It’s easy to get demoralized and give up. Especially if you live in Saint John, NB


“Speak up. Learn to talk clearly and forcefully in public… Be a nuisance where it counts…  Do your part to inform and stimulate the public to join your action…. Be depressed, discouraged and disappointed at failure and the disheartening effects of ignorance, greed, corruption and bad politics—but never give up.”

Those are the words of Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the namesake of the school and site of the mass shooting in Florida on February 14. A 19-year-old, Nikolas Cruz, confessed to shooting 31 people, killing 17. 

Cruz was pretty much a marginalized human being from birth. He was adopted at age 2, his adoptive father died when was still a boy. He suffered from ADHD, anxiety, depression, stress and anger issues, and had a history of displaying violent tendencies. A victim himself, he bragged about killing animals and hating blacks, Mexicans, gays and others. Cruz was the lit end of a political fuse attached to an American powder keg of white male anger directed at minority groups that appear to be doing well. Cruz’s attachment to Stoneman Douglas is cruelly ironic.

As unstable as he is, he’s able to connect his own alienation to the well-publicized white male alienation and rage, all of which is symptomatic of something, but not the cause.

Although most of the mainstream media does its collective best to ignore the causes, there’s enough evidence available. Growing income inequality, rising debt, lack of jobs for semi-skilled workers, especially white males, have led to social breakdown, rising divorce rates, domestic violence, single parent poverty, substance abuse, social isolation and homelessness.

This is not just an American phenomenon. The same patterns can be seen in the UK, Canada and elsewhere. The patterns are macroeconomic: the deregulation of industries; the exporting of jobs to cheap labour pools overseas; the flatlining of wages for over 30 years while productivity and prices continue to inflate; the rise of the super-rich and offshore tax havens; the necessity of two-income families; rising student debt; the wildly inflated cost of housing; and the reliance on credit card borrowing to merely survive. The economic pressures from above are crushing those least able to bear it.

The Canadian poster city for this story is Saint John, New Brunswick. It’s one of the poorest cities in Atlantic Canada. Its local government can’t afford to repair the roads. Yet it’s home and headquarters to one of the wealthiest families in Canada, a family that historically promised jobs, and asks and gets lowered taxes, while its industries foul the air—a 2009 Conservation Council study pegged lung cancer rates 40 to 50 percent higher in Saint John than in nearby Fredericton and Moncton.

Instead of tackling Saint John’s problems head-on by raising taxes on industry, and rigidly enforcing environmental pollution, the provincial government has decided to ‘give’ Saint John a $22 million financial aid package. In May last year the government created a $10 million fund to address generational poverty in the city, and in October it announced a $50 million commitment to build a new provincial museum in Saint John. All of this comes after the province followed a third-party recommendation to write down Irving’s Canaport property assessment by $202 million dollars. Of course, none of these financial exchanges are connected. And certainly not connected to the upcoming provincial election on September 24.

Which brings me back to Stoneman Douglas. Her advice is to “do your part to inform and stimulate the public to join your action”, to be a nuisance, to never give up. But in the face of intergenerational power, wealth and poverty, not much seems to change in Saint John (and New Brunswick, for all that) no matter who says or does what.

Let me be perfectly clear. I have no personal axe to grind with the Irving business complex, or any other business. I don’t even have a personal beef with the provincial government—whether it’s red this year or blue the next. I do, however, have a personal issue with New Brunswick citizens. All of us know what’s going on here. Nothing I’ve written about is a surprise to anyone. So why is it so difficult to simply find new candidates, vote them into non-red-blue parties and change the game? Is it some kind of Stockholm Syndrome, or is it something deeper, wired into the franco-anglo political DNA of the province?

Or perhaps it’s something simpler. Like cowardice and laziness. Or plain giving up. If that’s the case, we should all be heeding Stoneman Douglas’ advice. September is just 7 months away.

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