New Brunswick Museum circa 2075

I had the opportunity to visit the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John today.  The main exhibition was a tribute to New Brunswick ‘industry’ starting with the earliest days of English/French settlement through to the heydays of New Brunswick industry up to at least the Bricklin (which is on display).

As I went through I thought this would be an economic development historian’s treasure trove.  All those industries – virtually all gone.  There were numerous items that were manufactured in Woodstock (iron works, etc.), Sussex, all over the province.  There were 13 different shipyards scattered around from North to South.  Just about every kind of processed food from cookies (Marvins) to beverages (Sussex) to Barbours to Ganongs – on and on.  

Certainly we all have a Idiot’s Guide to Economic Development understanding of what went on.  At some point in the early 20th century, scale started to matter, transportation infrastructure was built out and manufacturing started to consolidate in regional and then even national clusters.  The global economy was in its infancy.  If you read Savoie you get a deeper dive into the role of government in this.  There are other souces that dive deeply into other areas.

But the bottom line is that New Brunswick in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was certainly not the stereotyped hewers of wood and drawers of fish economy.  There were literally hundreds of manufacturers producing just about everything.  Then that all went away and we were left with a few big survivors (McCain, Irving) and indeed a fish, wood and a little bit of minerals economy.  The rest was a consumption economy.

A few years ago I tried to find a single export-intensive industry that was not fish or wood where New Brunswick was at least competitive in terms of employment and economic activity (in Canada) and I could hardly find a single one.  I guess you could argue call centres.  Virtually all of Canada’s manufacturing and non-local service industries developed anywhere but here (think finance, film, telecommunications, auto, aero, pharma, food – with the notable exception of McCain, translation, software, environmental industries, media on and on).

Anyway back to the museum.  I get out and am waiting for my wife and kids to shop and I check my Canadaeast alerts and come across Al Hogan’s annual rah rah New Brunswick Day editorial.  This is at least the third straight year of basic cutting and pasting this message.  It talks on and on about how proud we should be and how much we have accomplished and concludes “New Brunswick has the people, their talents and wisdom, to meet any challenge.”

Here’s a tidbit:

And looking back over our entire 225 years as a province, we see innovation, hard word, perseverance in the face of adversity, and, most of all, a long list of extremely capable and intelligent New Brunswickers who made their mark on the world, the country and their province.

I may be jaded but I look back over at least the last 50 years or so and see wasted potential.  Someone told me this week that there are more first and second generation Acadians living outside New Brunswick than inside.  If you look at the migration data you will see the same story for all of New Brunswick.   If we had just kept the people born here in the past 75 years we would be double the population.  If we had attracted a representative share of the immigrants to Canada we would have a population of over 2.5 million people.

Obviously it is not just about ‘people’ but vibrant and successful communities need people so in my mind that is a very good proxy. 

I believe with the right public policy (provincial and national), Northern New Brunswick could have become a dynamic industrial zone serving markets across North America with high value products.  New Brunswick’s southern cities could have been a successful commercial triangle with many high value industries taking root.

But above all, young New Brunswickers would have choice.  There would be enough good employment options here to keep them if they so choose to stay.  There would be career paths here.  PHD level jobs for those so inclined (I won’t show you the current Phds per 10,000 population stats – I don’t want to ruin your day).

You need crtical mass in to acheive this.  Mass in urban population.  Mass in research capacity and mass in industrial clustering.

Successive governments never really believed this was passible and defaulted to the same consistent approach of sprinkling taxpayer money from the top of the Centennial Building with the hopes that some would stick.

And successive newspaper editors chimed in talking about how we have unlimited potential and the future looks so very bright.

Maybe.  But for the first time in our history, the provincial population actually dropped from 1996-2006.  In the 50s, 60s and 70s at least we had growth – below the national level – but still growth. 

There is serious risk that the New Brunswick of 2075 will be a hollowed out, limited part of a new province called Maritime Canada.  It will be a place with some fishing and hewing of wood and little else. 

Those that think New Brunswick will become a retirement haven can think again.  That may happen somewhat in the short term, but in the longer term, health care costs will ensure that New Brunswick will never become a large retirement home.  Seniors will gravitate to the areas where they have access to health care and services and in the longer term, without a serious fiscal shift, New Brunswick will not be that place.

I think David Coon’s vision of New Brunswick as a large, unspoiled national park is a more realistic vision if we don’t get on a strong economic development path.

8 thoughts on “New Brunswick Museum circa 2075

  1. Good post, but again with the potshots at David Coon. You’ve really got to lighten up on that. Heck, at least a large national park is a ‘plan’, as opposed to, I don’t know, let’s cut down all the trees, hollow out all the potash, strip off all the peat moss and suck out all the uranium, nickel, copper, etc. Then what is left is…well, Afghanistan.
    But actually, the conservation council supports ‘community forestry’, which isn’t the same as ‘conservation’, but just isn’t as bad as ‘let’s strip out all the trees and send them to Quebec’.

