The difference between optimism and having your head in the sand

Today’s We Say in the Times and Transcript:

N.B. can meet the challenges it faces and has every reason to be optimistic about our special corner of the world

Future bright for province

It is easy for people to get caught up in the issues of the day and feel passionately about the ills of our society here in New Brunswick – and it is a good thing citizens care enough to do so and take part in the democratic public debate of issues large and small – but on this New Brunswick Day celebrating our home we have an opportunity to put aside those specific issues, step back, relax and reflect on the big picture.

When we do that, much of our cynicism is bound to fade, if not totally disappear, as we recognize just how fortunate and well off we are in this province; how despite whatever problems we must deal with, that progress is being made on all fronts and there is every reason to believe in a bright future ahead.

For New Brunswick has the people and their combined individual and collective wisdom to meet any challenge we face.

Some problems are more persistent and stubborn than others, but as our work continues, we do advance, even if on a day-to-day basis it seems there isn’t all that much to cheer about. It is worth reminding ourselves that it wasn’t many years ago – 30-35 – when one could drive through mile after mile of New Brunswick countryside and, without exaggeration, see tar paper shack after tar paper shack, community after community. Such sights are a rarity today.

Combine the growing economy, albeit not uniformly across the province, with our natural resources and beauty equal to anywhere on Earth, and we have a corner of the world we call home that is abundant in benefits for its citizens. Moreover, our people are renowned for their integrity, honesty, hard work, generosity and caring nature that keeps a kind eye out for fellow citizens.

The modern world does not pass us by yet our New Brunswick way of life maintains the traditions and values that make us unique.

Today, relax, explore your province and enjoy a very happy New Brunswick Day. We’ve all earned it.

You get the crux of Al Hogan’s ideology in this piece. Lulling New Brunswickers to sleep with this kind of dopey, back-slapping commentary does little for New Brunswickers. Much has been said (though not by Al) recently about the declining attitude of New Brunswickers. This has been stated by senior government officials. The reality is that over 70% of our communities are losing population. This takes its toll over time. There is an increasing sense of angst among the cities, towns and villages as their way of life is increasingly threatened by out-migration, declining economies and the inevitable economic and social consequences of that.

Al is right in pointing out that New Brunswick has made great strides in the past 30 years but the increasing dependance on government rather than private industry should be a concern to all New Brunswickers – particularly a self-styled right wing idealogue such as Al Hogan.

But this is not the case and we continue to get in the T&T extremely harsh and critical language around minor issues of planning at the community level and the ultimate in soft-peddling when it comes to provincial issues that go to the very heart of the province’s future.

So, to counter Al’s ‘We Say’, I offer you a new segment entitled “I Say”:

I Say: The future of New Brunswick will be what we make it.

On New Brunswick Day, it is helpful for us to reflect on our accomplishments and our challenges. New Brunswick has come along way in the past 30-40 years. But much of those gains is now threatened by economic decline and the inevitable drop in population and by the unwillingness of government to tackle the issue head on.

In some government circles as well as editorial pages of certain newspapers, there is a growing sense of inevitability around the decline of New Brunswick. Let’s shore up the three urban centres in southern New Brunswick and let the rest of the province slowly dry up, they imply. They are resigned to a new equilibruim. A province with a much smaller population, highly dependant on Equalization and transfer payments.

I envision a new New Brunswick. A New Brunswick that people move to and not from. A New Brunswick that is incubating new and exciting industries not propping up old ones. A New Brunswick that is on the radar for international investment and talent attraction. A New Brunswick that implements best practices in economic development.

Further, I think this is not just a pipe dream but could be a reality. With real leadership, I think we could achieve this vision.

What would it take? It would firstly take belief. Our leaders need to believe in ability of New Brunswick to pull itself out of the rut that it’s in. Not by massive government spending (like the past six years) but by using government as a proactive actor in the development of new private sector industries. By raising the level of overall taxation to fund public priorities.

Fundamentally, our leaders do not believe in the potential of New Brunswickers. That’s the bottom line. That is why they are so passionately looking for a new Equalization deal – because they have given up hope that New Brunswick could ever generate enough tax base locally to pay for its own government services. That’s why they don’t attempt to address the serious problem of out-migration – privately many of them think those people are better off in Alberta. And that’s why they are not spending every waking hour trying to find companies to attract into New Brunswick. Because they don’t believe these firms would ever locate in such a backwards and unappealing place.

I eschew this ideology. I believe New Brunswickers can compete on the world stage just like the Irish or the South Carolinians or the many other regions that have achieved economic development success.

But it takes leadership not more platitudes.

Happy New Brunswick Day.