A few years ago on a flight to Toronto, I happened to be sitting next to a senior policy advisor to a top New Brunswick politician. Over the course of our discussion, I outlined my thoughts around a serious economic development strategy with serious funding support and broad-based buy-in. He told me that I was right. The only way to truly change the course of a place like New Brunswick would be to take a radical new approach.
But, he informed me, you would not be in office long enough to see it through. You see, he said, when we do our public opinion polling in New Brunswick economic issues usually rank fifth or sixth in terms of priority usually slightly lower than filling potholes or garbage removal. People, he went on to say, have more or less come to the conclusion that the current economic state of affairs in New Brunswick is about all we can expect and so any massive new spending on economic development (and the short term implications on other spending areas) would lead to a public backlash and that is why no New Brunswick government will ever do it. New Brunswickers, he emphatically stated, don’t have the self-confidence to think we could actually compete with places like Ontario and British Columbia.
He concluded: So we muddle along. Not much ever changing and we hope that our guys and gals aren’t in office when the public finally wakes up and realizes that our rural communities are dying, our urban areas are not on a firm economic fitting and we are woefully dependent on the rest of Canada to pay for our basic government services.
I got off the plane that day feeling a little depressed. But after some reflection, I realized that if it is just an issue of public opinion, we should be able to change that. We just need to make the effort.
Franklin D. Roosevelt was famous for using his ‘fireside chats’ to engage the public in a dialogue over the most profound changes in the history of U.S. social policy. His premise was that by talking to people in a disarming fashion (hence the fire) using words and concepts they could understand, you could get people to support these monumental changes – and they did.
My ‘fireside blog’ is one small attempt to do this in New Brunswick.