A Peasant Girl Gathering Faggots in a Wood

Warning: Rant ahead. Probably among the most caustic I have written in a while. Most likely because it is my 40th birthday this week and almost the 18th anniversary of my taking a job at the NB Dept. of Economic Development. I had sent out over 300 resumes and hadn’t even received an interview and was two weeks away from packing up the ’75 Chev Nova and moving back to Alberta. But I got a two month gig writing proposals for companies looking to move to New Brunswick and I got hooked by the bug. By the notion that communities could come together and turn things around. Move things ahead.

Funny stuff. 18 years of standing on soap boxes. Yelling and screaming to any and all that would listen. And what has changed in 18 years? On the good side, unemployment is down significantly driven by call centres, an increasing bloating public sector and 16 straight years of more people moving out than moving in. Provincial budget deficits are now more or less gone but Equalization and other Federal Transfers are up by over a $1 billion/year. We have just replaced own-source revenue gaps with more federal largess which will undoubtedly some day dry up.

On the bad side, we are nowhere near the economic transformation that McKenna was promising. Not even close to the economic transformation that Lord was promising and sputtering into another round of transformational promise making.

I just finished Poitras’ Beaverbrook piece and my reaction is near anger. Maybe it’s because I am 40. Maybe it’s because I have spent 18 years in the ‘economic development’ business with no impact. Maybe. But I am getting sick and tired of being a charity case for old farts and their money. I am tired of being a charity case for Federal government Equalization. I am tired of New Brunswick being a place where these richies had summer homes and put up monuments to themselves to help the poor farmers and fishermen. Two generations later that same fealty seeking lineage is calling us “a widening in the road”. Frig that.

I want New Brunswick to be place where people move into to make their fortune. Then go spend some proceeds on third world charity. My stomach turned when I read about some of the grovelling that went on by politicians and community leaders to extract a few bucks out of that old Beaverbrook tycoon.

I want to live in a place where the private sector is growing faster than the public sector. Now public spending is growing twice as fast as private spending. A colleague and I drove around one of the posh new neighbourhoods in Dieppe recently. He pointed out the houses. A doctor lives there. A surgeon there. A government worker there. A couple who both work for the Feds over there. Along that street, three out of every four of the $500k+ houses were occupied by people that draw their salaries from the public purse.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t begrudge anyone their salary and housing situation. If I worked for the feds, I would take the salary without a second thought. This isn’t about that. This is about the fact that something is wrong when the richest people in the poshest neighbourhoods work taxpayer funded jobs. There is something wrong with the private sector when this is the case. There is something decidedly wrong when the richest county (as measured by income levels) in New Brunswick is in Frederiction – where there is by far the highest concentration of government workers.

We need a private sector that creates good jobs. But more than that, it needs to create entrepreneurs. Folks to exploit niches in fast growing economies and make abnormal profits until there is equilibrium. Real, old time capitalism at its best. Not this crap we see now with big bailouts and a few bucks to help kids start skateboarding retail stores.

You know my position on this. I believe that we need a far better mix of big, multinational firms to help spur entrepreneurship, help attract back people and provide a strong economy moving forward.

And I am tired of trying to convince people of this basic and most fundamental facts of economic development 18 years later. My knuckles are bleeding and my eyes are bloodshot folks. And we are haggling over a basic economic precept that the new US south figured out in the 1980s. That Ireland figured out in the 1970s. That Ontario discovered at the turn of the last Century.

Back to A Peasant Girl Gathering Faggots in a Wood. Poitras’ describes visiting this loss. Read about it. I won’t spoil it. But let me say this. If I had the money I’d fly over to that gallery in Manchester and buy it on the spot and bring it back to our province. Poitras calls it a metaphor. He’s right. It is a metaphor. It’s a metaphor for what happens when you think like a loser. Think like a loser. Act like a loser. Be a loser.

