Attacking the roots of unemployment

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Despite pockets of ‘jobfulness’ in New Brunswick, the more familiar phenomenon, joblessness, continues to haunt the highways and alleyways of the province like a pestilence against which no political or economic vaccine has yet truly worked.

This is not, of course, for lack of honest trying.

Consider the government of former Progressive Conservative Premier Bernard Lord. It had thought that it would lick the problem in a couple of years if only it could articulate a five-point “prosperity program”.

Consider the administration of former Liberal Premier Shawn Graham. It had believed that it would secure job-creation funding within its first (and only) term in office if only it could sell the major assets of NB Power and, in so doing, retire as much as 50 per cent of province’s long-term debt.

Consider the reign of former Tory Premier David Alward. It had assumed that a careful, deliberate approach to managing the public purse during its single, four-year mandate would restore confidence to the private sector if only it could stay the course.

Indeed, if only.

In fact, none of these approaches to job creation were, on the face of them, intellectually bankrupt. They stemmed from genuine desires to right the ship of state, which was (and still is) listing badly.

A recent Statistic Canada labour force survey confirms that New Brunswick remains jammed on the shoals of economic perdition. In March, the provincial unemployment rate nudged up above 10 per cent, 0.3 per cent higher than the previous month. Of all Canadian provinces, only Saskatchewan posted a similar decline (though its overall joblessness rate stands at a mere 6.2 per cent; while the national average hovers around the seven per cent mark).

It’s tough to fault New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant for asking the province’s citizens to be patient. After all, this blight descended when he was still a senior in high school. “We are investing in things that will help us have the best climate for economic growth,” he now says almost poignantly. “It will take time. . .to make a difference.”

Lamentably, time is another resource we’ve managed to squander. We should have begun the “Save New Brunswick From Its Own Stupidity” project a generation ago.

Let us assume, however, that the hourglass has not finally run down on us. Where do we go from here?

The lack of jobs in New Brunswick is not the problem. It is merely the most obvious symptom of the problem. Attacking a symptom of an underlying disease might afford temporary comfort and respite from the ravages of illness, but it won’t cure the patient.

The root of this province’s jobs crisis runs deep into social mores that have kept an unacceptably large proportion of New Brunswickers functionally illiterate, unable to operate with even basic math skills and broadly unaware of their own diverse, ethnically rich heritage.

Within this context, jobs have become large corporations’ and governments’ duty to supply; they are not, as they should be, the productive outcomes of innovative entrepreneurs working diligently to make their neighbors and family members competitive with everyone else in the world.

If we are determined to excise the joblessness disease from the body politic in New Brunswick, we must ensure that every kid here gets a Grade A education in both official languages; in math, science, history, economics, and tcrucial mechanical trades.

We must insist that cultivating the next generation of thinkers, doers and entrepreneurs is our collective “Job No. One” in this province.

Only then can we truly start talking rationally about New Brunswick’s ‘jobfulness’.

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