  2. Thought provoking post.

    You may be a little tough regarding fish exports. Our aquaculture industry has evolved nicely and utilizes science and technolgy (even Phds!). It is not quite fair to group aquaculture exports with fish exports from the perspective of advancement.

    However, you are quite right to be sounding alarm bells on where we are headed. The self sufficiency initiative got off to a bad start by painting such a rosy picture; harsh reality on population, dead end industries, education etc may have created more widespread support for change.

    It is nice to be positive but we have to be realistic.

  3. You are right to say that NB will not be a retirement resort. Even in the short term there are challenges. A number of physicians have themselves retired recently and have been only partially replaced by new physicians. The delta in coverage is substantial so that even longtime residents now have no physician. Primary healthcare is a prerequisite to any comprehensive care for seniors. On a personal note, I moved my elderly mother from Ontario to NB a few years ago but sent her back when it became apparent that she could not receive healthcare in NB equivalent in quality that she enjoyed in Ontario. This is not a slight to NB doctors, who are as competent and dedicated as elsewhere in Canada. It is instead a gross indictment of our own increasing inability to stabilize NB healthcare requirements that will figure prominently in the demographic changes already taking place.

  4. Those that think New Brunswick will become a retirement haven can think again. That may happen somewhat in the short term, but in the longer term, health care costs will ensure that New Brunswick will never become a large retirement home. Seniors will gravitate to the areas where they have access to health care and services and in the longer term, without a serious fiscal shift, New Brunswick will not be that place.

    They also gravitate to areas that are more receptive to seniors in general, like Victoria and North and South Saanich, BC. Plus, having a slow economy makes for less traffic, young people and criminals in general(who tend to migrate to where the money, business and fast paced lifestyle is).

    Let’s face it, societies that fail to respond effectively to the market test can, at best, look forward to a life of genteel economic decline, and, at worst, a decent into social chaos.

    We obviously haven’t hit the latter yet, but if the region continues to age at the rate it is right now, we are destined to be a society that falls into a state of economic paralysis. I’d take chaos over that in a heartbeat.

  5. You know, I got laughed at for asserting one cause for the lack of development at the Port of Saint John was because of ice breaking on the St. Lawrence River for the Port of Montreal. New Brunswick won’t stand up for itself, meanwhile Newfoundland is forever rockin the boat!

    What ever happened to that retirement resort some Irish folks were planning for the Elgin/Goshen area?

  6. I am tired of hearing the answer to more effective ED is more goverment employees and more offices

    I was flabbergasted to hear the suggestion (from NB Business Council) that the key to economic development in the north was yet more ED employees and offices.  Surely we can do better than this!The answer to effective Northern economic development has to involve coordination and consolidation. Entrepreneurs and businesses are confused by the deluge of economic developers that are trying to help.  I spent a few minutes identifying some of the offices in the north focused on economic development.

    Below are organizations that have a physical presence in the north; as we know, there are many others such as RDC that are centered in Fredericton.

    Enterprise Restigouche
    Enterprise Madawaska
    Enterprise Chaleur
    Enterprise Acadia Peninsula
    Enterprise Miramichi
    Enterprise Grand Falls
    CBDC Edmunston
    CBDC Grand Falls
    CBDC Campbllton
    CBDC Bathurst
    CBDC Tracadie Sheila
    CBDC Miramichi
    NRC IRAP Miramchi
    NRC IRAP Edmunston
    BNB Dalhousie
    BNB Tracadie Sheila
    BNB Bathurst
    BNB Miramichi
    ACOA Edmunston
    ACOA Miramichi
    ACOA Campbellton
    ACOA Northeast
    ACOA Northwest
    ACOA Tracadie Sheila
    Economic Development Department of Miramichi
    Port Authority of Dalhousie
    Port Authority of Belldune
    BDC Bathurst
    BDC Edmunston

  7. You could have an economic developer for every two citizens in the north and it still doesn’t change the fact that the area is non-competitive to the market test. Much like you could have two teachers for every student in NB and it still doesn’t change the fact that after they are done with their education, they will likely choose to work elsewhere.

    It has nothing to do with info or preparation and all to do with environment and attitude.

  8. “the fact that the area is non-competitive to the market test.”

    And what the heck might that mean? Certain of the traditional resource industries in northern NB are failing of late, but that is largely a consequence of factors such as a global recession and a failure of industry to re-invest profits in efficient plant. Nothing really to do with the area itself or the people that live there.

    “and all to do with environment and attitude.”

    The usual BS that comes from the AIMS Klowns, people who have never created a real job yet are experts on job creation.

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