I want New Brunswick to be a winner. But it needs to think like a winner. It needs to act like a winner. “We can’t compete with Nova Scotia or Quebec on incentives” I hear constantly. “Why would an auto plant ever want to come here” they say with their noses in the metaphorical dirt paying homage to Beaverbrook. “We can’t attract manufacturing. It’s all going offshore” even has hundreds of new plants were build across Canada and the United States last year. “Come and take animation at the NBCC Miramichi” we are told. “You will have national and international career opportunities”. Just not local opportunities. “Come take civil engineering at NBCC Moncton”, a friend of mine was told. “Our graduates are at work across Canada in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and beyond”. Big friggin’ deal.

Oh, by the way. Merry Christmas.

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0 Responses to A Peasant Girl Gathering Faggots in a Wood

  1. Anonymous says:

    My dear friend, I understand your frustration but, at the same time, could not avoid noticing that you missed a great opportunity to make the difference in your last TJ column (‘Beyond the tipping point’).
    You say that “I firmly believe that this cannot be an “either/or” situation. Either we focus on urban economic development or we focus on rural economic development. We must focus on both.”
    May I humbly ask how is it possible to ‘focus’ on driving to the left AND to right, when those are the only two options??? And, to make things worse, with a sluggish engine?
    IMHO, it is this attachment to the past (i.e. to the so-called ‘healthy’ rural life style) that is preventing our province from moving ahead. How can we drive forward while looking in the rear view mirror?
    My 50 cents: we need to FOCUS on urban development while SELECTIVELY taking advantage of the VERY FEW rural opportunities that still make sense IN TODAY’S WORLD (sorry for the uppercase). Wouldn’t it be infinitely better to see our young Northern New Brunswickers moving to F’ton, Moncton or Saint John (and contributing to a 21st-century knowledge-based provincial economy), rather than to Ontario or Alberta? But I have to admit that this is a utopia. I can’t imagine the politicians from Northern New Brunswick letting theirs bones go…
    Anyway, kudos to the Premier for resisting the populist temptation and saying that “folks losing their jobs in northern New Brunswick may have to move to other areas of the province to find work”. Now, let’s get to work and FOCUS on creating those jobs in the three (sort of) urban parts of the province.

  2. Anonymous says:


    18 years ago, you were 22. That is fairly young trying to come up with proposals to drum up business for the province. Looking at the quality of your articles, you definitely have accumulated a lot of knowledge over the years. I would be surprised if you were anywhere this good, in the early years. You would have learnt a lot on the job. That says a lot about how we staff economic development efforts and do not place any emphasis on time tested process based on statistics but let individual economic development officers wing it. Now a days, they (Politicians) have given up on it, from the sounds of your postings on this blog. Mind you, the establishment is well paid, has above average life-style, enjoy a quality of life unsurpassed and get more than 50% of the revenue as entitlement. You can’t fault them for trying to perpetuate it. If I was the CEO of this province and more than 50% of my revenues come with a easy task of lifting a begging bowl, why would I have to do anything else?

  3. nbt says:

    It is a metaphor. It’s a metaphor for what happens when you think like a loser. Think like a loser. Act like a loser. Be a loser.

    Gee David, for a minute there, I had a flashback of 2002 when Harper tripped up on those two words describing Atlantic Canada.

    Aside from defeatist talk (wink, wink), if you get the chance, read Obama’s book Audacity of Hope as there are parts in there that make perfect sense out of our inability to attract a modern immigrant and set a course of non-failure.

  4. David Campbell says:

    To the first anonymous, point 1, rural population in Canada grew by almost 5% from 2001 to 2006 – just under the rate of overall population growth. The ‘remote’ part of the rural population declined by 0.1%. Point 2, we don’t have enough critical mass in our three ‘urban centres’ to generate the kind of growth the Premier is calling for in the self sufficiency plan. We need to see Miramichi as a small ‘urban’ and several others as well. Then we see the rural population commuting into the ‘urban’ areas for work.

    To the second anonymous, I was ‘young’ but eager to do a good job. I spent my weekends in the UNB library pouring over economic data and economic development literature (no Internet then). All I can say is the stuff we were pushing out was better than many of our competitors.

