Musing on the Olympics

I see that New Brunswick is not sending a single athelete to the Vancouver Olympics.   I think there are parallels here to my thinking on economic development strategies – small provinces need to focus.  We can be mediocre at a wide variety of things or very good at a few things.

I think this is a metaphor for the broader challenges in New Brunswick.  In a wide variety of areas, we have never been able to concentrate funding and effort – not regionally, not sectorally, not infrastructurally, not with R&D, not with education, etc.

If you strive for mediocrity you get mediocrity.  No one is miserable.  No one is thrilled.  The picture province.

I think that if there was a coherent, focused strategy you could bring the wider public along.  For example, one of the main reasons why there is no appetite to provide some form of tax free zones in Northern NB is that southern NB would react negatively.  We see this demarcation across a wide range of potentially beneficial areas.   But the province could have a substantative health research effort that would be more beneficial to a place like Saint John and at the same time have an industrial tax free zone in Belledune that would be more beneficial to that Northern port.   It’s a kind of quid pro quo. 

But back to sport – and culture – in general.

I haven’t spent too much time on this blog discussing this topic mainly because I haven’t studied it that much – with the exception of the Richard Florida  creativity dribbling into culture phenomenon.

But I think there is something to a province focusing its resources in this area.  I think we need to have heros – sport, music, writers, etc. that identify specifically with New Brunswick.  I am not sure you can engineer this but there must be policy levers that could be used to create an environment where this stuff bubbles up.

I can say from observation that people do not seem to be as attached to New Brunswick as they are to Newfoundland or PEI or even Nova Scotia.  I welcome discussion on this but there is almost a “once a Newfoundlander always a Newfoundlander” mentality whereas many of the New Brunswickers that left this place easily integrated into their new home.

What do ex-New Brunswickers miss about this place? Are there specific foods?  Music?  Landscapes?  What is it about New Brunswick that would make people miss it if/when they leave?  Do we have heros?

A little rambly this morning but I think that I need a better understanding of this link between culture – broadly defined – and economic development in the long term. Do we need to try and engineer more Anne Murrays and Rita MacNeils?

Don’t forget if you aren’t seeing your comment show up in the thread send me a personal email.  I have changed some settings here and a couple of people have had some problems.

11 thoughts on “Musing on the Olympics

  1. I miss Mrs. Dunsters donuts. And pumphouse beer. I miss the nature but it finally looks like our days in southern ontario are numbered, and up in Sudbury there is all the nature one can handle. But I miss the ocean, and I miss the huge rivers.
    I can’t say I miss the people because I’ve found most people are generally the same. And I like that I can eat at an Iranian/Indian/SriLankan/Vegetarian/buddhist/egyptian/irish/ add any nationality here-restaurant any night of the week.

    New Brunswick has many problems. The most common thing about NB is, of course, Irving and McCains. And corporations don’t exactly give that warm fuzzy nationalistic feeling. All regions conflict because of regions, but NB it also has the language divide, it also has the native divide. It also has the urban/rural divide, it also has the loyalist divide. In other words, it has LOTS of divisions.

    I miss the home I grew up in, but its changed so much it doesn’t feel like ‘home’ anyway.

    I don’t really agree about the ‘heroes’ thing. There are actually LOTS of quite famous NBers, past and present, but geography is not a hockey game, and often nationalistic fervor is a bad thing.

    Just rambling as well but it again goes back to politics. The NB government is so clearly run by business interests (and very few of them) that people feel like spectators in their own land. NB has high voter turnout, but long party involvement, and when NEITHER party has much populist support then a high voter turnout actually doesn’t mean that much.

    It’s also a problem because NB is ‘between’ so many places. The longest border is with Maine, but except for the communities along the border very little is actally known about Maine. But Quebec has a very singular culture, PEI is small enough that politics is ALWAYS a local affair. Nova Scotia at least has three viable parties, and there are still a lot of counties that have local powers beyond what municipalities have in NB.

    All those things work against the province. Media AND politics both serve to exagerate the problems, even when they are not that substantive.

  2. As Mikel said:

    It’s also a problem because NB is ‘between’ so many places.

    The joke about being the “drive through” province pretty much says it all. Along with all the divisions that mikel noted.

    I think this is why the “energy hub” idea was embraced by the public and a major factor in you-know-what. It’s a way to finally benefit from our geographic location. It looks to the public like that’s been abandoned even though we’re being told it’s not.

    The next “vision” for NB becomes an even tougher sell….

