On McKenna

There’s an X factor in politics. Something that cuts across policies, dogma and ideology. There was something about Frank McKenna that made a few of us (maybe a lot of us) think that New Brunswick could be a leader instead of a laggard. Could be a place that was a magnet for people and investment not a repellant. Could be a place to be proud of not always in defensive mode (sorry if that last one sounds like Michelle Obama but I do spend a fair share of time arguing the case for NB with folks outside the province).

When you deconstruct it was Frank’s time in office transformational? Are we, now 11 years out reaping the benefits of the outstanding policies and legislation that were put in place?

I won’t cover that again except to say that I think a realistic assessment of Frank’s time in office would be mixed. Certainly, his focus on economic development was needed and should have been sustained after his retirement.

But his personal charisma and much of his language (I am not talking about French and English) pointed us in a positive direction. That has, in my opinion, slipped somewhat in recent years.

There are a lot more shrugged shoulders these days. Resignation that we are unlikely to really see much change in the way things are done.

A quick anecdote – maybe illustrative maybe not. For a project I am working on I had to review the industrial park profiles put out for the parks in Nova Scotia. These are provincial documents – professionally done but with some interesting text.

Under the heading “Rail Access” instead of just putting “no”, the profiles (remember these are marketing documents meant to extol the virtues of the industrial parks) state things like “CN stopped offering rail service in 1990s” or “there are no plans to offer rail to this park” and “CN is not planning to put a spur from the main line” and other strangely out of place comments in a marketing brochure. It’s almost like mischievous bureaucrat trying to rub it in that CN tore up the tracks – but sent through the wrong medium. CN is never going to read these industrial park profiles.

It’s a little thing but it points to a broader attitude in this part of the world that stuff can’t really get done here. I hear it all that time. “That can’t happen here.” “‘Why would they want to invest here?” “If I were Microsoft, I wouldn’t put a development studio here.” And these are economic developers and bureaucrats and politicans.

You know what I would say if I was writing these profiles? I would say (particularly about the industrial parks where the CN line passes relatively close to the park) “if you need rail access and you’ve got a good project in mind [like a Michelin plant], we’ll make it happen.” “If I have to go out there and hammer in the spikes myself, we’ll get you a spur line if it is a deal breaker for a $200 million investment.”

That, it seems to me was the essence of Frank McKenna. And that’s what’s missing. And he would have brought that to the national stage.