Tag Archives: debt

Good habits become us

Permanent winter for a Moncton events centre?

The world may be a dangerous place, full of gnashing teeth, but unless you’re fond of swimming with crocodiles, the chances that you’ll die from anything Mother Nature throws at you are slim to none.

In fact, all the evidence convincingly shows that when it comes to tempting fate, human agency is all it takes to do anyone in; indeed, our own bad habits are dispatching ever greater numbers of us with each passing year.

An NBC report back in September put it this way: “Americans may worry about pollution and harmful chemicals in their air and water, but a new study of the major causes of death confirms what most doctors know: We are our own worst enemies. The leading causes of death have to do with bad habits, including smoking, poor diet and a lack of exercise, the report from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington finds.”

According to Statistics Canada, the leading causes of death in this country – barring accidents – are all related, in some way, to the trials and gauntlets to which we willingly subject ourselves: tobacco, alcohol, narcotics, poor diet, overwork, sleep deprivation, even sitting around on our ever-expanding derrieres.

Here what a CBC piece reported last year: “Sitting on one’s butt for a major part of the day may be deadly in the long run – even with a regimen of daily exercise, researchers say. In an analysis that pooled data from 41 international studies, Toronto researchers found the amount of time a person sits during the day is associated with a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and death, regardless of regular exercise. ‘More than one half of an average person’s day is spent being sedentary, sitting,’ said Dr. David Alter, a senior scientist at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, who helmed the analysis.”

Still, our tendency to form bad habits need not only lead to our early demise. We’re so adept in the risky-business department that even the way we ritualistically approach our economic and social challenges and opportunities could injure us in palpable ways. It could, plainly, bankrupt us, render our public institutions unworkable, or undermine our faith in our system of government.

We’re not quite there in New Brunswick, but I wonder if there is not some correlation between the fact that residents of this province are more prone than their fellow citizens elsewhere in Canada to drop dead from a preventable disease and the fact that our socio-economic grid and public finances are also reeling under a clutch of preventable causes.

After all, if we’re prone to ignore the facts about our physical health, and embrace our addictions (nicotine, booze, sugar), how less likely are we to comport ourselves similarly when it comes to deficit spending?

Shortly, New Brusnwickers will have the chance to steel themselves to the reality of their shared circumstances in this province, as the Liberal government of Brian Gallant prepares to apply some version of cold turkey. The degree of the cuts and tax hikes, which are sure to come, remains to be seen, as does their long-term effectiveness in a jurisdiction that spends more than $600 million a year just servicing its more than $12 billion debt.

But there can be no doubt that austerity and self-denial will become the new normal.

Make no mistake, detoxing from profligacy addiction will be rough. Still, it won’t be anything like quitting cigarettes (trust me).

And with our bad habits behind us, we have a chance to form some good ones for a change.

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Running to the end of our rope

 

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In the race to nowhere, few places in Canada perform better than dear, old, fusty New Brunswick. In fact, when it comes to crossing the line that separates progress from perdition, ours is the Kenyan marathoner of provinces.

Don’t let a recent forecast from the Conference Board of Canada (CBC) fool you, either. That august body now predicts that New Brunswick’s economy is preparing to mount a turnaround, of sorts, this year.

Here’s the quote from the organization that’s setting certain politicos and pundits in the province all a twitter: “New investment is boosting the forestry sector. . .The provincial labour market, which has been hemorrhaging jobs over the last four years, is beginning to recover. Along with an improved investment outlook, consumer demand should pick up, allowing real GDP to advance by a modest 1.1 per cent this year.”

Note the preferred diction: The Board said “modest” growth, not “buoyant” or “great guns” or “blistering” or “spectacular” or even “moderate”. Other jurisdictions showing similar expansionary tendencies include the Czech Republic and Portugal.

Still, it was enough to encourage Blaine Higgs, the province’s minister of finance, who told the Saint JohnTelegraph-Journal, “We do see those same economic trends that are starting to turn. We bottomed out a few months ago. We saw the trends start to flatten out and start to shift upwards.”

Of course, that’s what GDP trends do; they. . .well, trend. The direction they take depends on the level of capital investment governments and/or the private sector pour into the economy, export performance and consumer spending. 

Fortunately, these indicators have been improving. But for how long?

New Brunswick’s ups and downs are nothing new. Still, over the years, we’ve grown inured to, even complacent with, certain conditions in our broad, social mosaic that contribute both directly and indirectly to our persistent economic vulnerability.

We have, for example, a real chip on our shoulder about what we think we have a right to receive from our various levels of government. Our ecosystems of entitlement are spectacularly intertwined and breathtakingly intricate. This has, in no mean way, pushed our long term public debt to an absurd $12 billion and our annual deficit to an effectively permanent $500 million.