  3. As an ex-expat, what did I miss during the 30 or so years I was away? Not a heck of a lot, apart from family. Yes, NB is blessed with a lot of scenic views, but other regions have their attractions as well. I’d say very little has changed while I was away; same mediocre press, same lack of public policy discussion, same rants over hot issues. What’s worse? The chattering class and the unis are even less engaged with the problems of NB than before. That is mirrored by the huge disconnect that exists between what passes for urban areas and the rest of the province. The attempt to use bilingualism to develop a unique culture here has been largely a failure. NB has not been able to change itself, so change will be forced upon us.

  4. I find it incredible that US presidents like Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan found time to speak directly to the people (sometimes times a week) in a town hall setting (during slow economic times), but our NB premiers (Lord and Graham) have managed to complicate the simple by ignore the public while making decisions over peoples heads. It’s not like they don’t have time.

    Upon completion of his state of the province address, if Graham felt support for the NB power deal softening (like Obama did with the health care bill), he should have held two or three town halls directly after, fielded questions and tried to explain his position. I don’t even support the deal, but I would have appreciated him taking another approach other than behind closed doors and in secret. Such an approach leads to constituency office protests and pickets being formed. That could have been mitigated or at least managed by taking it to the people first, during and after.

  5. It’s not just that people in the south would be outraged. It’s that you can’t build a society on tax free zones. period.

    Here’s what you get when you try to create the conservatives tax free paradise:

    As for focusing on something – sure, fine. If I can pick the focus. Otherwise, if it’s just a matter of me getting in line with your priorities, I’m not interested.

    That’s the problem with focus – someone has to make the call about what to focus on, and usually the people who speak the loudest are the ones to benefit the most, at everyone else’s expense.

    As for “heroes” – I think what New Brunswick has are a few overly influential families that people, when asked, are glad to be moving away from.

  6. I always get a little chuckle when Richard mentions the ‘chattering class’, because nobody does more ‘chattering’ than the general public, and me and Richard in particular. We are an ‘all talk no action’ kind of country, you can look at Harper saying the G8 is going to be all about maternal care when he’s done nothing for the native problem right here at home.
    People are really afraid to make a stand. Over at CBC there are over 1000 comments basically berating a guy for daring to complain three times because his coffee was burnt at Tim Hortons. Read that again. Over a THOUSAND comments. You thought NBPower was a hot button?
    At this blog its no different. A group of fairly well educated upper middle class guys, but how many protests have WE had? Nobody does more chattering than right here. That, again, is part of that disconnect from politics, and I put that at the feet of Irving. One thing Irving has always been is ‘anti organization’. You can go around the province and see just what a low opinion of unions most people have. When you look at economic stats, people should be CLAMOURING to join unions, but not so.
    That gives a sense of alienation in one’s own backyard. Again, I point out that NB is the ONLY province in Canada where you can’t even find out how your representive votes on key issues online. In most provinces you can read what every politician has said for the last ten years online, in NB there’s nada.
    THAT is bad enough,but the fact that in NB nobody cares, in fact most people don’t even KNOW, says a LOT about the political environment. There is a very real fear that the people protesting the NBPower deal are just going to fade away if the deal is killed. That’s too bad, because MY idea of ‘heroes’ and people to emulate are usually the most maligned in Canada-protestors. People with the guts to stand up and say ‘we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore’. While there is a problem with media, AND politicians, there is also a problem-perhaps a bigger one-with US.

  7. I agree that we have to decide where it is that we can excell, and then invest in making it happen. I also agree that Richard Florida largely has it backwards, with his cause and effect theory, but there is no denying that a vibrant cultural scene is an economic advantage. Because NB has historically tended to punch above its weight culturally, there is reason to boost our product by investing in the visual arts and literature. We make our mark in the cultural Olympics now, and with a little more effort we could own a bigger share of the podium.

  8. I’ve been reading this blog for three weeks now and I thought I’ll drop by to give my two cents.

    As a young francophone ex-pat from northern NB, here is what I miss from NB beside family:

    The sea, the Acadian culture, the way people are not stress out particularly behind the wheel, Alpine beer, the fact that I knew all my neighbors on my street.

    I agree with the posters above about the “chattering class”. The problem in NB is not that people are not interrested in politics (just go at your local Tim Hortons in the morning to see for yourself), but that people don’t want to be involve whatsoever in any activities that may take few minutes of their time. I used to go to my town hall meetings and it was always the same people who were there and few actually asked questions.

