On boomers and NB economic development

Just a  few more comments on my column on Saturday challenging boomers.

The truth is that we know desperation is a powerful motivator – in our personal lives, in our businesses and in our communities.    If the roof is about to collapse people start to put aside petty rivalries or concerns fairly quickly.

One of the biggest challenges in New Brunswick is that there is not a sense of desperation – far from it – most NBers feel the opposite.  Things are going good.  There’s a new Costco in Fredericton.  What’s the problem?

The problem is our economy is built on a house of cards.  We are spending over $900 million now on EI each year.  For every one dollar worth of employment income, New Brunswickers receive 25 cents in government transfer income (personal income transfers – this doesn’t include transfers from government to government).  This is 42 percent higher than the national average.  Think about it.  We are a society that is building a massive public health care infrastructure and simultaneously shifting away from employment income to government transfer income.  Combine this with our demographic tsunami (1971 3 young people for every old person, now less than 1:1) and we have a problem, Houston (or should I say Harvey?).  Because we are not a country and receive transfer payments from the national government it is hard to predict the consequences of this.  If we were a country, there would be alarm bells going off everywhere.

It is a fragile situation right now and some government leaders and business leaders are starting to understand it.  The public, it seems to me, does not.

The column was pointed at boomers because they are still in most of the leadership positions in government, industry and education.  They do hold the levers of power.  Personally, most of these boomers are financially stable – with good pensions and accumulated capital (I am talking about the leaders here) so the motivation for them to lean into fixing our structural challenges is not necessarily related to their personal situation.  They could easily coast into retirement, spend 3-4 months a year in Florida, live on Grand Lake and enjoy life.

I’m suggesting they look at legacy.  The boomer generation has at least 20 years left (collectively) at the top of the heap in terms of influence.  We could come back to this blog in 20 years and be talking about a remarkable transformation – about the strong rise in population and the influx of young people and immigrants.  About the attraction of billions worth of investment from around the world.  About the sustainable growth of our natural resource industries.  About the many IT companies such as Radian6 that were incubated here and now are part of global IT firms.

Or we could come back to this blog in 20 years debating what the 2031 Royal Commission on the Future of the Maritime Provinces will conclude.   Where will the capital city of this new entity be located?  What do they mean by talking about a substantial rationalization of public services?   What do they mean when they talk about a dramatic realignment of public infrastructure?

Whatever future is out there – the boomers will play an outsized role in our fate.