The Picture Province

Roger Duguay, leader of the New Brunswick New Democratic Party, has an editorial in the TJ this am entitled “Reclaim N.B. as Canada’s ‘picture province’“.  Of course this is just a simple slogan but it  brings back an interesting memory for me.  I may have even mentioned it here before.  My first exposure to Francis McGuire – then DM of the Dept. of Economic Development – he was making a presentation to the entire department.  I was probably a few weeks on the job. 

He said something to the effect of – in front of 100+ people “I never want to hear the #@$% phrase ‘The Picture Province’ come out of anyone’s mouth”.  I was quite shocked – but Francis has always been a colourful guy.

His point, however; went to the heart of a debate that has been percolating along in New Brunswick for as long as I have been around and probably longer. McGuire, and by extention, McKenna wanted New Brunswick to shed its image as a sleepy, homey province with a bunch of simple folk stuck in the 1950s.  They wanted a New Brunswick to be a dynamic, entrepreneurial and educated place with ideas flowing and the economy booming.  Of course, the idea is not to shed the slower pace of life and other attributes of New Brunswick but to leverage those into advantages as the province became a wired, technology-based and entrepreneurial place that was attractive to people both for the quality of the jobs and economic opportunities and the quality of life in our communities.

As the economy of many areas of New Brunswick erodes, there are guys like Duguay and others  that bemoan this trend and want government to keep the same level of services, infrastructure, etc. in these communities even as their populations drop by 20%, 30% or more in just a decade or two.

I have argued that this stuff is inevitable.  The consolidation of public services out of declining areas will happen – it will be a slow and painful process but it will happen if we don’t animate the regional economies around the province and give people the economic option to stay in their communities and provide the kinds of economic opportunities that will attract people in.  It’s a vicious cycle because as government pulls out – it takes away among the highest paying jobs in the communities leading to more decline and then more reduction in government services (like schools, hospitals, ferries,etc.).

I think the NDP, all due respect, would be better off talking about its vision for the economic development of the province rather than tugging at the heart strings to embolden New Brunswickers to fight for something that cannot exist without the right economic foundation.

21 thoughts on “The Picture Province

  1. I don’t think its totally fair to lowball the NDP here. They are just making political hay out of current events. If you haven’t checked Charles’ site, you’ll notice that lots of people are angry about the ferries closing. Particularly in Gagetown, where tourism is about the only industry.
    The NDP overall is a bigger question. In poll after poll the policies of the NDP by far reflect canadians preferences, especially in comparison to the other two parties. In New Brunswick I’m not sure what is going on. During elections they do have the policies, yet I’m still not convinced the NDP actually exists, and isn’t just fronted by the other two parties to make it look like there is an actual functioning democracy. Just take a look at their website, there is almost nothing there. The links to past constitutions and policies don’t even work and there is no policy there AT ALL. That is VERY unusual for a party, even the tories have some content, even though they are almost indistinguishable from the liberals on most issues. The NDP didn’t even have a website up until two weeks after the election was called last time.

    As for the ‘picture province’, that goes back to what Bill was talking about. Does Nova Scotia suffer by being known as canada’s ‘ocean playground’? I worked with a crew that was working on a documentary on New Brunswick’s ‘lack of identity’, and one glaring example being used was the fact that NB is the ONLY province which doesn’t even have a slogan on its license plate. Prince Edward Island actually has six different ones now to choose from. NB-nada. So the alternative to ‘not being known as a homey place’ has been to ‘not being known AT ALL’.

    The NDP article is actually an economic development model-I know of several of the staff who left Toronto to work at FatKat, who could have made far more in Toronto, but who absolutely loved the ‘slow pace’. Find some executives like that and you’ve got yourself new business-but first they need to know that its homey and exists.

  2. Well you are lucky today because I just happen to know a lot of the people who completed their education in the 50’s and 60’s in New Brunswick, many of them who spend their first 8 years in one room schools or boarding schools. I could fill your blog with the success’s of these people.
    And then along came your friends and ruined this province. Simple as that. The facts speak for themselves.
    A book should be written. New Brunswick, from hard working entrepreneurs to spin doctors!! Or if that title too long,just use
    “The Sellouts”

    My Friend Mikel gets the picture, but you David, never will. That Tocque is covering your eyes!

  3. It looks like the next big election issue will be ferry service adding to the list of ‘hot issues’ like toll highways, auto insurance rates and moose fencing.

    The reality is all these issues are symptoms of an ineffective economic development policy. If the economy were growing, population increasing and tax base expanding, these ‘issues’ would not have to dominate the political agenda. As it stands, the need to cut costs forces such decisions making them easy targets for the opposition to reverse. Trouble is, they will have to find some other area to cut and the cycle starts over.

