featured on New Brunswick’s Medicare card. ‘It’s certainly sad and humbling to see us lose one of our named formations, or at least lose its identity, but it’s also very exciting,’ said Kevin Snair, supervisor of interpretive services. ‘The whole park is formed by this exact action that happened, so to be able to see that that is still happening, and the park is still evolving, it’s a beautiful thing, despite the loss.’

“The park is reminding people to come visit over the summer, as there will still be lots to see. Elephant Rock is one of 17 standing formations at Hopewell (i.e. Flowerpot) Rocks.”

The collapse may be sad, as Mr. Snair observes, but is it actually humbling? (Only, I suppose, if you were standing anywhere near the thing when it fell over).

In fact, the event might be just what the economic doctor ordered. According to a New Brunswick government report, “Tourism is critical to (the province’s culture, heritage, arts, recreation, and entertainment industries, and it also contributes significantly to (the province’s) service industries, including transportation and travelling services, accommodations, and food and beverage services. These industries comprise the tourism sector.

“In 2012, 30,220 employees worked in the tourism sector, representing 8.6 per cent of New Brunswick’s labour force. Across New Brunswick, there were 2,929 tourism sector business locations in 2012. Visits in the province of New Brunswick in 2012 contributed an estimated $1.1 billion in tourism-related spending on accommodations, restaurants, shopping, travel, and travel activities. Non-resident visitor spending was estimated at $543 million in 2012. The total impact of this visitor spending on provincial GDP has been estimated at $696 million, representing 2.4 per cent of provincial GDP. This estimated tourism share of provincial GDP ranks with the primary industries of agriculture, forestry, and fishing.”

Indeed, images of the Flowerpot Rocks grace the covers of virtually every promotional brochure the provincial government publishes, and have for decades. (I distinctly recall seeing a glossy brag, some years ago, on New Brunswick’s call-centre industry. There, on the centre spread, was a picture of the now-diminished Elephant Rock. How’s that for a subliminal plug for the province’s burgeoning technology sector?)

In any case, now that the famous column has been diminished, may we expect precisely the opposite result for tourism?

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