  5. Anonymous says:

    A step back before going forward?

    I understand your frustration. Opportunities are passing us by while we are celebrating our ‘successes’ and failing to acknowledge that the gap with prosperous economies is widening.

    I am afraid things will have to get worse before they get better. There is no sense of urgency with economic development and the general public is satisfied with government ‘achievements’ such as getting pot holes filled.

    Worse than no support for economic development, there appears to be resistance to it. The public casually bashes our successful businesses and resists the thoughts of a multi-national expanding (or returning) to the province. No wonder we are unsuccessful; who would want to operate a profit-driven business in an environment so hostile towards success?

    It takes exceptional leadership to pro-actively initiate change. Currently, NBers appear to evaluate leadership based on their ability to react to crisis and moderate the family feud among provincial communities. As long as these are the priorities, we will never have the economic vision we need.

    Even tiny PEI seems to have more of an economic plan than NB (see Ghiz to pitch plan to feds to boost economy at
    http://www.theguardian.pe.ca )
    “Ghiz is looking for a side deal with the federal government, one that will put millions of dollars into provincial coffers to help establish the province as a centre for bioscience, aerospace, finance and information technology in Atlantic Canada.”

    I don’t know enough to evaluate if these are the right targets or if they are realistic, but I sure endorse the concept of having a plan and some specific targets. What is our plan, and do New Brunswicker’s even care about it?

    Perhaps those of us who care about New Brunswick’s future should take a different approach. Maybe we should endorse the policies (or lack thereof) that result in aimless drifting and failing to keep up, let alone close, the gap with other provinces. As things get progressively worse, maybe we will reach a tipping point and the public will recognize, and support, the significance of strategic economic development and effective economic policy. Maybe then we’ll prioritize effective economic policy and planning.

  6. Anonymous says:

    david campbell said: “point 1, rural population in Canada grew by almost 5% from 2001 to 2006 – just under the rate of overall population growth.”
    Mmmm… I wasn’t aware of those numbers, but that certainly explains — at least in a significant part — Canada’s poor record in labour productivity. “Canada’s bleak record in labour productivity (output per hour worked) is well known. Indeed, since 2001, the Canadian economy has registered a cumulative increase of just 2.5 per cent in productivity growth compared to a 15.9 per cent gain in the United States. This is a staggering difference considering that the U.S. also experienced a recession in 2001 that Canada avoided.” (TD Economics)
    In other words, we are in serious trouble.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I have lived my life in both urban and rural areas (Halifax, Calgary, Montreal, Fredericton, Woodstock, Terrace Bay (ON)) so I think I am more familiar with both than many urbanites. This province is not that big that we have to talk in terms of living in one or the other, I would hazard to say that it is hard to live more than 1 ½ hrs from any major centre. My father’s commute in Calgary was close to an hour, an hour of travel does not make you rural in my opinion.

    It really irks me when everyone focuses on building industry in Moncton, Saint John or Fredericton. What about Woodstock, Edmundston, St. Stephen, Bathurst, Miramichi and even Dalhousie. Since when did Municipal governments give up their right to attract industry themselves, maybe its the Municipalities and not the Province that need to start thinking smarter.

    I think part of the problem in New Brunswick’s smaller communities is that they have given up on economic development, left it to the “big” cities, why not, that’s all the politicians talk about. Even further, the Province is more interested in keeping employment numbers up than helping develop viable, growing businesses. So they promote seasonal employment plans over long-term economic development, what a waste.

    And with all respect to David, many of his peers in economic development positions in New Brunswick do not have near the insight and passion that is required. Many occupy those same large homes that he describes.

  8. Anonymous says:

    “I think part of the problem in New Brunswick’s smaller communities is that they have given up on economic development, left it to the “big” cities, why not, that’s all the politicians talk about.”

    Come on, on the national and global scene, all of New Brunswick is rural. We need to act our size and quit this community in fighting. If any community, town or city makes progress with economic development it benefits all 729,000 citizens no mater where we live.

