Category Archives: Employment

Away in a manger

It’s a sign of the times, perhaps, that federal and Atlantic provincial leaders chose to meet in a barn the other day. After all, as any farmer will testify, barns are where the action is.

In fact, this particular barn was more of a renovated convention space located on federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay’s bucolic property in rural Prince Edward Island, but the significance of the location wasn’t lost on anyone observing the rare conclave of government officials. They had come, ostensibly, to get things done. And, by all accounts, they succeeded.

According to a news release, “The Government of Canada and the governments of the four Atlantic Provinces are working together to build a vibrant economic future for Atlantic Canada by focussing their efforts and resources to stimulate the region’s economy, support the middle class and address both long standing and emerging regional challenges.”

Specifically, the group – which included premiers Stephen McNeil, Brian Gallant, Wade MacLauchlan and Dwight Ball, and federal ministers MacAulay, John McCallum, Scott Brison, Dominic LeBlanc, Navdeep Bains, and Judy Foote – announced a new plan to “stimulate the region’s economy, support both innovative and resource-based industries, and increase job opportunities for Atlantic Canadians.”

High on the list was a commitment to boost immigration to the region. According to the post-meeting communiqué, “The first area of action focuses on skilled workforce and immigration with the introduction of a new three-year immigration pilot project aimed at addressing the unique labour market challenges in Atlantic Canada.

“When in place, the pilot project will help to better match the needs of local employers with the skill sets of immigrants while helping to improve the attraction and retention of newcomers in Atlantic Canada. Through this project the Government ‎will admit up to 2,000 immigrants and accompanying families in 2017, with rising numbers in the following years depending on performance. This is a substantial increase, amounting to almost half the current number of provincial nominees in Atlantic Canada. The federal and provincial governments will continue to undertake cooperative actions that will bring stable and long-term economic prosperity in Atlantic Canada and additional joint actions will be unveiled over the coming months.”

This is eminently good news, and for a variety of reasons.

For one thing, it demonstrates, for the first time in a very long time, that federal and provincial leaders are both able and willing to work together. Gone, one hopes, are the days of table-thumping and hand-wringing that were so unproductively numerous during the years of Conservative reign in Ottawa.

Secondly, and even more importantly, the decision to actively increase immigration to the region – a crucial bulwark of long-term prosperity for each of the Atlantic Provinces – is a clear indication that our elected officials not merely understand the key challenges facing the economy, but are actually equipped to do something about them.

Said Wade MacLauchlan, Premier of Prince Edward Island, in a statement: “To build on our successes and create sustained prosperity for Prince Edward Island, we must grow our workforce and continue to foster an environment of innovation and entrepreneurship. Working together with our Atlantic, federal and community partners, we will grow our population and create economic opportunities for the Atlantic Region.”

This might not sound like much. But consider the rising tide of acrimony, anger and outright hate welling in other parts of the world. The Atlantic region, and Canada as a whole, stands in sharp contrast to the vicious anti-immigrant rhetoric in the United States and Europe – a beacon of light, as it were, from a barn by the bay.

Tagged ,

Teaching our children well


It is an article of faith in public-policy circles that pigs fly more reliably than do governments seeking to improve the educational systems under their aegis. Sometimes, though, porcine wings do flap and take to the sky.

A rare case in point was last month’s announcement in Fredericton that, henceforth, the New Brunswick government will cover the cost of tuition not already insured by the feds for students attending post-secondary institutions in the province – those whose families earn $60,000 or less in any given 12-month period. Enthused Premier Gallant: “We, as a province, will be able to tell those children, ‘Work hard, do what you can to get into a university or college and we’ve got you covered. . .Of those New Brunswick students who apply for student financial assistance, it is estimated that more than 50 per cent will qualify for this program.”

Indeed, this measure, at a cost of roughly $25 million to taxpayers per academic year (at least, initially), effectively delivers something akin to free higher education to as many as 7,100 aspiring scholars in humanities, sciences, business, and trades in 2016-17 – not quite, though, given that the new Tuition Access Bursary doesn’t pay for books, fees and living expenses.

Still, it’s better than a kick in the pants. And, as the former CEO of my own private bank of student bursaries, I’m not alone in thinking so.

