When The Wheels Fall Off The Truck

It has, with astonishing regularity, produced some of Canada’s most successful and storied millionaires and billionaires. It has, without apology, crafted and refined the systems of finance that have kept small jurisdictions, regions, and a nation safe from economic collapse. It has sent its best and brightest, armed with peerless knowledge, on odysseys of discovery to Western Canada, the United States, Europe, and Asia. It has worried and worked, over a hundred years, the practical magic of entrepreneurial and commercial success.

Still, there is no love, no respect and no respite for the Province of New Brunswick; not now, and not any time soon.

When did the wheels fall off the truck?

Was it when former Progressive Conservative premier Bernard Lord declared his ludicrously underfunded and inarticulate “Prosperity Plan” in 2005? Was it when former Liberal premier Shawn Graham unveiled his hyperbolic “self-sufficiency” and “transformational” agenda that served only to transform him into the first single-term honcho at the big show in 50 years of provincial politics?

Or was it the debt, always the debt?

Today, New Brunswick is, by every definition of the word, bankrupt.

Today, it owes $8.3-billion. Next year, it will owe $ 9.5-billion. In 2012, if things don’t change dramatically, it will owe $10-billion. Meanwhile, its annual budgetary shortfall is $800-million. By next year, this will deepen to $1-billion. That means that every man, woman, child and infant in this province will bear a yearly burden of $1,100 every time they complain about a medical clinic, a school, a nursing home, a community centre closing for lack of money.

As New Brunswick’s leading economic guru University of Moncton professor Donald Savoie says: “I don’t think we’ve ever been in a predicament like this before. We’re in trouble, deep trouble. If we could only imagine the dimension of the problem, then maybe we could do something about it.”

This is, of course, our existential challenge. Consider that one billion credit cards laid end-to-end would wrap around the Earth twice, roughly the length of 938,000 football fields or 14 Great Walls of China or 13 Amazon Rivers. Then, if you stacked them, they’d form an obelisk the height of 7,219 Great Pyramids or 100 Mt. Everests, weighing as much as 1,562 hippopotamuses or 52 blue whales.

What’s a billion? It’s the number of breaths a person takes over 30 years. It’s a generation of living, which is exactly how long we can expect our children and grandchildren to pay for our short-sightedness if we fail to act now.

Still, having failed so miserably and in so many ways, New Brunswick now has the opportunity to reset the button on its future and, in a way, for the rest of the region. 

Let’s begin by understanding that this small province belongs to a mixture of other small provinces. We are stronger allied than when separated. Economies of scale dictate intra-regional cooperation on everything from energy distribution to labour mobility and food production. Let’s recognize that Atlantic Canada supports 2.9-million residents, less than 10 per cent of the country’s entire population, and that by pulling together we elevate our best qualities and vanquish our worst.

Naturally, New Brunswick’s challenge is ensuring it never again finds itself burdened with a structural, $1-billion annual shortfall. And this requires long-term investments that dramatically reduce the cost of (and increase the returns from) health care, public education, and infrastructure: Programs that encourage and reward physical fitness, disease prevention, literacy, numeracy, and economic diversity and innovation.

But if these problems are enormous, they are not intractable; in fact, they are well within our power to solve if we see beyond the illusion that our individual challenges are somehow unique requiring remedies tailored to each one of us, and not all of us.

No part of Atlantic Canada is alone: We build, we fail and we build again. And we do it together not for the sake of millionaires and billionaires yet to come, but for all. Otherwise our winners take nothing.

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