    What we need is a government with an ability to avoid the band aid solutions; one that can develop and implement an effective economic development policy. Of course we want new schools, new highways, new hospitals and yes, new moose fencing but this takes money and to generate that money we need a vibrant economy.

  4. Good posts, and good comments. Even anon has the same ‘interest’ as David, and even agree’s by and large with what David is trying to do-ironically even with how he is doing it (foreign investment-Irving IS foreign now). Apart from two or three sentences the anon posts look like they could have been written by David.

    It’s always good to focus on where people AGREE, and leave the missives aside-they don’t do anybody any good. The next obvious question is this: WHAT are the policies that are NOT ‘band aid’ solutions that need to be introduced before the next election? I suspect David also agrees with that-that’s been his main point for YEARS.

    So, towards the aim of constructive criticism I’ll state what I think are big issues, and people can add their own.

    1. Forestry-enacting community models.
    2. Bringing corporate income tax in line with the rest of Canada as a percentage of the budget-not in rates.
    3. Funding education at the same level as the rest of Canada.
    4. Increasing income tax on public servants who earn more than $70,000.
    5. Putting a slogan on the stupid license plate:)

    That’s just off the top of my head, and obviously needs more specifics, but it’s a start, and perhaps can be fleshed out with other ideas NOW-BEFORE the next election. In politics theres a saying “if you want change, BE the change”.

  5. “NB is the ONLY province which doesn’t even have a slogan on its license plate. ”

    From what I understand, a new plate is going to be produced soon w/ the new ship logo and the motto “Be…in this place”

  6. “In poll after poll the policies of the NDP by far reflect canadians preferences”

    Funny how people change their minds when it comes to casting a ballot. If we were governed just by polls, we’d have capital punishment and a host of other things the NDP would not like. The NDP is in a difficult situation. They are in a province where voting behaviour is still often inherited, and where many of those inclined to be more independent voting-wise have left for greener pastures. Hoping that ‘the people’ will rise up and shake the tree is, I’m afraid, a faint hope indeed. Perhaps NB needs a benevolent dictator to knock some heads together and get the economy moving in the right direction. Or maybe we just need an honest print media.

    Surely, if a slower style of life and lower housing costs were going to attract enough economic development to NB, that would have happened by now. That is not going to be sufficient in itself; there needs to be a strategy that offers more to companies that are open to establishing themselves here. Not broad-based tax cuts, but a package that shows them how they can make money and grow here. David has commented several times on the mysterious ways in which BNB goes about its business; if there was more transparency, perhaps we could see ways to improve the ‘sell’.

    “They wanted a New Brunswick to be a dynamic, entrepreneurial and educated place”

    ..and what happened then? Did they get tired, did the feds refuse to play ball, did they have a real plan, or just a handful of wishes? Did McKenna, for example, make any attempt to turn UNB from a sleepy comprehensive into an R&D powerhouse? Or did he get the feds to pump more R&D money/infrastructure into the province? Were the call centres the end game, rather than the first act?

  7. I came here a few years ago (from Ontario, Alberta) and had no idea New Brunswick was known as, or had been known as, the “picture province.” My first thought was that it is a good image but maybe we should change the “picture.” As David said in the post, “… the idea is not to shed the slower pace of life and other attributes of New Brunswick but to leverage those into advantages …”

    Those should be huge advantages but need to be attached to other attributes like technologically advanced, economically vital etc. Of course, I’m not an economist and know nothing about economic development so it’s pretty easy for me to say what we need – someone else has to figure out how to make it happen.

    In Duguay’s article he says, “We feel good about living here, and have little desire to be drawn to the big city lights of Toronto or Vancouver.” If that’s true, and I think it is, we shouldn’t be surprised at the difficulties we have in attracting younger people (quite apart from job availability). If anyone recalls what it was like to be young, you’ll know that those bright lights have appeal because they communicate activity, vitality, creativity. For someone young, that’s a place to live. The quieter pace of New Brunswick? That’s a place to visit. We should ask, “Who does this appeal to, where are they and how do we make them aware of us?”

    I may have skewed perception due to how the media handles these topics, but I keep hearing this refrain about needing young people. And I hear the phrase “retirement province” popping up. Apart from the need for the economic development David speaks of, I think we might want to step back a moment and see things from another way, sort of devil’s advocate position. What if instead of seeing an aging demographic as a negative we saw it as a positive? What if we said, if our image in this, and our population is that, maybe we can turn that into an economic opportunity?