    To anonymous above, there is an Enterprise network http://www.enterprise-entreprise.ca/
    of 15 community-led economic development agencies supported by millions in ACOA money and matching provincial money to lead local/community economic development interests. If, as you suggest, this is not working, perhaps the money should be allocated to a provincially led effort from a renewed and funded BNB.

  9. Anonymous says:

    “We need to act our size..”? Are you kidding, that’s exactly what we don’t want. Think small and we will continue to be small. What is wrong with economic development for the WHOLE province and not just for the select urban centres. And as for those Enterprise Agencies, have you met some of the Directors? Business NB? Are you kidding me?

  10. Anonymous says:

    Anonymous 1:34 you are on to something.

    1) Economic development for the WHOLE province (not just politically strategic regions)

    2) Effective economic development staff (i.e. renewed, motivated, capable, energized BNB)

    3) Effective use of economic development funds (i.e. accountability for the Enterprises)

    4) Think big (i.e. cottage industries and retail operations don’t cut it)

    Now that is the beginnings of a plan with some substance……

  11. Anonymous says:

    It is very difficult to express all my thoughts about the need to FOCUS on urban economic development in just over 5 minutes, so these will be probably my last two comments about the topic:

    1) I really fail to see how “everyone is focusing on building industry in Moncton, Saint John or Fredericton.” (anonymous 10:37 AM) and which are our “politically strategic regions” (anonymous 2:18 PM). I wish that was true, but the unfortunate reality is that the three cities mentioned account for less than one third of the MLAs. The result: we have at least 15 “strategic regions” (represented by the enterprise agencies).

    2) We cannot build the discussion on the time that a worker needs to go to work. Because I am short of time, I am forced to cut and paste sections from a couple of reports to make my point (“Urban Economies and Productivity”, StatCan, June 2007 and “Path to the 2020 Prosperity Agenda”, The Institute for Competitiveness & Prosperity, November 2007):

    a) the geographical proximity of businesses stimulates the development of upstream industries that provide specialized inputs that can help boost the productivity of a downstream sector.

    b) the co-location of firms is often associated with development of relatively large pools of labour embodying skills that are needed by firms within the agglomeration. Firms that do not have access to these pools of specialized labour may have to substitute workers with less appropriate skills, reducing their productivity.

    c) the close proximity of firms is thought to enhance the flow of knowledge, with consequent, positive impacts on productivity. These mechanisms help explain why firms might choose to cluster in space and why productivity may be higher in firms that locate within these concentrations relative to those that locate outside them.

    d) the higher level of productivity that results from greater rates of urbanization is the result of the increased social and economic interaction of people in firms in metropolitan areas, the cost advantages of larger scale markets, and a more diversified pool of skilled labour. The interplay of these factors promotes innovation and growth in an economy.

  12. mikel says:

    I’ll make this equally caustic because I’m also pushing 40. Like your rant this is stuff you’ve all heard before.

    The problem is not with ‘the province’, it is doing exactly what every other province is doing, which is looking after the business class. As I’ve said numerous times, the private sector that you are attending to has been on cloud nine for years now and raves about how good things are.

    Public sector spending is up because the country is awash in wealth. This is just ‘trickle down’ spending, as anybody who has actually had experience with the health care or education field knows.

    The problem is with YOU and the posters criticizing New Brunswickers as ‘unwilling to change’, when all the change offered is bad. It’s also about balls. When the protestors were heading for St. John you and Alex Bruce were ridiculing them and bemoaning that ‘negative attitude’, and since then both of you have essentially been mirroring virtually every point the protestors were making.

    The ‘soviet style’ post above is a good example. Go ask any random russian nowadays what kind of economic planning they’d prefer. Compared to New Brunswick, Soviet style economic planning is a step up. And of course you are the first one to criticize the economic deals that ‘prop up’ employee’s salaries too highly. So what is left?

