When times bang hard, it’s time to bang back together
If necessity is the mother of invention, then adversity is the handmaiden. Lately, many maidens have been wringing their hands in at least two of Atlantic Canada’s provinces.
Where, they wail, are the big ideas? Where are the bold ventures, the shoulders to the wheel, the fearless responses to the treacheries of global commodity pricing and the unpredictability of domestic resource development?
After all, even in this corner of the country, we used to make things. We used to export the products and services of our genius and industry, just as others in the world told us we were quaint fools to try.
But we persevered. Adversity was not our enemy; she was our close neighbor, our best friend. We learned from her: How to compete, how to succeed, how to maintain a healthy labour force, and how to reinvent and reign in the cost centres of our governments.
Today, the adversities we face more often transform us into weeping waifs. Woe is us. It’s time for a cup of tea; time for bed. Maybe life will look better in the morning. Mother, we need no invention; the only necessity is that big, fat pillow we’ll lay our heads upon. Be a dear, and fetch it for us.
Not long ago, the Government of New Brunswick and that of Newfoundland and Labrador released fiscal forecasts that blithely recognized the awful state of their respective provinces’ public accounts, but oddly refused to cradle any sense of innovation for dealing with them.
According to a recent report by the Fraser Institute, a private think tank based in the West, writing about the newly benighted East, “Newfoundland and Labrador’s provincial finances are in a dire state. The government’s latest projections have the province facing a nearly $2 billion operating deficit, equivalent to almost a third of its total annual revenue. After adjusting for the size of its economy and population, Newfoundland and Labrador will have by far the largest deficit among the provinces in 2015/16.”
As for New Brunswick, the picture is only slightly rosier (if that is the word). The annual deficit, at $500 million, is stuck in neutral. The province’s long-term debt will breach the $13-billion mark before long. Meanwhile, its overall unemployment rate now hovers perilously close to 10 per cent, and its labour force has lost close to 7,000 people over the past six months.
It’s easy to blame governments for this rotten state of affairs. Still, we elected them, lobbied them, and protected them. In fact, we created the enormous amount of adversity Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, and even Nova Scotia and Prince Edward
Island, now face.
It only follows, then, that we, all of us, should become the handmaidens to our own, new reinvention in this region of the country.
As we are the authors of the challenges we face, we must transform these obstacles into main chances to rebuild our easternmost provinces, our cities and towns, ourselves. We must finally start to work together in this part of the country (and not simply talk endlessly about the processes and procedures that bring the political class together with the private sector for a conference or two).
Where we in New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador can work together to improve our individual and shared lives, we must pursue that course — reduce costs, break barriers, extend our hands, and get busy rewriting the future for the generations that follow.
Necessity may be the mother of invention. Adversity reminds us that, in the end, she is us.