Attitude: We can do better, says Lord

This was the sub-heading in a Telegraph-Journal article today. The gist of the article:

New Brunswick has lost its can-do attitude and that’s its biggest obstacle to future prosperity, says the man in charge of hustling jobs for the province.

Eloi Duguay, a businessman brought in by the provincial government to be the top mandarin for its economic development efforts, said the province needs an injection of confidence and a global perspective to convince itself that it can be among the best in the world.

Duguay, who has worked out of Toronto as president and executive vice-president with Pattison Sign Group until 2005, has been deputy minister for six months. He said he is convinced that New Brunswick companies can compete with anyone in the world if they can overcome negative messages about the province.”We’ve been told by people from outside of our region that we’re lazy, (that) we receive handouts from the federal government. And that doesn’t help.”

Premier Bernard Lord has defended his government’s record, noting the province’s that historically low unemployment rates, and adding that New Brunswick had Canada’s second-highest increase in weekly earnings in the past seven years.

“Perhaps one area where we’re still not doing enough is letting people know how things have changed and improved,” Lord told the Telegraph-Journal. “I think we can do a better job getting the message out.”

The problem here is simple. It is hard to fake a positive attitude. It can be done but it’s hard. Most people that are in the ‘promoting NB’ biz realize that things are ‘improved’ as the Premier would like NBers to believe:

The population is in decline – has been since 1998. This overarching trend is a drag on attitude.

Many of our traditional industries are in decline or on the verge of decline – leaving serious uncertainty.

Income levels are up but by my calculations the thousands of public sector jobs are artificially driving up these levels.

We are getting more and more dependant on Equalization and Transfers every year. We are not generating even a fraction of the own-source revenue needed to fuel the ever expanding government.

Our job creation rate is among the worst in Canada.

And, finally, I will comment – once again- on that ‘lazy’ and ‘handout’ thing.

First on the ‘handout’ thing. Premier Lord has been, by far, the largest advocate of more ‘handouts’ from Ottawa. In fact, I have to read national newspapers for my job and he is quoted 10 to 1 more than other Atlantic Premiers – demanding more Equalization – shouting about our ‘Constitution right’ to more Ontario and Alberta tax revenue. That – more than any other factor -by far – is why we are seen nationally has begging for ‘handouts’. I for the life of me can’t figure out why Premier Lord wanted to be so visible on this issue. It will hurt his national ambition and will damage the reputation of the province.

Second, the ‘lazy’ thing. As I have said before, in the 30s and 40s, when you went to Boston or Toronto or Alberta for a job – just saying you were from New Brunswick was enough. That automatically meaned you would be a hard and loyal worker. N0w, being from New Brunswick does have that taint of laziness – percieved. I went to a job interview a few years ago in Alberta (a white collar job) and was told by the interviewees that ‘we do things differently around here’ and other such comments. I came to realize they were questioning my work ethic.

How far have we come.

Bill Belliveau unleashed a strong defence of the EI program in today’s Times & Transcript. He called it critical to the success of many of our industries.

Fair enough, Bill. But it doesn’t change the fact that upwards of 100,000 New Brunswickers – on a workforce of 350,000 – avail themselves of the EI program at some point during the year.

I would never advocate severe changes to the EI system. That would throw the economy into chaos and literally close many of the province’s communities.

But I would like to acknowledge that there is a ‘better way’. A way based on year-round employment. Remember the 1940s that I mentioned above? There were seasonal jobs back then, too. The difference was that people worked in the woods in the summer and plowed snow in the winter. Or some other combination. Now, even when there is a shortage, many seasonal workers will not work an off-season job – and the EI program provides disincentives to do so.

So in the end this is not about some PR activity to get people to be more ‘positive’. We need leadership on systemic issues. We need to turn around population decline. We need the government to invest double or triple into economic development.

That will improve the ‘attitude’ of the people much more than some scolding on a quiet summer day in New Brunswick.