Tag Archives: New Brunswick

Bye, bye Gritty Beach

Well now, isn’t this a fantastic story of democracy in action?

First, property owners in New Brunswick complain about inexplicable hikes to their land taxes. The public broadcaster (CBC) investigates and finds evidence of incoherent policies. The premier of this province finally announces a new regime to prevent social unrest over this issue in the future. And one of his ministers apologizes fulsomely for any inconvenience.


Who says I’m not happy?

All of which to say is that New Brunswick’s Liberal government is now busy instructing its acolytes and hopefuls on the best, most precise way to lose the next provincial election.

What could possibly have inspired Service New Brunswick to issue unverified property tax assessments to more than 2,000 homeowners in the province? Or, as Robert Jones of the local branch of the public broadcaster reports, “An internal Service New Brunswick email obtained by CBC News shows senior provincial government assessment officials invented renovation amounts for 2,048 homeowners with large assessment increases this spring, allowing the province to evade a legal 10 per cent cap on the homes’ property tax bills.

“The email, written on Feb. 9 by SNB’s residential co-ordinator Matthew Johnson, to 11 mid-level and upper-level assessment officials, says because there was not enough time to have professional assessors find out what, if any, renovations the properties might have undergone before tax bills were issued March 1, it was decided to invent renovation amounts for each home.”

All of which inspired Premier Brian Gallant to lament (again, according to the CBC last week): “The elected officials of government were not aware of what had transpired. We were made aware yesterday.”

Naturally, that prompted Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs to fume: “Not being aware means nothing was happening to protect the citizens of the province. Not being aware is not an excuse. No one cared.”

No, he, she and they did not. And that’s enough to upend a formerly popular, youthful, energetic premier even before the next election campaign fully leaves the station.

To his credit, Mr. Gallant said this earlier this week: “There is clearly a problem and we are going to fix it”. He added that Appeal Court Justice Joseph T. Robertson will head a “review of all policies and procedures related to recent assessment processes.” He also vowed that government factotums will be out of the property assessment business for good. Specifically, he said, “There was clearly a failure of process and communication within Service New Brunswick, and that is why we will be having an independent review to ensure we learn exactly what happened and it can be corrected in the setup of the new independent assessment agency.”

As for Mr. Doherty, he avowed this: “All New Brunswickers need to have confidence in the quality, the accuracy and the transparency of the property tax assessment process.”

No kidding, Sherlock. Still, he continued: “I sincerely apologize to all New Brunswickers. This is a very, very serious matter and as government we will do everything we can to rectify the situation.”

Will heads roll? Not likely. Will government officials be held to account? You know the answer. Apparently, dear reader, we a have a problem here. Will anyone in the province’s public service or legislative and executive branches answer for it? If you believe in miracles, then I have a fantastic offer on the Brooklyn Bridge just waiting for your crowd-sourced bids.

Is this an object lesson of laziness and lassitude in politics as usual? The next election in this province might very well answer that question.

This is, after all, democracy in action.

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Real action on climate change


We can debate the merits of New Brunswick’s new climate action plan until we raise the amount of hot air in the atmosphere to dangerously toxic levels. But, in the end, we are forced – some of us kicking and screaming – to agree that as government proclamations go this is a pretty good one.

Sure, it lacks specificity on what to do with the coal-fired generating station at Belledune (apart from acknowledging a phase-out sometime between 2030 and 2040). And it makes no promises on precisely which form of carbon pricing scheme it intends to adopt (an outright tax or a cap-and-trade system).

But where it falls short in some areas, it compensates in others – a fact that has not escaped the attention of normally arch critics of the provincial Liberals. “The premier needed to go the first minister conference with a good pan in his pocket and he’s got it,” said David Coon, leader of the Green Party of New Brunswick, last week. “It’s a plan he can put on the table alongside the ones the premiers of Ontario, Quebec and Alberta have put together – it is in that league.”

Others, of curse, are not so sure. After all, no one in politics gets a free ride in the plaudits department. As Kevin Lacey, regional spokesperson of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation told the Telegraph-Journal, “No matter what mechanism they choose to price carbon, it will be borne by the average worker who will end up paying the costs. A carbon tax is another in along line of cash grabs by this government. First the HST hike and now this carbon tax will make it harder for working families already struggling to make ends meet.”

