Depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is

I am not going to write a long post on this issue of emptying northern New Brunswick. It’s all over the papers, radio and even a few blogs. My position on the need for strong regions in New Brunswick is well known if you read this blog.

What I will do is remind you of something.

The comments about emptying central and northern New Brunswick were met, I am sure, with great surprise and support by many people in urban New Brunswick. The logic is that there has been too much money spent over the years propping up rural NB at the expense of urban NB.

There is some truth to this. For political or other reasons, historically in New Brunswick there has been this need (again realize that almost 60% of New Brunswickers do not live in Greater Moncton, Greater SJ or Freddy Beach) to have an airport, a major hospital, regional government offices, a high school, good highways, a port (where applicable), multiple bridges (where there’s water) – in every single community in New Brunswick. Tack on to this, again a political need, to provide income support (EI) so that people without year round employment could stick around and at least make a subsistance wage.

So, in a nutshell, it’s true that it costs more of the public purse for Caraquet or Bathurst to exist than Moncton or Saint John. That’s true.

But my point is this.

Governments exist to redistribute. That’s their primary function. Take from one area of society and give to another. Take from rich, give to poor. Take from healthy and give to sick. Take from young and give to old. Take from the person with no kids to pay for the education of someone with kids. Take from urban and give to rural. Take from rich suburb and give to poor inner city. Take from Ontario give to New Brunswick. Take from Moncton give to northern NB. Take from one neighbour and give to another.

But, I would add, this, in my opinion, and in large part, is what makes our society great. We do not create these massive disparities in income, place, education, etc. as are found in other societies.

However, Francis McGuire’s underlying point is quite valid. I just differ on solutions.

Consider an apt analogy. Northern NB gets far more Equalization and EI per capita than southern NB. Therefore, there are three solutions (or a combination of all three): 1. Reduce the costs across a similar population base, 2. Empty the population (and reduce the costs) or 3. Make an effort to fix the structural economic problems that created this disparity to begin with.

I prefer a combination approach. I think we need a ‘new deal’ with the communities in New Brunswick. In this deal all communities in New Brunswick would not take as their inalienable right things such as hospitals, airports, high schools, regional government offices, fourlane highways, ports, etc. They would agree – collectively – that this type of infrastructure needs to be based on population and catchment. For example, studies have shown that people will drive up to two hours to get to a good airport (consider Pearson as an example) without feeling considerable hardship. Above two hours, then it becomes a little more problematic. So, for New Brunswick, we need to ensure that the vast majority of NBers are within two hours of an airport. Similar benchmarks could be set up for hospitals, schools, ports, four lane highways, regional government offices, etc.

That’s the communities’ bit.

On the other hand, the province would commit to work hard and diligently on solving the structural, regional economic problems and commit to make every effort to ensure that these communities actually survive and thrive economically (read 94 previous blogs on this subject).

That’s the province’s bit.

No more complaining that community x gets everything. No more bitter battles over the location of infrastructure. No more complaints. All of these decisions would be made by an apolitical board of infrastructure based on logical and well published criteria.

Then Miramichi, Tracadie, Caraquet, Campbellton, Bathurst, Edmundston, Woodstock, Sussex, Sackville, Shediac and all other other towns in between could get on with the business of growing the province and doing so with an efficient public cost structure.

Fundamentally, the bargain would come down to this. People outside the urban centres would have to get used to driving 30 minutes to an hour for government services and heck, maybe even for a job. In return, they get a commitment from government do work hard on helping their community’s survive.

As I have said before, people will drive 2 hours to save 35 cents on toilet paper at the Costco but they won’t drive 20 minutes for a job*. That has to change.

*I did an analysis a few years ago that should that unemployment in communities surrounding Moncton (within a 20-40 minute drive) was as much as double or even higher than urban Moncton.