Telling you what you want to hear, doing another


CBC Radio reported this morning that most people are concerned about health care and the economy, yet very few people seem to be concerned about the effects of the massive provincial debt.

And a few minutes later commentators discussed Canadian household debt, ranking us second highest among the G8 countries, right behind the U.S. The conclusion? That 7% of Canadian households are "living on the brink," especially if interest rates go up slightly.

In an unrelated CBC story, access to mental health care in New Brunswick was a big issue. No wonder. When the economy goes south, stress levels rise. We suffer financially—and emotionally.

If I were the next leader of the province what would I do? First, I’d admit that we’re in tough shape. Second, rather than making promises, I’d set priorities and find real "how to" solutions. And the first priority is getting New Brunswickers to collaborate on a new vision.

That vision would focus on two main fundamentals—natural resources and human resources. New Brunswick is facing the decline of both. We also have a small, widely dispersed population, with three main cities and numerous small towns making it a difficult province to service.

Our population is aging. Health care, drug plans and affordable seniors’ housing will take up more of the provincial budget. And with more options out of province our youth continue to leave.

Simply put, we need to relocalize, re-energize, reskill and retool. Here are a few ideas.

1. Reduce unessential government spending. Reduce strict bilingualism, start to hire best people for the job in each language, not necessarily bilingual. Put a fork in ‘pork barrel’ regional projects and end handouts to the biggest corporations. Trim government staff by 5%. Refocus the government on the essentials: creating opportunities for the next generation.

2. Form an alliance with Quebec on francophone youth culture and economic development.

3. Create an Atlantic energy consortium. Build a DC tie-line to Churchill Falls, Labrador. Create a combined off-shore wind–in-stream tidal array up the length of the Bay of Fundy to generate 2000 megawatts of electricity. Retire Colson Cove and Point Lepreau power plants as soon as possible. Introduce competition in the natural gas sector.

4. Provide innovation subsidies to small manufacturers, small agri/aquacultural operations, "green" tech and knowledge-based businesses. Create a "New Brunswick supplier program" for all government contracts adding a 10% surtax on out-of-province suppliers.

5. Rebuild the entire residential housing inventory to 21st Century energy efficiency standards. This could require a $20 billion investment over 10 years—or $2 billion a year, refunded by a 5% sales tax on the sale of all residential real estate and on all building materials, and a 2% tax on home heating energy consumption. Full payback could be achieved in 40 years. A government corporation will be set up oversee the retrofitting.

6. Offer free post-secondary education to all permanent New Brunswick residents—with the proviso that graduates remain in the province for three years after graduating and sign a binding contract to pay 5% of their salaries to a provincial education fund for five years. Centralize post-secondary administration. Create an entrepreneurial youth development program in partnership with the province’s business sector. Develop early multi-functional learning: start arts and trades, increase focus on basics: language and grammar, math and conceptual problem solving.

7. Increase public–private sector partnerships. Take an ownership position in new private technology–manufacturing startups. Introduce significant locally-grown, locally-produced purchase mandates for large out-of-province food retailers—including a 500-kilometer diet component.

8. Stop building new 4-lane highways. Introduce high quality subsidized inter-city commuter bus service with wi-fi internet service, etc., mandate car-pooling and add a gas-guzzler tax on vehicles and investigate new transportation options. Build a new Atlantic Canada fast-freight, roll-on-roll-off rail network with the Maritimes, Quebec and Maine, and develop a new transportation services marketing corporation.

9. Financially assist the health of the province’s three main cities to increase urban–pedestrian livability, and reduce suburban–commuter development through increased taxation. Plan and begin building a fund to construct an inter-city commuter rail service.

10. Provide a provincial drug plan and free dental care for all New Brunswick residents. Create an employer-employee contribution component.

11. Find federal assistance to create a 15-year partial moratorium on the fishery. Establish protection for old growth forests to cover at least 20% of the province’s landmass...

and so on... In short, we need fewer promises and less political combativeness—and more collaboration and healthy competition across all sectors. It’s time to get tough on ourselves. If the dream is to reduce poverty and build a youth-driven middle class, we need to create an environment that gives our young people more options. Business as usual is not an option.

The simple premise is this. If we create a healthier environment we’ll create a healthier long-term economy. We need to envision New Brunswick as the best place to live and work on the continent. That’s the real challenge for the next crew we send to Fredericton. Let’s wish them all the very best.

Recommended reading for politicians this week: Lester Brown’s "Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization."


  1. My profound apologies for being away so long (on account of beaucoup health problems these past few months).

    I like your prescription so much in fact, I would like to outsource it back the U.S. (with all recognition and royalties due you). Do we have a trade agreement?


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