    The point is that New Brunswick CAN do whatever Nova Scotia does, the province is right next door. Whether it does or not depends on POLITICS. New Brunswickers, like all people, are all keen and eager for development when it is GOOD development. The problem is, we’ve never SEEN good development, so of course there is resistance. Mind you, you also have to realize who controls the media.

    YOU have a very specific view of policies, meaning you want your policies to be enacted. Like everybody who has a policy they want enacted, you do that through politics. You don’t do that through writing a daily blog-thats not lobbying.

    And again, there are far more people that would ascribe to your thinking than, say, when Charles Leblanc and Tim Smith lobbied to get boarding house tenants included in the Residential Tenants Act. That’s still probably the only time I’ve seen legislation enacted by the work of only two people. For its ‘success’ in the political arena you can easily verify-since being ‘turned off’ politics Charles rarely mentions the RTA and as far as I’ve learned, the bill, although given royal assent is still sitting in limbo waiting to be ‘proclaimed’.

    So absolutely, talk on about the ‘losers’ and the defeatists. Just stop for a moment and ask who it is who is complaining about being a loser and defeatist. It’s not those people in the nice houses.

    I couldn’t care less about private sector or public sector or whatever, its the massive poverty that concerns me. It’s the fact that one family owns all the media, its the fact that the province has the wealthiest elites and the poorest of the country. But I’m under no illusions that suddenly politicians will read that and then say “oh yeah, hey, lets do this”. Political change is a long hard road and New Brunswick barely has the supports built for it. Hell, this is a province where the Premier openly CANCELS a referendum and hardly a peep is heard. This isn’t even not having a referendum, this is a Premier who says to the population “Not only do I not like proportional representation (mostly because I would have lost), but I don’t think that YOU, New Brunswicker, should even have the opportunity of deciding, even though there is a pretty high chance that it would fail anyway”.

    That is HUGE, that is the ‘elected leader’ telling YOU that you mean *&^% all in the political realm of things. And you think writing a blog is going to make them suddenly pay attention to people who they have no more regard for than snail snot? Come on.

    So I’ll caustically say it: YOU are the loser. Getting mad occasionally doesn’t cut it, and writing a blog doesn’t cut it. As the saying goes “but what are you prepared to DO”. But like others I’m assuming that your job,while maybe not specifically, at least frowns on getting politically active. Otherwise there is no excuse, and that is the perfect reason why there is little change-fear. Nobody likes to say it, but there’s a reason why most political bloggers in New Brunswick are anonymous, and why nobody wants to rock the boat. That, or maybe just plain laziness. Maybe that Albertan employer was on to something when he told you ‘we do things differently’.

  13. David Campbell says:

    Guilty as charged.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Excellent points 8:03.

    Regarding what area is considered politically strategic, a clue would be the allocation of NB’s largest single economic development slush fund, the RDC which dishes out $100 million annually; the same area that was recently provided $100 million for tourism and $80 million for a yarn factory.

    Kudos to this area for successfully attracting these funds but these are significant committments for a province with less than 0.75 million people.

    Such commitments should be made with a long term economic vision, strategy and focus, not merely to buy votes.

  15. Anonymous says:

    as an aside…you can only take “civil engineering technology” at a community college. Big difference (about 3 years worth of study actually).

    respectfully submitted,

    mr. engineering

  16. Anonymous says:

    While I understand some of Mikel’s points, I take exception to the suggestion that communiating and talking about economic development is not worthwhile.

    David’s blog and occasional rants are worthwhile. It gets people talking and accessing information that is independent of the foolishness that hits the papers. Michel is right that the media is terrible in NB and anxiously rush to put trivial issues on the front pages while critical items that have long term impact on our future are pushed aside.

    Consider the fact that recent NB elections have been decided by:

    1) hiding a toll and having NBer’s pay through taxes (for themsleves and our visitors) rather than a user a pay system that would have had all users, including the significant drive through traffic, pay their share (all for a few protesters in Petticodiac)
    2)car insurance rates which has little to do with government and was an isolated regional issue (it was the bad drivers that complained the loudest and they should be paying high rates)

    While our critical political issues are toll highways and car insurance rates, the prosperity gap widens, population declines and dependency on transfer payment increases.