Says Travis Daley, vice-president external of the University of New Brunswick’s student union: “This is a momentous move forward by this government. It allows for higher education to be a reality for students who might not have considered it before.”

UNB president Eddy Campbell agrees with the student advocate. (When, in fact, does that ever happen in the fractious arena of organized academe)?

“Roughly half of the students at UNB today are the first in their family to go to university,” Dr. Campbell told reporters after a news conference. “We know those are the students who often need extra help to be here, and I have no doubt a whole bunch of those students will qualify for this program. . .(The government) is doing the right thing.”

University of Moncton economist and author Richard Saillant also concurs with the prevailing opinion. In a radio interview, he noted, “We’re talking about enhancing participation in post-secondary education and we’re talking about fairness and future prosperity. . .I don’t think we can afford to dither any longer on that file. . .This measure will enhance participation in the labour market, so it’s good economic policy, it’s good social policy and it’s also good educational policy.”

Here, here!

Still, enlightened public policy is one thing. Effective program delivery is quite another. The difference between the two is what usually keeps pigs firmly rooted to the ground.

What protocols and protections have the Gallant government installed to ensure that low-income students need not wade through myriad bureaucratic pens before they receive their benefits? What red tape and paper-burden have public officials decided are in no one’s best interest?

The history of student funding in Canada is a litany of nightmarish anecdotes, invariably invoking both federal and provincial funding agencies and, in the worst cases, the big banks and the Canada Revenue Agency.

Will the New Brunswick government accompany its new, well-intentioned policy with the streamlined apparatus to keep from harm those it now purports to help – the most economically vulnerable, attempting to dream, to do, to achieve, perhaps beyond even their own expectations?

Let us hope so.

Let us hope that pigs fly.

Tagged ,

Attacking the roots of unemployment


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’.

Tagged , ,

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.

Tagged , , ,

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.


Turn the clock forward in New Brunswick


Just as surely as light follows darkness, spring follows winter with the eternal promise of warmer, sweeter days ahead. Time marches forward tonight, as we gladly sacrifice one hour of sleep for an extra one of sunshine.

Would that everything in New Brunswick operated according to such progressive principles. Would our budgets suddenly balance? Would our young people instantly find rewarding and remunerative careers? Would our old people never again worry from the threat of imminent penury? Could we snap our fingers and make it all better?

Of course, we tend to talk ourselves into the states of mind we variously inhabit over the course of many generations. If we choose to see ourselves as feckless losers, chances are we’ll find a way to fulfill that particular prophesy. Happily, the reverse is also true.

Nowhere does this seem more eminently clear than in New Brunswick’s innovation sector. Commenting about bad economic news tends to be my stock in trade. But every so often, even I like to stray from my customary song sheet and warble about some of the good things this province is doing.

Things like the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation where you will rarely see a grim face or a downcast glance. This organization describes itself as “an independent, not-for-profit corporation that invests in new growth-oriented companies and applied research activities. With over $62 million invested, plus $348 million leveraged from other sources, NBIF has helped to create over 86 companies and fund 400 applied research projects since its inception in 2003. All of NBIF’s investment returns go back into the Foundation to be re-invested in other new startup companies and research initiatives.”

Its target industries comprise information and communications technology, energy and the environment, biosciences, aerospace and defence, biosciences, value-added food, value-added wood, and education and training. This institutional creature appears to have gotten the memo: If we want to build an innovative society, then we must. . .well, innovate.

A survey of 1,200 CEOs from around the world, conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers not long ago, found that innovation “now outstrips all other means of expansion, including moving into new markets, mergers and acquisitions, and joint ventures and other alliances. In all, 78 per cent of CEOs surveyed believe innovation will generate ‘significant’ new revenue and cost reduction opportunities. . .But it is highest for those where technology is changing customer expectations. In both the pharmaceutical and entertainment and media sectors, for example, more than 40 per cent of CEOs believe their greatest opportunities for growth come from spawning new products and services.”

