My Ode a l’Acadie

I had the pleasure of going to see the Festival acadien de Caraquet’s Ode a l’Acadie this weekend. It was awesome. These are truly gifted muscians and performers. However, as is usually the case, my mind wandered during a particularly slow song to economic development issues. These artists, each one, recounted the communities of their birth with great fondness. Places like Edmundston, Bathurst, Tracadie-Sheila, Mont-Carmel (in PEI), Caraquet. These communities have been incubators of top notch artistic talent. In addition, many (perhaps the majority) of New Brunswick’s new crop of successful entrepreneurs were born and raised in these communities.

Why then are we doing almost nothing to try and keep these communities alive? In just five years from 1996 to 2001, almost all of these communities suffered population decline (Edmundston down 2%, Bathurst down 6%, Caraquet down 4.5%, Tracadie-Sheila down 1%, Baie-Sainte-Anne down 5%, etc.). Yes, it is true that a large percentage of the Acadians have migrated to the Greater Moncton region but what long term advantage is there to emptying out these distinctly Acadian communities?

My Ode a l’Acadie goes something like this. The Acadians have shown tremendous reslience and have brought forward their culture in a powerful way – particularly in the last two generations. But the slow death of these Acadian communities (at the current rate of population decline, most of these communities will be almost non-existent in one or two generations) will prompt even faster out-migration and many people will end up in places like Toronto, Calgary and the U.S. where they will have a greater risk of losing their community and culture.

The great Acadian experiment hinges on having a vibrant economy on which to build this community and culture. Without a strong economic foundation, community and culture cannot thrive. We must do much more to fortify the economy of Acadie. Anchored in Greater Moncton but spreading northward around the top of New Brunswick and in communities in PEI and Nova Scotia. We need more business investment, more entrepreneurship, more skilled workers. We need less EI and other welfare schemes that provide some economic stimulus but in the long run only accelerate the decline.

While the Premier polishes his national image and his cabinet ministers like Elvy and Jeannot spend their days preoccupied with the minute details of government (potholes, hospitals, etc.), the underlying economic problems are going unaddressed.

This new economic assault on Acadie may not be as stark as the one carried out by Colonel Monkton (yes, in a small historical ironic twist, the namesake of the new capital of Acadie) but it may ultimately prove as challenging to Acadian culture – as once again Acadians are dispersed across North America – this time for economic reasons.