Still, the mantra of this government – and, now, every other across the land – is that greening the economy and economic development are not mutually exclusive concepts. As some costs and prices increase, new opportunities for business and job creation emerge. Says Premier Gallant in the statement that accompanied the plan last week: “This will help us combat climate change in a way that respects New Brunswick’s economy, challenges and opportunities.”

In fact, the document is refreshingly declarative on the subject of environmental relief and economic development. “The provincial government will design and implement a clean-technology acceleration strategy that: Builds on early-stage innovation research, development and demonstrations (RD&D); accelerates clean technology commercialization; fosters greater clean technology adoption; and enhances connections and collaboration between business market needs and research expertise to accelerate the development and use of clean, low-carbon technology solutions.”

It will also “Create the conditions for growth and job creation in the areas of clean technology, products and services related to climate change in all sectors such as housing, agriculture, forestry, manufacturing, energy efficiency, renewable energy, information technology and transportation.

It will “Support a culture of innovation to pursue economic opportunities presented by our changing climate such as tools and approaches to adaptation developed in New Brunswick that are marketable elsewhere.”

Meanwhile, it will “Work with the tourism and recreation sector to pursue new opportunities presented by our changing climate and to promote New Brunswick as a world class destination. . .(and) take advantage of the large financial opportunities that exist through reducing energy costs and the potential for reinvesting the savings into New Brunswick’s economy.”

Naturally, there will come a time when this government – should it persist into a second term – will be held to account for its promises of greener pastures and jobs. But for now, the plan to get us there appears both prudent and possible.

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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.

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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’.

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Cybernauts in New Brunswick?


In his well-documented piece for Maclean’s magazine in March, Martin Patriquin – who japes that he “writes about Quebec and sometimes everything else” – makes a distressingly large number of good points about the tattered condition of New Brunswick society.

Naturally, we in “the picture-perfect province” bristle whenever a major, national magazine sets out to shine a light on our evident flaws – just as enthusiastically, perhaps, as we cheer when said magazine periodically rewards our universities with top-of-class status in Canada. (Yeah, go figure).

But Mr. Patriquin’s analysis is bolstered by several instances of “et tu Brute then fall Caesar”, all of them rather, well, revealing.

As quoted by Maclean’s, for example, Mount Allison President Robert Campbell apparently said: “You’d think small would be simple, but New Brunswick is the classic example of how that really isn’t true. For a little province like this, we just can’t get our act together.”

In fact, I know Dr. Campbell a little bit, and he has never effused anything remotely like that about this province to me. Of course, if accurate, his incendiary revelation doesn’t mean he’s now wrong; perhaps he’s simply discerning about whose lap on which he decides to spill the beans.

The same goes for former provincial, Liberal cabinet minister Kelly Lamrock, who Mr. Patriquin reports said this: “We’ve targeted our policies on just getting re-elected and so we prop up failing industries and we bail out failing companies. Atlantic Yarns went under and lost an $80-million loan. The government I was a part of lent $70 million to (Miramichi-based) Atcon, a failing construction company that went under a year later. The Marriott call centre closed. It turns out they were subsidized to the tune of $20,000 a job and just left when the subsidies ran out. And the list goes on. We have generally been about keeping the majority of people comfortable rather than attracting new people.”

Still, in the midst of this completely understandable ‘self-loathing-palooza-festiva’ comes word that all may not be lost to the furies of chance and negligence in this province. For one thing, we always have the cybersecurity industry – hacking the hackers ­ – on which to fall back. Don’t take my word for it. A guy from Israel was scheduled to say as much at a conference in Fredericton just last week.

Actually, Roni Zehavi, who runs something called CyberSpark, said it first in a pre-event interview with Brunswick News: “The first thing is to have a dedicated entity within the province. In our (Israel’s) case, it was establishing a non-governmental organization like CyberSpark that is in charge of establishing a logistical system and serves the table with the people around it and dedicated to growth.” His bottom-line message: “The government made a decision.”

Back to New Brunswick, where governments make decisions all the time – some of which are wise, even prescient.

The cybersecurity industry, or something like it, is not new to New Brunswick. Government-enabled investments here in the 1990s installed some of the most sophisticated IT infrastructure anywhere in the western world. Clusters of technology excellence soon developed around the province’s major cities. These persist, and with a little intellectual elbow grease they can take a bite out of a global industry that is, according to credible sources, expected to double in size from current values to $170 billion.

As Mr. Zehavi says, “I look at cyber like health care.”

New Brunswick might well look at cyber as a lifeline to long-term economic health, before the next major magazine in this country pronounces us all but brain dead.


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No room at the inn


A dangerously divisive tendency raises its ugly head whenever people’s lives are on the line. It’s understandable. But that should not mean that we succumb to the point-counter-point of public stupidity.

When the mayors of Moncton and Fredericton, New Brunswick, ask the federal government to slow the stream of Syrian refugees into their urban areas, they do so with heavy hearts, not light heads.

They do so because their own community advisors have told them that their cities are simply not equipped to accommodate hundreds of newcomers in such a short period.

They do so because they know that those who will suffer most are not the apartment complex owners or hoteliers, but the refugees, themselves – the last people anyone wants to see jumping from the Middle Eastern frying pan into the cold, baleful fire of a late Maritime winter.

Yet, here we are, witnessing another disgraceful display of politics-as-usual in New Brunswick.

In a speech earlier this month, Premier Brian Gallant took a backhanded swipe at both Moncton and Fredericton city officials, declaring, “First off, we should remind ourselves that taking in Syrian refugees is the right thing to do. We have a role to play as a country to help these people who are living in a terrible situation. Secondly, this is good for New Brunswick. We have an aging population – more people means more people in our workforce, more people buying and our economy expanding.”

With all due respect Mr. Premier, but have you spent any time in the communities you purport to represent?

No one, and I mean no one, is raising the ugly specter of xenophobia (even as you quite casually equate desperate refugees with a jobs-boom opportunity in the province).

Syrian newcomers across this province, this country, are bivouacking in hotels where there’s nothing to do, no one to talk to, no schools to speak of, and little food they can tolerate. Community leaders and charitable groups are running themselves ragged not to bend over to refugee demands, but to compensate for the appalling lack of logistical support from all levels of the Canadian government – especially the federal one.

As Rouba Al-Fattal, a part-time professor of Middle East and Arab politics at the University of Ottawa, wrote in the Globe and Mail recently,How many of the first 25,000 (Syrians) have been resettled (in Canada), and how effectively will they be helped?

“More than 1,000 of the newcomers are living in temporary housing. And we still have a shortage of family doctors, a lack of proper dental care for low-income adults and a lack of subsidized daycare spaces for parents who want to learn English. University-age refugees, or those who already have foreign degrees, can’t afford our postsecondary system, sending many to low-income jobs instead. What future do refugees have without proper language training, Canadian education or Canadian work experience?”

The knee-jerk reaction of politicians – if you’re against our latest, bumble-headed policies, programs and procedures to lighten the load on the most disadvantaged among us, then you must be against the most disadvantaged among us – is rhetoric at its most despicable.

Governments: Fix the housing problem, the educational problem, the social integration problem, the language problem for refugees and immigrants, alike. That’s how you make earnest citizens, frankly, of everyone.

As for the vast majority of Moncton and Fredericton residents, we can’t wait to provide this new wave of newcomers everything a decent, tolerant life in a peaceful, open society offers.

We just wish our federal government, and some of its provincial mouthpieces, had come to the same conclusion.

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N.B.’s immigration Catch-22

As New Brunswick needs immigrants the way a marathoner needs water, crossing the economic-development finish line is a goal that’s proving increasingly elusive.

Now, it seems, the province’s own systemic weaknesses and failings are taking a bitterly ironic toll on its ability to bolster its population and, therefore, productive workforce.

While spokespeople of either level of government are loath to publicly admit it, the problem is an outcropping of federal-provincial relations.

Ottawa sets the quota of newcomers for which each province and territory qualifies. These caps are largely, though not exclusively, based on demographic trends. Jurisdictions with relatively high populations, and growing job markets, qualify for correspondingly high numbers of foreign residents. In this context, New Brunswick finds itself queasily parked behind the immigration eight ball.

According to a CBC report last summer, “The departure of young people has quietly helped transform New Brunswick into Canada’s fastest-shrinking province. Statistics Canada says while Canada has grown by a million people in the last three years, New Brunswick has shrunk by 3,497.

“That’s equivalent to the entire population of the Town of Dalhousie, and double the decline experienced by Canada’s other two shrinking provinces – Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. Statistics Canada’s Patrick Charbonneau says the most recent numbers, which show the province lost 941 people during the first three months of 2015, is not only the biggest decline in the country, but the worst quarter the province has recorded in 35 years.

‘It’s the strongest decline since 1980,’ said Charbonneau.”

Meanwhile, according to another CBC report last month, “New Brunswick’s unemployment rate jumped to 9.3 per cent in January as the economy shed 1,100 jobs, (said) Statistics Canada. The monthly labour force report showed the province lost 4,600 full-time jobs to start 2016 and gained 3,500 part-time jobs. The overall unemployment rate rose to 9.3 per cent up from 8.9 per cent in December. . . The participation rate, which is the number of adults in the labour force or actively trying to get a job, of 62.3, is lower than provinces with stronger economies.”

All of which militates against New Brunswick’s chances of boosting the number of immigrants it can welcome to its shores – a requirement Premier Brian Gallant, himself, has said will be crucial to rebuilding the provincial economy.

“New Brunswick is facing a number of significant population challenges, including youth outmigration and a population which is aging at one of the fastest rates in Canada,” he said last year, as reported in the Saint John Telegraph-Journal. “When retirees leave the workforce, we must access new workers to ensure our economy thrives. As youth outmigration trends are projected to remain high, we are looking towards immigration as a tool for building our workforce.”

In fact, though, the federal government has only recently refused to reconsider the number of immigrants allocated each year, through the Provincial Nominee Program, to New Brunswick.

Said a spokesperson for Immigration Minister John McCallum in a Telegraph-Journal piece earlier this month: “Provinces and territories were consulted on 2016 levels in the summer and fall of 2015 and in early 2016. Their views were incorporated into the plan and the Provincial Nominee Program levels were maintained at 2015 levels.”

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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.

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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.

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Whose party is this?


It should surprise exactly no one in New Brunswick that political parties do their level best to differentiate themselves from their opponents by any means necessary. After all, this province, New Brunswick, has been staging periodic vote-fests longer than almost any other jurisdiction in Canada.

Rarely, however, have the substantive policy differences among the three, leading federal camps – Conservative, Liberal and New Democrat – been as vanishingly small as they are today. And this presents New Brunswickers – owners of one of the nation’s least robust regional economies, and one of the most burdened by debt and deficit – with a special chore: Choosing who among these federal courtesans is most likely to doff his cap to the ancient regime of this country; the East Coast.

Shall we all just hold our breath?

New Brunswick’s social and economic challenges are both specific and articulated: High unemployment; low commercial productivity; high rates of illiteracy and innumeracy; low interest in anything remotely resembling renewable energy technology; high levels of disaffection with public institutions; low tolerance for civil-service cutbacks; high disdain for politicians, in general; low sympathy for elected representatives who purport to get things done by upending the status quo.

Under the circumstances, then, why would any party that seriously seeks power vary in form or substance from any other – except, of course, in what they tell the great unwashed at election time?

What they tell us now could fill a thimble for relevance and actual change.

Here come the Tories, barking at New Brunswickers that their jobs-ready, economic action plan has, over the past eight years, saved this province from perdition. Their implied motto is simply this: It could have been worse.

Here come the Grits, insisting that New Brunswickers will be much better off than they have been if only they will giddily throw themselves into the red tide that will surely swamp the Maritimes. Their message is: It can be better, though exactly how. . .well, we’ll get back to you on that.

Finally, comes the third rail (which, incidentally, looks an awful lot like the first and second), the NDippers. They want us to believe that New Brunswick and the rest of the Maritimes are overdue for a massive transformation. Let us, then, agree to abolish the Senate and see how well that works out for us.

Oddly enough, that was an essentially Conservative idea not so very long ago, and even a Liberal one for an Ottawa minute when Justin Trudeau kicked out every Grit senator from his sitting caucus, again, not so very long ago.

As for New Brunswick’s particular social and economic woes, no federal party has yet made a convincing case that this province’s hard and trenchant issues matter more to them than found money on a summertime beach along the Bay of Fundy (which, like substance in political rhetoric, is also rare these days).

What actually distinguishes each federal contender from the other is a media play; crafted and acted before cameras, packaged for YouTube, and meant to be taken with a large barrel of salt.

Jobs are good, so say we all. Unemployment is bad, so say we all. Innovation and productivity must be the urgent concern, so say we all.

Crime? Boo!

Victims? We feel their pain.

Health care? Of course, it’s necessary.

Literacy, numeracy, trust in public institutions? Yup, we have our work cut out for us on that, too.

Still, choose me. I wear the red sweater, or the blue one, or the orange one. The difference is immense.

Even if it’s all the same to you.

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