    Too many people think the government is a bottomless pit of money and forget they are merely gatekeepers for our tax money. Too many people are living in the past thinking that the traditional resource industries will drive our economy forever. Too many people are resistant to businesses succeeding (evil profits) and fail to realize it is industry drives a vibrant economy.

    If nothing else, David’s ideas provoke people to think about alterntives and maybe if there are enough people talking, thinking and debating, we can generate some positive momentum for NB.

  17. mikel says:

    David (I”m sure by now) knows my comments are meant to mirror the ‘causticality’ of his. I’ve been around this blog for awhile and for awhile was ‘commenting’ with lengthier rants each day than the blog itself. I certainly wasn’t saying there was no ‘use’ for such a blog. By far it is the best blog in the province now and Mr. Campbell ought to get a lot more recognition and praise for what is essentially a thankless job and is somewhat of a risk in a place like New Brunswick (or anywhere for that matter).

    The point is that ‘media’ is not lobbying, or at least is only a very small part of lobbying. I doubt even whether David regularly takes his points to his local (or any) MLA and pitches an idea or a private members bill. Again, the by-election in Saint John had the liberal member presenting a bill on his FIRST day in office. It was short, but it was to the point (and better than what they came out with).

    That’s politics. If you don’t talk to politicians, you aren’t doing lobbying. Hoping they will see your writing and think it genius is not how politics works. Politicians have many callers, and many favours they owe.

    In some ways they are quite right. IF people don’t care enough about an issue to push it, then why would a politician? They are ‘supposed’ to represent entire ridings, so obviously if NOBODY cares enough to really lobby an issue then they aren’t going to stick their neck out.

    David makes good points, but for a politician to actually follow his advice involves real political risk-something NO politician does. There’s a reason Harper, the bluest tory around turned more red than Paul Martin once he got into office.

    And politically you can see where the REAL issues are, especially in New Brunswick where people are remarkably vocal when pissed. They cancelled energy rebates and hardly anybody cared, they raised taxes some and only bloggers raised a fuss. Yet just the idea of amalgamating a school in St. John had people freaking out. And they were protesting on the front lawn when they brought in the ATV law.

    Bloggers don’t represent constituents, anybody can blog, and an indivual’s views certainly have no bearing on ‘the masses’.

    And keep in mind David’s view are often confusing even to people who follow them regularly. More money for industry, but foreign direct investment, but not FDI that means a big subsidy, and not one that is in a resource industry. As I’ve pointed out before, that puts the cart before the horse, its somewhat like saying ‘win the lottery’, but in this case the view is that ‘you have to play the lottery to win it’.

    There are sometimes very good policies that are analyzed in depth, but then the next day its gone. Again, thats not how politics works, bureaucrats aren’t sitting up there reading this and saying “wow, I’ll get a promotion for this idea”. When you have a policy you have to push it, and push it til it gets in.

    Politicians need to know its worthwhile for them to stand up. Doherty represents a poor riding, one of the poorest in the country, there’s a reason why the liberals made a point of having HIM present the new Residential Tenants Act and not the leader, which is typical practise.

    I was too hard on David, partly because I keep hoping that he IS lazy and its not his job that frowns on increased political activity. If somebody is lazy you can motivate them, but you can’t expect somebody to risk their livelihood on an agenda. That doesn’t mean there is no use for a blog-the Irving rags are VERY useful, but they are also very slanted, that doesn’t mean the place would be better off without them (although it would be better off with different owners I’m sure).

    This wasn’t a slight at David, I’m sure he gets many emails telling him to keep it up. It is VERY worthwhile, but lobbying and expecting your ideas to become policy is something else entirely. You don’t stand outside a castle wall and throw stones at windows and complain that you aren’t being effective at opening the drawbridge-although the frustration is certainly understandable.