It now seems clear that Louis J. Robichaud will most likely go down in history as the most successful Premier in New Brunswick’s history. I have heard this intonation from a half dozen experts in the past 24 hours.
Why? Because he aggressively redressed the key challenge facing New Brunswick at the time. The inequity between anglophones and francophones and between ruralites and urbanites. While most have called this a social agenda/achievement, I see it fundamentally as an economic one. The machinery that LJR and his government put in place (carried on by Richard Hatfield, Frank McKenna and Bernard Lord) led to a increased economic opportunities for Acadians. The results of these reforms are most evident in Greater Moncton where as of the 2001 Census, Francophones have higher average incomes than Anglophones. In addition, they have higher rates of university education. The official languages legislation helped foster the French language in New Brunswick to the benefit of Acadian communities and culture. Bravo, LJR.
However, since this blog is about economic development, I would be remiss if I didn’t put a jab into the current regime. Donald Savoie, who has my highest respect, was asked yesterday if New Brunswick will ever see the likes of LJR again. His response was most likely not. He may be correct but I reserve the right to hold out some hope.
I believe that the current and ever looming economic crisis in New Brunswick has the potential to be the catalyst for another LJR. This is the key challenge facing New Brunswick right now. We are in population decline. Our rural communities (many of which, by the way, are Acadian dominated) are suffering now more than any time in our history (compared to the urban areas). In addition, many of the industries that have propped up the economy for over 100 years (forestry, fishing, mining) are in decline – and just about everyone knows it.
Therefore, the next Premier to tackle this issue head on – I believe has the potential to rival LJR in popularity and legacy. The Premier that leads an economic revolution and helps breathe economic vitality back into our communities will go down as a hero. Look at McKenna. He barely scratched the surface of real economic change and still he was mostly well loved by New Brunswickers. If Premier Lord had carried on McKenna’s economic reforms the way Hatfield carried on LJR’s social reforms – we may have been much further ahead right now.
There are calls for the Universite de Moncton to change its name to Louis J. Robichaud University in honour of the former Premier. Has a nice ring, doesn’t it?
How about Bernard Lord University. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions…..