    I see repeated predictions about what the world will look like (is becoming) as the huge baby boomer population moves into the retirement age range and the need for services and workers in those areas that will provide for them. Boomers, who have a lot of money. Boomers, who are redefining what older ages mean. Boomers, who often would prefer a slower paced lifestyle but want to remain active and creative (in lifestyle and business).

    Why can’t we invest in and try to become a leader in the research, development and provisioning of the kinds of services etc. these people would want and need? Does New Brunswick (Health, UNB) have anything going on in fields like gerontology and geriatrics? If we were a leader, we would be attracting people (including young people) with medical backgrounds, including students. We’d be creating jobs in related fields. We might even have doctors (!) as people often want to be where the action is happening in their field, which soon will be in those areas.

    That may be just pie-in-the-sky nonsense but my real point is that it’s worthwhile to look at issues from a number of perspectives rather than the default ones. Doing what everyone else does (but on an inevitably smaller scale) gets you a very small slice of the pie. Doing what has always been done is often just putting a patient on life support.

    However, sometimes seeing a negative in a different way can turn it into a positive.

    (btw … I came here for lifestyle and real estate prices. I telecommute with most of my work done with people in B.C.)

  8. How about we keep the slogan but modify it to be: The Big Picture Province

    In other words, we reduce the effort and resources spent on micro managing issues and develop an intelligent plan to get us where we need to be with economic development, education, research and health care. Please note that a plan means a business document with strategies and actions to meet objectives; it does not mean a catchy slogan and a bundle of political goodies that sound good.

  9. Well, Richard’s cynicism aside, I’d still welcome Bill, David, Anon, or anybody else’s input in actual policies. Nothing was said above that hasn’t been said before, or will again, and Richard and David’s kids may be writing the same things in 30 years-probably from somewhere else.

    But actually, capital punishment hasn’t been preferred by the majority of canadians in quite some time. The latest comprehensive poll was in 2005 which showed only 44%, and the support was virtually non-existent among young people.

    The NDP is a whole issue in itself, but Bill’s point about real estate is PART of the ‘homey product’. Certainly nobody would say ALL you need is to advertise yourself as ‘the place to BE’. David constantly chronicles the initiatives of Nova Scotia, even PEI, which put NB to shame. I remember seeing a news report years ago about a writer in Cape Breton who wrote Hollywood TV movies for a living. They asked why he didn’t live in Hollywood and he pointed off the deck of his ‘cottage’.

    But the recent poster Bill is on track with the theme of the blog and recognizes there is a problem. So for Bill and any others, I’d invite you to give some thought as to HOW to do the things you talk about. To throw Richard’s logic back at him, McKenna was nothing if not a ‘benevolent dictator’-he had FULL control of the legislature. Is New Brunswick now better off because of those policies? In other words, if THAT were all that were necessary (like hyping slow pace) then THAT would have happened by now. So obviously it takes something else besides a benevolent dictator. There’s a reason its called the status quo-change NEVER happens from above, Danny Williams couldn’t put the boots to Abitibi if he didn’t have an 80% support rate.

  10. Mikel is right that we need to see and hear more alternative policy ideas. The current government and the former one under premier Lord have refused to look at a useful investment model used for community development in N.S. Called the Community Economic Development Investment Fund, it offers Nova Scotians the opportunity to invest in local commuity enterprises. Quite often these ventures are not supported by larger venture capital funds and regional economic development agencies. Contributions can be directed to count as an RRSP contribution for added tax advantage and the money invested stays in your area. Just Us Coffee is one example.

    Community forestry and alternate uses of our crown wood have been largely ignored in New Brunswick. British Columbia has lots of great examples of both native and non native community corporations that have been set up by local groups and even municipalities to provide much needed employment and better return to the provincial economy than often happens when a large multi-national operates a mill. When times are good, these operations tend to collect subsidies whereever possible, and then when times are bad, they are gone.

    To go along with the Picture Province theme, what about eco tourism.
    We have pockets of it in N.B., but it seems like the gov’t would rather bail out golf courses, motels and campgrounds, rather than help establish some newer ventures that highlight greener initiatives.

  11. Thanks Pat, that’s another recommendation for community forestry. I don’t think David has mentioned the NS CEDIF, so its worth checking into. There is usually SOMETHING similar in other provinces, usually something people have never heard of, so its worth checking to see if New Brunswick has something like that which simply is never advertised-there are SOME problems that are because there’s a media that simply never discusses public policy.

