Fraser closes Edmundston paper mill

It’s a scary thought but one that has been predicted for years. The natural resources based industries that have propped up New Brunswick’s economy for years are in decline. The latest example is the closure of the Fraser paper mill in Edmundston.

The Premier talks about the need to diversify the economy. The former Premier talked about the need to diversify the economy. I have no doubt that ol’ Hatfield himself probably talked about the need to diversify the economy.

My question is this. Why don’t they do anything about it? Maybe Premier Lord ideologically thinks that governments have no role in economic development. Maybe he thinks that communities should sink or swim in the proverbial sense. Fine. Then don’t talk about diversifying the economy because there is no single private sector actor in the local economy that will do that. Private sector businesses are out to make money. They are out to grow their personal business. Or, in the case of Fraser, they will downsize to cut costs and stabilize their share price.

Government, as the central actor in a community (the one that provides ‘public’ services) is the only organization that can reach above the fray of the daily vagaries of industry and plot a plan for the community’s development beyond specific companies. That’s not to say that governments create jobs or governments should take full responsibility for economic development. It’s just to say that governments, as representative of the community as a whole, should be best positioned to work on collective problems – like the rescuing of a declining economy.

And don’t tell me that’s the role of ‘chambers of commerce’. I know too well that chamber of commerce are out for their membership and if that interest contradicts the interest of the community at large, so be it. A recent example of that was when Molson’s was announced for Moncton. A Chamber person critized the government giving money to Molson’s when they should be ‘giving it to small businesses’. Guess what. He’s a small business. He has a vested interest. He should not be in charge of planning and implementing community economic development strategy.

So back to my point. Words are nice. But words represent a beginning – not an end. The next time somebody talks about ‘diversifying’ the economy ask them how? Ask them when? Ask them who?

Maybe I am just getting old and cynical but I hear these guys speak and I am just amazed. Politicians talking about how 2005 is shaping up to be the best year in the past 30 for job growth. Where? Edmundston? Tracadie? Saint John? A few new retail and service jobs in Moncton and new government jobs in Fredericton will not offset the decline elsewhere.

I am begging for a politician – Tory, Liberal, NDP, Green, whatever – to come out and candidly talk with New Brunswickers about the state of the union. This endless stream of cliches and prepackaged press releases followed by numb reporting doesn’t get us anywhere.