That’s certainly the case for many of the NBIF’s beneficiaries. One example serves the point. According to the organization, “Fredericton startup company Eigen Innovations got an international boost (in December), placing third in the Cisco Systems’ Global Innovation Grand Challenge at the Internet Of Things World Forum in Dubai. Eigen was the only Canadian company to make it to the final six, and as the third place winner (received) a $25,000 cash prize plus business opportunities with the network solutions giant.”

Of course, marks of innovation need not garner international recognition to be relevant to New Brunswick’s broader economy. Those businesses (and people) who innovate quietly, regularly and reliably in this province hold the keys to the economy’s future. They are worth celebrating and emulating, especially during the long winters of our fiscal and social discontent.

Now, as light follows darkness and spring follows winter with the eternal promise of warmer, sweeter days ahead, they are steadily, progressively turning all our clocks forward.

Tagged , ,

The palaver over pipelines


In fact, he does looks like the kind of fellow who could tell the nation’s provinces, leading mayors and other assorted high-profile camera moths to, in effect, knock it off – and even get away with it.

On his worst day, New Brunswick MP and Government House Leader Dominic LeBlanc presents and comports himself like Hollywood’s latest incarnation of an emerging mafia Don – though, an uncharacteristically friendly version of the cinematic phenotype.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I quite like his latest declaration to the press about the most recent, and utterly mindless, fracas over pipelines in this increasingly God-forsaken land of ours.

In the aftermath of some 80 mayors from Quebec, and that province’s premier, declaring their opposition to the proposed Energy East pipeline traversing their respective territories en route to tidewater facilities in Saint John, Mr. LeBlanc had this to say to local newspaper reporters this week:

“We’re prepared to deal with the tough issues and recognize that the (federal) government has an important responsibility to help get natural resources to market. The whole country has benefitted from the Alberta resource economy, so I think it would be helpful that everybody lower the tone, allow the regulatory and review process to run its course and then the government will have to make a difficult decision.”

He’s not kidding.

Gosh, what shall we do with all that Alberta oil and gas? Truck it just so that poor roads and driver inattention may slam it into a government-built tourism kiosk somewhere outside of Thunder Bay? Rail it just so that poor tracks and conductor inattention conspire to blow up another small town in the middle of Great White North Country?

Or shall we finally recognize that as long as we need fossil fuels to power our domestic and export economies, the safest, cleanest delivery system is still the lowly pipeline – properly built, scrupulously regulated and strenuously monitored by officials of the Departments of Natural Resources and those of Environment Canada?

Still, even the logical choice is fraught with political peril. And Mr. LeBlanc knows this perhaps better than anyone outside the Prime Minister’s Office.

Any delay in the construction and activation of eastern and western pipelines automatically aggravates the Conservative west, whose political agents in Ottawa are prepared to make hay with their talking points about the hegemony of the Liberal east.

Conversely, anything other than rigorous, proof-providing research showing that pipelines are, indeed, the safest technologies currently available for transporting evidently toxic materials over long distances is sure to inflame the environmental lobby and their confederates at the municipal level of government.

Tough issues, indeed, with which the federal government seems determined to deal. Ultimately, Mr. LeBlanc says, it’s Ottawa’s choice to make. And that choice, he insists, “will be based on the information that comes from the robust independent review (underway). It won’t be based on someone’s news conference. I’ve always thought that the government decision should be based on evidence, on science, on environmental analysis, on expert opinion.”

Of course, I take one issue with this declaration: It already is.

According to a recent piece in the Financial Times, “Moving oil and gas by pipeline was 4.5 times safer than moving the same volume the same distance by rail in the decade ended in 2013 in Canada, according to a new study by the Fraser Institute public policy think-tank.”

By all means, Mr. LeBlanc, complete your analysis, ensure that it is correct and then let’s get this oil flowing in the safest, most economically expedient means possible.


The dread pirate “Wagegapper”

We could sell the snow. There's plenty of that

We could sell the snow. There’s plenty of that

Pity the poor rich man. In this economy, he just can’t catch a break. Oh sure his castle continues to glisten in the rising sun. His moat is pristine and his crocodiles are well fed. But can he actually accumulate money. . .you know, the way he used to?

According to a Bloomberg/HuffPost Canada post this past August 8, “The stock market rout gripping the world last week and today is bad news for just about anyone who uses money, but when the value of assets collapses, it’s the richest who lose the most.

