The Ghost Town of Gagnon

Canadian Press ran a story this week about Kitsault, British Columbia. Kitsault was built in the 1980s as a community for the people that were working in the rather isolated molybdenum mine. However, that mine was closed and the whole town was shut down. Now, someone is trying to revitalize the community.

It reminded me of my trip to Labrador last year. Somewhere in Northern Quebec, there used to be a town called Gagnon that at its height had over 1,000 residents. After that mine closed, the company that owned the town bulldozed the buildings and now the area has become a ‘ghost town’ complete with its legends. We walked around this spooky place and tried to imagine the school, health clinic, restaurant, bar and all the other amenities in this town.

It also reminded me of a story I read recently about the dozens of declining or abandoned communities or “outports” in Newfoundland as a result of the changing nature of the fishery.

You see, the foundation of any community has to be its economy. When the main employer in an isolated community shuts down (like Kitsault or Gagnon), most times has just shut the town down.

My question is simple. Can we just ‘shut down’ a whole province? You might be able to make the argument that Canada would be better off economically (and socially) if we did. We could have kept Gagnon going – put everyone on EI, encouraged some small businesses to set up and then established a long term Equalization formula that would send millions of taxpayer dollars up there each year – but what would have been the point? Those people left, went to more prosperous communities and were fine. You could argue that we would have forced them to settle for second best by having them trade high paying mining jobs for EI and welfare.

If we turned New Brunswick into a ‘ghost’ province, here would be the benefits:

  • With each decade that goes by, the rest of Canada would save billions of dollars in Equalization and EI income support.
  • Maybe the 100,000 New Brunswickers that receive EI each year (1/4 of all workers) and the 35,000 people that receive social assistance (7% of the working age population) would find better economic opportunities in Alberta or Ontario or British Columbia.
  • As a result of our economic problems, New Brunswick spends the least in Canada on health care and education. If NBers were resettled in Alberta, BC, et. al. we would automatically have our families in communities that spend more on these vital social programs.
  • For Canadian taxpayers, the money they would receive from not paying for Equalization and EI would put more money in their pockets than any Mike Harris tax cut.
  • Provinces such as Alberta, BC and Ontario would have a ready supply of labour to fuel their economic growth (they have been leaching NBers for decades – this would just formalize the process).

Anyone who reads my blog will know that I favour a different model. One where provinces such as New Brunswick, PEI, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland are given support to turn their economies around not just keep them in the dumps. One where New Brunswick becomes like Ireland and transforms itself into a strong economy not reliant on EI and Equalization. One where we lead the country in education test scores. One where our health care is best in the world. One where our rural communities are models for rural development – attracting people from all over the world to live in their pristine and vibrant towns.

But barring an change to the status quo, I fear we are headed for ‘ghost town’ status. Oh, not right away. But as the population continues to decline, the first step will be to amalgamate NB, PEI and NS. Then, when some major economic crisis hits (recession or depression) it will hit us the hardest (as the last two did) and eventually there will be little will here or outside to save this place.

It’s not time to pack your bags yet. But you might start looking around….

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One Response to The Ghost Town of Gagnon

  1. Anonymous says:

    David,

    You have overlooked one major world development which affects the economics of any area. One does not have to be economically dependent and employed by the historical local industry which originally supported it.
    Home offices for business can be located anywhere in the World that Internet is available.Anyone with an independent income can choose to live even in a ghost town , which could theoretically become a self sufficient communtiy providing basic life services to those financially independent workers who chose to live there because they love the geographics.
    I am intrigued by the idea that a World Think Tank , Centre for Peace and Non-violent Entertainment, and all of the spin-off industries that could support a town are a strong possibility now that the town of Kisault actually has an owner and leader with the vision and finances to make it happen. I do plan to be part of it.

    Think positively , David, wor therein lie the solutions to the worst of apparent problems.

    Eva Nolan

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