A Peasant Girl Gathering Faggots in a Wood

Warning: Rant ahead. Probably among the most caustic I have written in a while. Most likely because it is my 40th birthday this week and almost the 18th anniversary of my taking a job at the NB Dept. of Economic Development. I had sent out over 300 resumes and hadn’t even received an interview and was two weeks away from packing up the ’75 Chev Nova and moving back to Alberta. But I got a two month gig writing proposals for companies looking to move to New Brunswick and I got hooked by the bug. By the notion that communities could come together and turn things around. Move things ahead.

Funny stuff. 18 years of standing on soap boxes. Yelling and screaming to any and all that would listen. And what has changed in 18 years? On the good side, unemployment is down significantly driven by call centres, an increasing bloating public sector and 16 straight years of more people moving out than moving in. Provincial budget deficits are now more or less gone but Equalization and other Federal Transfers are up by over a $1 billion/year. We have just replaced own-source revenue gaps with more federal largess which will undoubtedly some day dry up.

On the bad side, we are nowhere near the economic transformation that McKenna was promising. Not even close to the economic transformation that Lord was promising and sputtering into another round of transformational promise making.

I just finished Poitras’ Beaverbrook piece and my reaction is near anger. Maybe it’s because I am 40. Maybe it’s because I have spent 18 years in the ‘economic development’ business with no impact. Maybe. But I am getting sick and tired of being a charity case for old farts and their money. I am tired of being a charity case for Federal government Equalization. I am tired of New Brunswick being a place where these richies had summer homes and put up monuments to themselves to help the poor farmers and fishermen. Two generations later that same fealty seeking lineage is calling us “a widening in the road”. Frig that.

I want New Brunswick to be place where people move into to make their fortune. Then go spend some proceeds on third world charity. My stomach turned when I read about some of the grovelling that went on by politicians and community leaders to extract a few bucks out of that old Beaverbrook tycoon.

I want to live in a place where the private sector is growing faster than the public sector. Now public spending is growing twice as fast as private spending. A colleague and I drove around one of the posh new neighbourhoods in Dieppe recently. He pointed out the houses. A doctor lives there. A surgeon there. A government worker there. A couple who both work for the Feds over there. Along that street, three out of every four of the $500k+ houses were occupied by people that draw their salaries from the public purse.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t begrudge anyone their salary and housing situation. If I worked for the feds, I would take the salary without a second thought. This isn’t about that. This is about the fact that something is wrong when the richest people in the poshest neighbourhoods work taxpayer funded jobs. There is something wrong with the private sector when this is the case. There is something decidedly wrong when the richest county (as measured by income levels) in New Brunswick is in Frederiction – where there is by far the highest concentration of government workers.

We need a private sector that creates good jobs. But more than that, it needs to create entrepreneurs. Folks to exploit niches in fast growing economies and make abnormal profits until there is equilibrium. Real, old time capitalism at its best. Not this crap we see now with big bailouts and a few bucks to help kids start skateboarding retail stores.

You know my position on this. I believe that we need a far better mix of big, multinational firms to help spur entrepreneurship, help attract back people and provide a strong economy moving forward.

And I am tired of trying to convince people of this basic and most fundamental facts of economic development 18 years later. My knuckles are bleeding and my eyes are bloodshot folks. And we are haggling over a basic economic precept that the new US south figured out in the 1980s. That Ireland figured out in the 1970s. That Ontario discovered at the turn of the last Century.

Back to A Peasant Girl Gathering Faggots in a Wood. Poitras’ describes visiting this loss. Read about it. I won’t spoil it. But let me say this. If I had the money I’d fly over to that gallery in Manchester and buy it on the spot and bring it back to our province. Poitras calls it a metaphor. He’s right. It is a metaphor. It’s a metaphor for what happens when you think like a loser. Think like a loser. Act like a loser. Be a loser.

I want New Brunswick to be a winner. But it needs to think like a winner. It needs to act like a winner. “We can’t compete with Nova Scotia or Quebec on incentives” I hear constantly. “Why would an auto plant ever want to come here” they say with their noses in the metaphorical dirt paying homage to Beaverbrook. “We can’t attract manufacturing. It’s all going offshore” even has hundreds of new plants were build across Canada and the United States last year. “Come and take animation at the NBCC Miramichi” we are told. “You will have national and international career opportunities”. Just not local opportunities. “Come take civil engineering at NBCC Moncton”, a friend of mine was told. “Our graduates are at work across Canada in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and beyond”. Big friggin’ deal.

Oh, by the way. Merry Christmas.