Then, naturally, when governments start taking away our toys and begin cutting our playtime, we complain bitterly about the quality of political leadership, a habit of mind that inevitably leads to Premier David Alward’s ignoble showing in a recent Angus Reid Global poll on his popularity, compared with others in his class across Canada: second to last, at 29 per cent, behind Greg Selinger of Manitoba (26 per cent).

That level of acrimony reflects how stunningly distrustful we have become; how wary we have grown over the years of governments as faithful economic stewards. The consequences are almost tediously predictable.

A difficult, yet worthy, proposition four years ago to sell the province’s power utility and settle, in one fell swoop, $4 billion in longterm debt, mutates into a ridiculous debate over corporate patriation and sends the reigning Liberals into the wilderness.

The victorious Tories fare hardly better during their first term as they work to warm public attitudes toward hydraulic fracturing in the nascent shale gas industry – an industry that could one day employ hundreds of people and contribute millions of dollars to the economy and to provincial coffers in the form of taxes and royalties.

The issue literally blows up by the side of the road as protestors, echoing the views of many New Brunswickers, insist that the government can’t be trusted to mitigate the risks of the drilling technologies.

Meanwhile, we chug along, stupefyingly oblivious to the fact that we are now the proud owners of the highest outmigration rate among young people in Canada and one of the highest adult illiteracy rates in North America.

Oddly enough, New Brusnwick is also home to one of the highest concentrations of successful mentoring agencies in the country. 

Perhaps, then there’s hope. It may yet be within our means to turn the tide of this perennial race to nowhere.

 

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Sticking out our economic chin

Oh yeah, baby, we are stuck where the sun don't shine

Oh yeah, baby, we are stuck where the sun don’t shine

Of course, precisely 11 months before the next provincial election in New Brunswick, the urgent conversation would have to shift, the channel change, the page turn. After all,  there’s only so much bad news one person can digest before he succumbs to the hallucinogen of wishful thinking.

Now, the question for all to ponder is whether we are, at base, a glass-half-empty or a glass-half-full kind of folk. And in so doing, the campaign slogans of yore will no longer suffice. We will no longer respond to heady promises of prosperity any more than we will believe desperate warnings of imminent penury.

Right down the middle, between all possible extremes of human circumstance, is where we are and where we want to stay. The political party that understands the true power of self-delusion will win the day, as it brands its march to the ballot box with a few, well-chosen words: “Hey, here in New Brunswick, it could be worse.”

The province’s annual deficit is now projected to reach $499.9 million by the end of fiscal 2013, the result of lower-than-expected revenue. “That’s due mainly to weaker than anticipated results from NB Power,” Finance Minister Blaine Higgs told reporters last week. “We’ve had this information on the first quarter for a few weeks but we were intending to be able to line it up to the year-end results from last year.”

As for the three-month period ending this month, he’s no more sanguine: “We’ve seen some signs of growth in sectors like in the forestry sector, but I’m not expecting a huge uplift in revenue for the second quarter.”

Cheer up, though: .

“If we had not made that decision (to cut government spending) early on, looking at the continued economic performance and the issues of revenue, we as a province would be in very dire straits,” Premier David Alward reassured the press corps.

Unsaid, but implicit, was the proposition that a province of 756,000 souls, with an annual lien of half-a-billion bucks and a structural long-term debt approaching $12 billion, is not, technically speaking, in dire straights. Clearly, Mr. Alward’s definition of the word ‘dire’ departs somewhat from the Fraser Insititute’s, which concluded in April, “It’s hard to deny that New Brunswick’s finances are in a dire state.”

Indeed, wrote the Vancouver-based think tank, “The province has splashed red ink every year since 2008/09. . .With the provincial government persistently spending beyond its means, New Brunswick’s net debt (financial liabilities minus assets) is set to dramatically increase from a recent low of $6.7 billion in 2006/07 (25.4 per cent of GDP) to $11.6 billion in 2013/14 (34.2 per cent).”

On the other hand, that’s just the Fraser Institute: Always raining on everyone’s parade. Should we more properly worry that we continue to lose the tax base we need to get our finances shipshape and Bristol fashion?

This week, Statistics Canada reported that New Brunswick shed 947 people during the 12-month period ending July 1, 2013. Michael Haan, a population expert at the University of New Brunswick, told the Telegraph-Journal, “I would estimate we will see year-over-year declines for the next five years or so. We are at a point in history where we have a large group at the age of migration. The baby boomers’ children are between 15 and 30 now. The prime year for moving is around 28.”

Again, however, it could be worse. The year before, New Brunswick lost more than 2,000 people to better jobs and rosier opportunities in Ontario and Alberta. Besides, at least we’re not Greece or even Spain where, as Bloomberg Businessweek reported in June, “The nation’s population fell last year for the first time since records began in 1971, and the main reason was an 18 per cent increase in the number of foreign nationals leaving the country. Romanians, Moroccans, and Ecuadorians led the way out.”

Rest assured, gentle reader, all is not woe in New Brunswick.

In fact, given our stubbornly sunny disposition, it’s remarkable we’re not all on skid row.

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