I spent some time last night going through the Statistics Canada Year Book for 1960 and comparing some of the data to 2010.  It’s my parents 50th wedding anniversary and I thought it would be interesting to look at the economy then versus now and write up a few ideas for an upcoming column.

Without giving away the column content, it is fair to say the more things change the more things stay the same.  Population growth back then was well below the national average, immigration was lower, we were less educated than the rest of Canada.  While we have dramatically improved a lot – relative to the rest of Canada we continue to be a laggard.

If I had an army of young researchers I would plow through all this old data – including old newspapers, books – any old content and publish reams and reams of comparative and trending data.  I just don’t have the time to dedicate to this stuff but I think a key to unlocking the future is understanding the past.  And we don’t spend much time at all in New Brunswick understanding our past – particularly our economic past.

But all this old data as an economic thread running throughout.  Read the narrative from the 1956 Census and you will see many of the same themes.  Read an old newspaper from the 1950s and you will see protectionists versus free trader and warnings for New Brunswick.

To some this old stuff should be kept in the past but I can’t help thinking it holds clues for those thinking about our future.

8 thoughts on “1960

  1. ” a key to unlocking the future is understanding the past”

    I think that is absolutely right. And with respect to economic data, it seems to me that the mandate for ‘plowing though’ that data and presenting the resulting analyses should belong to the universities. Good data and rigorous data analyses are the foundation for good policy development; delivering those analyses in a digestible format is also a great way to get people engaged in discussion.

    Its in our civic interest to push our universities into doing more of exactly this kind of work in a number of disciplines.

  2. That’s one area where Richard and I usually agree. Although there is a point when a bureaucracy does NOT do that, it becomes the responsibility of the population to DEMAND it. And sadly in NB, and often in most of Canada, that is lacking. Where it isn’t lacking, the government usually easily ignores canadians. Those are a lot of different problems in there. Just as an example, back in the nineties there were studies and canadians were virtually united in demanding a moratorium on genetically modified ingredients in the food system. Polls showed virtually 100% support for labelling of food containing GMO’s. The result, well, you know the result.

    And that was with many well funded lobby and citizen groups making demands, and when government manages to ignore such demands, it has a real effect-a lot of people simply drop out of the political process. In NB Charles Leblanc has been a godsend to many thousands of people, although he lost interest once he got housing, those 30,000 or so people certainly wouldn’t have what few rights they have today if it weren’t for him. That was partly ‘just blogging’, so again I’ll mention the very real benefit this blog would have if it even had a website listing ten concrete policy proposals instead of just the complaints that ‘we need more investment’. While there has sometimes been a piece of advice here or there, it really takes more than that. You find a piece of legislation, you find an MLA who will present it (your local one is good for that) and that’s how change happens.

    That little tirade stems from a recent experience in this field. Richard is correct about university responsibility. The fact that the journalism schools have released almost literally nothing publicly, meaning they either aren’t doing any investigative reporting or it isn’t going anywhere. That, quite simply, should be an embarassment to the schools. It’s pretty much free to start your own television channel on youtube. However, like these other issues, it MAY be true that such things exist, and IRving and CBC media simply ignore them so without hard core searches nobody finds them.

    But its not just universities. For history, NB has dozens of geneological societies, who although they don’t do the same kind of ‘history’, they do quite a bit of work. I contacted several of them to try and get some interest in an NB historical podcast, and the response was ‘nah, thats too much work’-even though I was volunteering to do a lot of it. My experience in contacting several university profs to discuss their research came to a similar end, although often its a matter of hitting the right people. The only people so far that have been really ecstatic has been the astronomical societies, who are always keen and eager (so long as somebody else does the work:)

    There IS quite a bit of historical analysis out there. I’ve still got the PHD paper of a friend who was comparing NB and Saskatchewan shortly after the war. Of course he couldn’t find a job in NB so he’s painting houses out west. With only three schools, there simply isn’t the labour pool to produce much of that stuff.

    But there is SOME stuff out there. If you haven’t subscribed to Acadiensis I’d recommend it. And through the university system you can find a fair bit, often done at schools far away from NB for some reason. Pubmed is good for science stuff, so again the responsibility for producing such things falls on….well, YOU, since nobody else is.

    Just as one more comment, I was reading a book on Louis Robichaud from our local library and to reinforce the point given above, Louis made the comment that if the feds handed NB a cheque for 100 million dollars they wouldn’t know what to do with it (in the economic development field). That’s very similar to right now. Forget 100 million, if the province got a cheque for 10 million to start ANY kind of ED effort aimed at the future….what would you push for? Any ideas?

  3. I can’t help but wonder then if this sense of urgency many of us have about the future of our province and communities is just crying wolf? If this was the way we were even back in 1950, and NB hasn’t fallen off the planet (in fact, things are better), should we be as worried? Obviously the world has changed, which must be taken to account. Maybe history can help us refine what exactly we should our concerned about.

  4. It’s not about falling off the planet. As I have said many times before New Brunswick has chugged along for decades and federal transfers have helped buffer against what would be a serious provincial budget shortfall each year. The issue is more about ambition. Are we happy with this mediocrity? I appreciate Tim raising this issue because I think it is the prevailing view in New Brunswick that everything is more or less fine. I think in certain areas of Northern New Brunswick there is more angst. I am not being sarcastic here. If the people wanted government to have a more substantial economic development agenda, to invest far more in R&D, to attract and grow key industries, etc. – there would be more focus. This is a democracy after all.

  5. “If this was the way we were even back in 1950, and NB hasn’t fallen off the planet (in fact, things are better), should we be as worried? ”

    When did transfer payments start? Cause that is what is keeping us afloat right now.

    Things are great in NB if you have a secure high-paying job. Since those individuals are the ones who fund politicians and follow the media, it is no surprise that there is not much concern re NBs poor economic performance. That will perhaps change if there is a siginficant reduction in transfer payments – then it might be too late.

    From the perspective of my business, I do not see too many growth opportunities; the perspective of a large proportion of uni grads must be similar – as many of them seem to leave and few move here to replace them. It’s a slow downward trajectory, IMHO.

  6. Well, yes, many things may look relatively the same – superficially. But Tim shouldn’t start to feel too comfortable about not falling off the world. As David Campmbell’s own research has pointed out,the fifties were a very different period for NB. For example, Northern NB was actually growing faster than the south. NB was regarded by 1970 as the most advanced provincial adminsitrative regime in Canada. And it wasn’t until the mid nineties that NB’s population started to become older than the national average. But the biggest difference was that there was confidence about the future. A number of major projects were intitiated then, including the electrification of rural NB (when it really was rural, not just ribbon suburbia)and the formation of a crown corporation to provide electrical energy to the whole province at comparable rates. Can we summon up the confidence to move forward today, or are we content to bite at the heels of anyone ambitious enough to dare?

  7. Why is it that everytime I go back to New Brunswick and all over the Maritimes, large parts of the housing look like the poorest run-down neighbourhoods of Western Canada’s largest cities? The cars are small and second hand looking too. There is a very visible lack of monetary wealth, and it shows in the homes and cars (private) and the roads (public).

    And what is up with everyone putting a star of some kind on their house even if they are not Acadian?! Some kind of cool economic development for the artisans? Gawd its tacky!

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