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.