Roger Duguay, leader of the New Brunswick New Democratic Party, has an editorial in the TJ this am entitled “Reclaim N.B. as Canada’s ‘picture province’“. Of course this is just a simple slogan but it brings back an interesting memory for me. I may have even mentioned it here before. My first exposure to Francis McGuire – then DM of the Dept. of Economic Development – he was making a presentation to the entire department. I was probably a few weeks on the job.
He said something to the effect of – in front of 100+ people “I never want to hear the #@$% phrase ‘The Picture Province’ come out of anyone’s mouth”. I was quite shocked – but Francis has always been a colourful guy.
His point, however; went to the heart of a debate that has been percolating along in New Brunswick for as long as I have been around and probably longer. McGuire, and by extention, McKenna wanted New Brunswick to shed its image as a sleepy, homey province with a bunch of simple folk stuck in the 1950s. They wanted a New Brunswick to be a dynamic, entrepreneurial and educated place with ideas flowing and the economy booming. Of course, the idea is not to shed the slower pace of life and other attributes of New Brunswick but to leverage those into advantages as the province became a wired, technology-based and entrepreneurial place that was attractive to people both for the quality of the jobs and economic opportunities and the quality of life in our communities.
As the economy of many areas of New Brunswick erodes, there are guys like Duguay and others that bemoan this trend and want government to keep the same level of services, infrastructure, etc. in these communities even as their populations drop by 20%, 30% or more in just a decade or two.
I have argued that this stuff is inevitable. The consolidation of public services out of declining areas will happen – it will be a slow and painful process but it will happen if we don’t animate the regional economies around the province and give people the economic option to stay in their communities and provide the kinds of economic opportunities that will attract people in. It’s a vicious cycle because as government pulls out – it takes away among the highest paying jobs in the communities leading to more decline and then more reduction in government services (like schools, hospitals, ferries,etc.).
I think the NDP, all due respect, would be better off talking about its vision for the economic development of the province rather than tugging at the heart strings to embolden New Brunswickers to fight for something that cannot exist without the right economic foundation.