    As for eco-tourism, like in Bill’s case, we have a general idea, but what would actual policy look like? I don’t know much about eco-tourism, does that mean walks in the woods? Is the boat ride around reversing falls eco tourism? Whale watching? I really don’t know. But again, sometimes there are policies that exist in the tax code that we simply don’t hear about. However, I suspect it gets short shrift for the same reason that community forests do-forestry corporate licensees.

  12. David may want to do a blog or even an article on this, this is the investment page for the Nova Scotia Community Investment Development fund. According to the page, according to statscan, over 600 million is invested in mutual funds by Nova Scotians and only 2% of that stays in the province. I would suggest its even lower in New Brunswick. But like public insurance, that’s over half a BILLION dollars leaving the province, never to return (sort of). That’s one third of equalization payments. Here’s the link:

  13. I have talked multiple times on this blog and in my TJ column about the fact that almost all of our mutual fund, RRSP and public pension monies are invested outside New Brunswick. It’s hard to say with complete accuracy (if you have a mutual fund that has Walmart stock – some small of that comes back to NB in the form of Walmart investments in New Brunswick) but it is likely in the 98% gone range as well.

  14. I meant specifically this Nova Scotia development fund. People are very much of the ‘whaddya gonna do?’ persuasion when they hear about government. People simply aren’t aware of the alternatives. That’s always been the tragedy of NB media, IF there were a blog like this for the forestry and environment sector, the health sector, the education sector and some others, then perhaps there’d be a real viable alternative media-right now most of it falls on David, and Charles somewhat.

  15. And as you rightly point out, my blog tends to cover a fairly narrow range of issues itself. I agree that a broad-based set of blogs with some expert (and I use that term loosely) opinion as the starting point with others proposing variations on the theme – followed and used by public policy makers sounds like a real good use of the Web to me.

  16. Funny how economic development discussions tend to become myoptic; the tendancy seems to be the vision of an inventor emerging from his garage with an idea, he seeks funding and ideally grows into the next Microsoft.

    There is no doubt there are successes down this path; HP is a good example. However, this is the toughest uphill climb with loads of barriers (especially here in NB) to overcome and low probability of success. NB has tried this (Mathis instruments for example) and should sustain some level of effort in the area as occasionally there will be the homeegrown winners (Speilo, Whitehill, Q1 Labs). However, more ED focus is needed on taking existing companies and helping them significantly grow and in attracting expanding companies to the area (like the solar company coming to the ‘chi). This is lower hanging fruit and we need some quicker fixes to get some positive momentum.

    So to contribute to Mikel’s challenge, let’s try more focus on business attraction and expansion.

  17. “McKenna was nothing if not a ‘benevolent dictator’-he had FULL control of the legislature”

    He may have been benevolent, but he wasn’t very good at it. If you will re-read my post, McKenna had opportunities to make real change but failed to follow through. Perhaps he wasn’t able to be the benevolent dictator for long enough!

    I think that the community forestry idea is a good one, as many have suggested in this blog and others many times before. The problem is that we are looking at several decades to repair the forests before they can provide the value-added benefits to local communities. In the meantime, we have a situation where the provincial media will, due to its ownership, be hostile to the idea and attack any government that proposes it. Plus, the existing forestry industry will threaten job losses if the idea moves forward. What are the countering, balancing forces that would support community forestry? I see little or no political clout behind the concept. Community forestry will be a reality only when other large, non-forestry, non-Irving industries are based here that provide enough jobs such that they form an opposing power to the Irvings. It will take strong determined leadership to bring that about. I am not being cynical, I am being realistic. Mikel is being naive.

    “Danny Williams couldn’t put the boots to Abitibi if he didn’t have an 80% support rate.”

    Danny Williams has oil – the balancing force to Abitibi. Without the oil, there would be no 80% support. NB does not have a balancing force to counter the Irvings and their media.

  18. “IF there were a blog like this for the forestry and environment sector, the health sector, the education sector and some others,”

    That is a good point and goes back to a comment I made some time back. Ideas that seem whacko to the Irving press can nonetheless become mainstream if they are presented in the right way by the right people. The problem is pushing these ideas past the blogs into the mainstream. When the alternative approaches begin to enter mainstream discussions – you start to hear them being put forward in the Oromocto and Regent Street Malls, not just among the chattering class. Even the Irving press will feel pressured to report on them at that point. Then you can have situations where all political parties can adopt them with less fear. That would go part way – not quite far enough, but part way – to developing a balancing force to the Irving interests.