“Take, for instance, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who lost $1.9 billion U.S. in a day’s trading on Friday; or Amazon co-founder Jeff Bezos, who was down $1.8 billion; or famed investor and Berkshire Hathaway head Warren Buffett, who lost $1.7 billion. And that was all last Friday – before Monday’s even wilder ride on the stock market.

“According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, the world’s richest 400 people lost $182 billion in wealth last week. It was the largest drop ever seen in the index, but it only launched last September. The recent drop in stock markets around the world means the world’s 400 wealthiest people have in total lost money this year, with their combined net worth at $3.98 trillion, down $75 billion from the start of the year.”
Under the circumstances, we in the Atlantic Maritimes should count ourselves lucky. We have managed to avoid such calamitous outcomes concerning money, as we don’t have any.

According to Environics Analytics two years ago, the median family income in New Brunswick was just about $57,300 – the second lowest in Canada, just ahead of Prince Edward Island. Since then, the numbers for both provinces have dropped by more than seven per cent (about the rate the central bank has reduced the cost of borrowing for businesses and consumers).

Meanwhile, unemployment in this region has spiked as wages have fallen. In fact, the Atlantic region has become a jurisdiction of “wagegappers”.

In economic terms, that simply means the more desperate an individual is for work to pay his or her bills, the more likely those with money will prey on his or her fears. This calculus drives down the cost of labour, and the vicious cycle of downward spirals ensues, further separating the moats of the rich from the slush puddles of the working poor (a class we once called bourgeois).

It’s not like we oughtn’t to have seen any of this coming. Back in 2013, Christine Saulnier and Jason Edwards of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives had this to say in a widely circulated opinion piece:

“Statistics Canada released new data on high income trends in Canada with nary a mention of the Atlantic Provinces. From a Canadian comparative perspective, the data told a story that was more striking for most of the rest of the country and in particular, Alberta, Ontario, B.C. and Quebec where 92 per cent of the top 1 per cent of tax filers are found, with only 3.4 per cent in Atlantic Canada. These data reveal that the Atlantic Provinces are all significantly less equal today than they were in 1982. The trends are. . .not surprising.”

Indeed they were not, and they are not today in this region, where the income gap between the rich and the poor has widened.

Pity the wealthy for their losses of late? Absolutely.

After all, they may soon join the club around the burning barrel beyond the moat in the deep, dark woods along with the rest of us.

Tagged ,

Here we go again


A sense of déjà vu, every once in a while, is thrilling, even titillating.

It’s as if you’ve been afforded another rare glimpse behind a barely familiar curtain where you once saw steam-punk-demi-gods, masquerading as policy makers, market traders, Bay Street bankers, and other assorted auguries decide how much money you’ll make and how long you’ll live to spend it.

But when the same, old horse entrails insist on coming round the corner once again. . .well, it all just gets so very, depressingly boring.

Hello 2016. Do you remember 2008?

Here, according the online People History, is what was preoccupying us eight years ago:

“Property prices continue to fall on both sides of the Atlantic in Europe and America causing hardship to many homeowners, and problems for financial institutions . . . Bank of America is to take over the country’s biggest mortgage lender, Countrywide Financial, which (is) rumored to be close to bankruptcy. . . Citigroup, the (United States’) largest bank, joins a number of other financial institutions and reported a fourth-quarter loss of $9.83 billion. . . President (George W.) Bush and (Congressional) House leaders agree to a $150 billion stimulus package, including rebates for most tax filers of up to $600 for individuals. . . President Bush signs the $700 billion bailout package bill . . .The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act is signed into law.”

Here, according to many others, and me, is what is preoccupying us now in the breaking days of the 16th year of the 21st century:

Property prices continue to fall across the Great White North, causing desperate, overextended homeowners to sell their stories (and, thereby, avert certain bankruptcy) to HGTV reality-show producers.

Commodity prices continue to plummet, transforming Canada into a great, vacant wasteland of missed opportunity and once-promising technological innovation (though, still, a marvellous overland runway for Maritimers suddenly heading back home as every Alberta oil and gas derrick shudders to shutter).