    Area in needs of improvements in NB:

    -Reform of the municipal world : abolish the archaic local services district in NB. A look at the Finn report might be a good first start for the government who seems to like to pay for studies just to let them on the shelves after…

    -Infrastructures: A lot of areas are isolated with a poor road system. No divided highways in the North and East coast.

    -Tourism: A deficient tourist strategy. I worked in that sector in the summer when I was a student and we are way behind other provinces. Our famous routes with their new logos often brings our visitors on long strecht where there is nothing to see at all. In the Edmundston region, the spiral head touristic route is on the Transcanada road. I don’t think that people who travel from southern Ontario comes to NB to visit a 4-lanes highway, they have plenty in their own region. We should look at what Nova Scotia are doing for tourist routes, or some successful tourist routes in Quebec like “Chemin des Cantons /Township trail” (in the Eastern Townships region).

    -Lack of investment in future areas like R&D. Why can the Rimouski region of Quebec have modern marine biology research facilities employing qualified people in this Eastern Quebec remote region and we can not have the same in let’s say Shippagan or Miramichi near the gulf of St-Lawrence. The new plan for the north of the governement put forestery as one of the three main focus. I don’t consider forestery as a 21st century industry with a lot of potential except if it focus on new products like the St-Quentin groupe Savoie is producing but once again it’s not specified.

    -People working against each other: I know that some competitiveness can be positive but we are at a point where everyone wants to have the cake and eat it too. Moncton, Fredericton and St. John are competing against eachother, North vs. South, Urban vs. rural, Francophones vs. Anglophones (that’s another huge problem in our province but I better not start), etc.

    I could probably add more but I think it’s a start for reflexion. What do you guys think?

  9. “in NB nobody cares”

    Well, clearly people care about some things, otherwise things would be a lot quieter here than they are.

    Before I left NB in the 70s, UNB had a group of academics that challenged the status quo in NB on many fronts. They were involved in the province and wanted change. There was a lot of ‘chattering’ in Freddy Beach, Moncton and SJ about how things could be changed. Most of those involved in those movements left in frustration eventually. Things started to change, then went into a stasis that has remained in place.

    Now I see the UNB and the chattering class as uninvolved in the province. Yes, they get up on their hind legs over things like NB Power and FI, but otherwise, zip. The chattering class should be leading discussion on policy issues and pressuring politicians to open things up in this province. Fact is, there are too many members of this group that expect to remain comfortable no matter what happens in this province. Perhaps if that was changed, there would be more productive activity from the chatterers.

  10. Again, the problem is a lack of organization. The organizations that DO exist are ones the get funding from the government, so they don’t want to rock the boat.
    But again people shouldn’t confuse ‘no involvement’ with ‘no media talking about involvement’. Take forestry again, there is a SUBSTANCIAL sized group that has been talking about community forestry. The environmental groups (at least three), private woodlot owners (as a group and at least three of their organizations), as well as several municipal leaders (at least four town mayors).
    The problem is, Irving has a very vested interest in NOT seeing it go ahead, which means no coverage. And again, watch “Forbidden Forest” and you will see just how active people are, and this has nothing to do with NB Power.
    Poverty is another issue, while Irving occasionally has a ‘feel good’ story about a volunteer group, there is no real coverage of the causes OR effects. Poverty groups, of course, get what meagre funds they have directly from government, so they are too scared to make much noise.
    And again, the public does more ‘chattering’ than university profs. I mean, there was a blog posting with average salaries saying a full professor at these schools made over 100 grand. What would they have to complain about?
    So again, we ‘chatterers’ don’t need to look further than our mirrors. People are always quick to point out ‘the other guy’s faults’. But in reality, it takes people to stand up in order to accomplish these things. If we, people who care enough to talk about this stuff day in and day out, don’t care enough to actually DO something…why be surprised nobody else does?

  11. “why be surprised nobody else does?”

    Problem with that argument is that those groups you refer to (community forestry; poverty) are not new. They received more attention in the 70s than now. Why? Its largely because the academics and upper middle classes in NB have abandoned them.

    “But in reality, it takes people to stand up in order to accomplish these things.”

    That’s the point. In the 70s the chatterers in academia did stand up, at least for a while. They are not now – they are distracted by other things, perhaps issues outside of NB. A curse of the internet perhaps. The unis need to get more engaged in NB; that would crystallize a lot of action by others. The unis first mission should be NB. This isn’t about someone organizing a facebook page, or a demo; its about a group of institutions that are not doing their job.

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