  19. IF it were true what Richard says then it would be ‘realistic’, however, there IS a huge lobby effort behind community forests. They run up against one obstacle-Irving. So the ‘cure’ is said to be ‘get another company as powerful as Irving but doing something counter to their interests and you have a chance’. That isn’t ‘realism’. Again, David Alward is a small woodlot owner from northeastern NB. IF he wants half a chance against a guy who has his picture daily in the Irving press then he must become more populist. At this point he’s said little about it, which is where the lobbying comes in. But its a self fulfilling prophecy (which is why I don’t direct my comments to Richard)-IF everyone says nothing will happen and does nothing, and something occurring relies on people doing something, then quite logically if you do nothing then nothing happens.

    The Irving press isn’t always ‘bad’, they simply have an agenda. However, take a look at virtually any government decision-to put it lightly many of those look ‘whacko’ from any point of view. Just because there is a populist view, certainly doesn’t mean its going to become public policy-as this blog shows very well.

  20. “So the ‘cure’ is said to be ‘get another company as powerful as Irving but doing something counter to their interests and you have a chance’. That isn’t ‘realism’”

    Yes it is realism – that’s how things work. Alward might make noises about community forests before an election but he won’t do anything after the election. There won’t be anyone with clout pushing him to do so, but there will be big money pushing in the opposite direction. Thats the history of NB, with few exceptions.

    Once again, Mikel, you are setting up a strawman in order to knock it down. I have not said nothing will happen or nothing can happen, I just think your prescription for action is not feasible. Your approach is not novel, you know. Its been tried before and failed. I remember back in the mid-sixties when I was in my first year at Saint John High. At lunch, I sat at the same cafeteria table as a bunch of high-school NDPers. These guys were articulate and full of fire – they were going to shake up NB. Several later joined the waffle faction of the NDP and got quite a lot of press for while. They were mobilizing local communities on various social action issues (not too different from what one hears today). Things died out in a couple of years; wonder what happened to those guys. I think in the end they realized that most people most of the time think more about getting food on the table today and the flat screen tv tomorrow. Not much time for sustained efforts for anything else. If you want NB to change, then you have to accept that reality.

    You want community forestry? Fine, then get some big IT firms here; get some big boys to counter the Irving influence. Then things will change and change fast.

  21. Saying something doesn’t make it true. Statements like ‘thats how things work’ means nothing. Social change happens in any number of ways, in fact THOUSANDS of different ways. What kind of scientist says “he won’t do anything after the election”-that, as you know well, is a HYPOTHESIS, not a statement of fact. It CAN”T be a statement of fact because there is no way to prove it NOW.
    I’ve certainly never said my approach was ‘novel’, it is FAR from novel, in fact its downright ordinary. In fact its how democracy and human rights have progressed over hundreds of years-by people standing up and saying ‘we’re not going to take this anymore’. That’s not ‘idealism’, thats the history of social movements and social progress.

    Community forestry has been part of virtually every industrial countries resource management regime for decades, do you think that happened because they got some ‘big IT firms’? That’s absolutely insane. Community forestry is strongest in BC, it happened because BC is typically heads above anybody else when it comes to grassroots political action. THere’s a reason why the province is closing in on its third referendum on proportional representation, and may likely implement it this time. In forestry the environmental movement in Canada largely began in BC and is based there. THose are FACTS, and that’s how community forestry came about. You think IT firms give a rat’s ass about New Brunswick’s forestry policies?

    But again, we know Richard here, and pessimism NEVER equals reality. Anecdotal evidence about friends he doesn’t know what happened to? THAT is how a conclusion on human nature is arrived at? For one thing, most of the demands of the mid sixties have been met. Canada up to the mid nineties was the most successful example of a welfare state in the world. In NB, not to inflame our anon friend, but linguistic equality was enforced, and the EI system enabled scores of people to stay in the province who normally wouldn’t have. Energy was publicized, education became a priority, schools and hospitals were set up in rural areas. Those were ALL NDP projects and they were all accomplished. Talk about putting food on the table is ludicrous, we aren’t talking about a third world country under a brutal dictatorship. It’s because our society has civilized so much that people can look back and wonder what happened to those old idealists of the sixties. They did what they set out to do, they protested, worked, and got us universal health care, a charter, more human rights, equality for the sexes and races, services to rural areas which didn’t even have power let alone phone, education or healthcare. My mother still talks about how many years it took my grandfather to pay off the hospital bill they encountered for an uncle who died back in the early sixties.

    So, sorry Richard, those AREN”T facts you are talking about, and it is only YOUR vision of how things are and need to be to change. When and if that view becomes the same in the eyes of every single person, THEN we can say that the above is ‘realism’. Until then, sorry dude, but that’s just the culture of defeat incarnate.

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