Of course, the banking sector in this most frigid reach of the North American continent remains strong, proud and free, even as just about every other segment of the economy is wondering where and how to boil its next egg.

Finally, Canada’s self-appointed national rag reports that Ottawa intends to “fast-track stimulus spending” over the next few months because, as one confidential government source disclosed for the Globe and Mail’s front-page story, “The (economic and fiscal) situation has deteriorated since our (election) platform last July.”

Really? No kidding, Sherlock.

This is déjà vu all over again.

It’s an undercurrent that New Brunswickers know only too well. Boom, bust, boom, bust, boom and bust again. It might as well be the market tempo that prompts our nervously tapping feet.

Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz calls it an “undercurrent that will last for several years. It typically takes three or five years to adjust to a significant shift in your terms of trade, which is what we’re going through.”

In important respects, though, we are “going through” something much different than we have in the past.

In the past, a rise in commodity prices and foreign exchange rates compensated for a drop in manufactures and related exporting. Now, in this country and at this time, we face a general malaise in all engines of the economy.

Fortunately, we Maritimers know how to jump that particular shark as long as we remember how to use the lessons of history to avoid making mistakes in the future: Stay lean, nimble, innovative and fundamentally entrepreneurial.

Let’s keep our sense of déjà vu hopefully fresh.

Tagged , , , ,

The exodus conundrum


As Canadians wring their hands and gnash their teeth over the arrival of as many as 25,000 refugees from strife-ridden Syria, the conversation inevitably turns to a sometimes irresponsible and xenophobic question of whether we want them.

To be clear and to our credit, most of us say we do. Our country is, after all, one of the world’s last remaining go-to places for people who are, through no fault of their own, in deep trouble.

Lately, though, the other shoe has fallen: Do Syrians want us?

A rather distressing, yet revealing, report in the Globe and Mail earlier this month suggests that more Syrians than we’d like to admit are saying “no” to the Great White North – fearing the effect of cultural and linguistic differences, the lack of good, durable employment opportunities, and even Canada’s rather parsimonious social policy regarding the disposition of foreign nationals in this country over the past decade.

According to the Globe piece by Sara Elizabeth Williams, reporting from Amman, the capital of Jordan, “Omayma al-Kasem. . .is one of a sizeable number of Syrians turning down the chance to become permanent residents of Canada. UN figures (show that) just three out of every 10 households contacted about resettlement in Canada go on to relocate.”

Although Ms. al-Kasem – a well-educated, 26-year-old, fourth-year law student – readily describes her life and that of her family, effectively hiding from harm’s way in Jordan, as “the lowest level of hell”, apparently that’s better than taking a chance on a cold, strange nation half-a-world-away from everything she knows and still cherishes.

She must, she says, “think like a mom.” In her case, she reveals, “In Jordan we are already separated from my two sisters who are in Syria. If we went to Canada we would have to leave my brother, his wife and their baby. I don’t want to separate my family any further. . .Even in the move from Syria to Jordan, we lost some connection to our religion. If we go to Canada, how can I raise my little sisters in a language and culture I don’t understand?”

Aoife McDonnell, an external relations officer at the UNHCR refugee agency in Jordan, provides the broader context: “Some families are still hoping to return home, others are concerned about their ability to integrate into another country.”

Still complicating matters is the recent transition in Canada’s federal government, from avowedly Conservative to Liberal, just since October. What are potential newcomers from every background to make of the molten lava of our national policy towards them?

For New Brunswick, which has agreed to welcome hundreds of Syrian refugees, the response must be something better than the national standard.

We have jobs that need filling, homes that need building, ideas that need spreading, and hopes that need fulfilling. We must craft the ways and means to assure the next wave of immigrants to this province that we understand – and are prepared to deliver – what they need to survive in the short term and thrive in the long one.

What, in fact, do we have to offer Syrians in New Brunswick? Winter coats and boots are fine. But what of the job and career opportunities? What of educational, linguistic and cultural assistance initiatives?

The single imperative on which all intelligent citizens in this province must concur is immigration. To achieve our commercial and fiscal goals, we simply need more people from around the world to find our friendly place economically efficacious. And we want them to stay.

The question is: How do we persuade them that we’re serious?

Tagged ,
%d bloggers like this: