Tag Archives: outmigration

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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Can we go ‘up the road’ for a change?

They queued in long, broken lines, some still bleary from the shanks of many recent  evenings of farewells. Some stood, laden down with boxes and suitcases; others carried their entire lives in their wallets and satchels. Each waited patiently for his individual moment of truth to arrive.

At five o’clock on an iron-cold January morning, it was hard to believe that the most vibrant place – where the cultural, social and economic roads converged – in New Brunswick’s Hub City had become the boarding lounge of the Greater Moncton International Airport.

Here the infamous provincial diaspora was well underway: hundreds of young, middle-aged and elderly people voting on their respective futures with their feet.

Sure, some declared that they would one day return from Alberta’s dirty brown fields of opportunity. But just as many or more insisted that they were leaving for good.

“There just isn’t any point in staying,” one traveller told me. “The jobs aren’t here, and most of my family is out west, now, anyway.”

Added another: “I don’t get a sense of any direction or vision in New Brunswick. I mean, what’s the overall plan for the economy?”

Still another captured the zeitgeist of the moment perfectly: “I’m just tired.”

That’s it, isn’t it? We’ve all grown bone weary: utterly, achingly tired.

We’re tired of politicians making promises they can’t possibly keep. We’re tired of tabulating the province’s $538-million annual deficit and $11-billion longterm debt. We’re tired of public sector cutbacks that either go too far or don’t go far enough and, in any case, don’t seem to make a lick of difference.

It is so much easier to heed the siren’s call, beckoning us to leave, to move and never to return.

Why, out in Fort McMurray, if one played his cards right, one could become a project engineer or a maintenance coordinator or an electrical engineer or a mine maintenance manager.

Why, out in Fort Mac, where the tundra mice play, one could earn $100,000 a year driving a truck.

What’s keeping us here? Tradition? Roots? Family ties?

Sentimental nonsense! Off we go and (not looking back), good riddance!

In fact, we have a point, though it’s not an especially novel one.

Outmigration has been one of New Brunswick’s (indeed, all of Atlantic Canada’s) signature demographic features for 150 years. Wave upon wave of Maritimers and Newfoundlanders have left their homes in the East to build new ones in new communities in the West. This transfer of knowledge, skills and capital is what built Canada’s great industries, institutions and infrastructure, from the CNR to the drilling derricks of the oil sands.

What’s unique about the current exodus, however, is that, nowadays, few western-bound sojourners seem particularly interested in the fundamental reasons for our regional ennui. Fewer still are willing to risk their livelihoods and living standards by staying put and lending a hand in what surely must become The Great and Awesome Fix of New Brunswick, circa 2014.

For, without exaggeration, this is what’s required: a thorough overhaul not only of the way we spend public dollars and account for public programs, but of the way we govern ourselves and even of the expectations we create and maintain for ourselves and our neighbours.

In this, our finest resource may well be the self-reliance for which we have, until recently, been known. From this has stemmed the optimism, energy, derring-do and entrepreneurial courage and savviness that is always necessary to people who want to get important things done.

Important things like a downtown multi-purpose events centre for this city, a facility that Toronto developer and Moncton native Vaughn MacLellan hopes to complement with his own in the near future.

“We believe that the property is ideal for high density, multi-use office, retail and multi-residential development,” he told the Moncton Times & Transcript the other day. “At the end of the day, we want to try to create a lively, energetic area where people live, work and play.”

And not, dare we hope, find ourselves too tired to grab our future by the scruff and give it a good shake.

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