As a callow politico early in his career, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper once lambasted the Maritimes as a place where brooding mopes go to thrive. In fact, his exact words were: “There is a dependence in the region that breeds a culture of defeatism.”
He figured that his rebuke of the birthplace of Confederation – where he, himself, could trace a family connection – would play well among members of his archly conservative western base of voters.
In the end, of course, he paid the political price for his remark. Atlantic Canadians never forgot or forgave the criticism, though it took them more than eight years to help the rest of Canada show the good fellow the door.
On the other hand, was he altogether wrong?
Reflecting on this, some years later, I wrote that we, in this corner of the country, are most animated when others are picking on us. On these occasions, we stir from our Equalization-induced torpor and proclaim with one voice, and regardless of our internecine rivalries, “You, sir, are a cad.”
I observed how we love to foam and fulminate. We write letters to newspapers, post angry ripostes online and grant our premiers the right to defend our honour on the nightly news, as if we were so many swooning debutantes. And when we’ve had our fill, we return to our chambers to do what we do surpassingly well: Wait for things to happen to us.
Of course, I noted, it would be nice if the federal government didn’t cut us off at the knees whenever we managed to achieve something productive for ourselves. The history of this country has been a litany of taking from those who “have” and giving to those who “have not”. So many westerners remain deaf to the irrefutable argument that this nation was built, in tangible and evident ways, on Maritime ingenuity and wealth.
Still, in the end, I concluded, we mustn’t continue to blame Fat City for the structural weaknesses of our regional economy. This is all on us. And it’s time we do something; something extraordinary.
Times change, and oftentimes for the better. Over the past few years, I have detected a gradual, yet palpable, shift in attitudes in many parts of the Maritimes, where an almost fierce sense of cheerfulness in the face of continuing economic adversity prevails. This isn’t quite reflected in the condition of our various governments’ finances.
But in many communities, optimism has replaced pessimism and the dreadful word, “defeatism”, is rarely, if ever, uttered. Conclaves of leaders from all walks of life routinely gather to forge their joint futures together. Moncton is famous for this – constantly reinventing itself to anticipate the challenges and opportunities it faces. Yet, Fredericton does it, too. So does Saint John. So does Halifax and Charlottetown.
Meanwhile, the entrepreneurial class has, to my mind, never been stronger, never more vibrant.
I think of Malley Industries, which, it says, “manufactures ambulances, wheelchair accessible vehicles, specialized commercial fleets and plastic products for a wide range of industrial clients.” I think of Innovatia, a knowledge development company, which, it says, “is connected by passion for developing strategic solutions, and commitment to collaboration and teamwork. It’s all with the intention of delivery best-in-class client service.”
To be sure, we, in this region, still face obstacles. And we’re still prickly when people call us names and assume the worst about us.
But the mood is changing. Though we sometimes cleave to that tired trope, “No we can’t”, these days, we’re more often inclined to agree: Yes, we can.