Once in a while I truly feel sympathy for politicians. They get hammered right and left in the press, blogs and Tim Horton talk. I guess they know that going in and in fact the personality type for many of them likes the fight.
Think about what is going on right now. I am not commenting one way or the other on these issues but consider them. We are facing the largest budget deficit in history in this province. It’s clear that transfer payments from the feds are bound to moderate or even go down and the province has gone ahead with deep tax cuts.
Ergo, the province will need to make deep cuts in cost or pack back on new taxes – maybe even higher than before.
Think about the Deer Island Ferry. Again, regardless of where you stand on the issue, this is a good example of how the province can hardly cut a few bucks without incensing someone. That guy sending around all the Derry Island ferry email alerts literally says let’s make a stand that the government will never cut any more public services ever (I paraphrase but it is close).
Then you have the docs. Again, I don’t want to debate the merits of the issue itself just that we are supposedly in the worst recession since the 1930s. I can tell you in the 1930s, doctors were generating almost no revenue – not worry about increases.
Then you have the folks in Moncton demanding compensation because the water system backed up into the basements of 100 homes. They guy on the radio today said “someone is liable for this” – the implication, of course, it that it isn’t him.
Then we have lovely health care. Over 4,000 new health care workers in a decade and we still want more.
The point is that we want it all but we want someone else to pay. We demand our rights but don’t accept our responsibilities.
If we want a sustainable health care system, we – the public – need to take ownership. We need to support efforts to keep cost increases within or near the rate of inflation.
Same with other public services. New Brunswick – by just about every measure – offers more pervasive public services than just about anywhere in Canada. We have more civil servants than just about anywhere, we have more kms of paved and serviced roads per capita than just about anywhere, we have five universities – or about one per 145,000 people. We have more hospitals, schools, etc.
But we want more. And more. And we fight just about any effort at consolidation. Think about the Finn report. A rational approach to migrating from – literally – a 19th century model of local governance to a 21st cenutury model – but you know the placards and zealots will be out in full on that one.
It’s destructive. I realize it is democracy but it is destructive. Just to beat down things without offering ways to build things up – is destructive.
We puff our chests out when we fight the man and scare them off from making any necessary reforms but then we wonder why New Brunswick continues to stagnate.
I’ll end with this little story which I have used before but it continues to stick in my mind. It was back just after Bernard Lord won power and became Premier. I was in Fredericton about a week before his first budget and I struck up a conversation with a young fellow working in either the Premier’s office or some other political position.
In an animated way he told me that old Bernie was going to crack down on those farmers. They were receiving too many subsidies. “Did you know,” he asked me “that the New Brunswick taxpayer pays farmers to put their cows on barges and transfer them to those islands in the middle of the Saint John river?” He said “we are going to fix that”.
Sure enough, Lord’s first budget announced a number of sweeping changes to the subsidy regime for farmers. And equally sure enough, the farmers drover their tractors to Fredericton in protest, Lord put the changes on hold to be ‘studied’ and they quietly went away.
Again, I’m picking on farmers or doctors or residents of Deer island. If I was one of those, I suspect I would be demanding my rights as well but at some point we need to be able to put our community hat on or our provincial hat. We all have a stake in this and if it goes to hell in a hand basket ultimately we are to blame not our politicians.
I have been fighting for a better economic development model for New Brunswick since the mid 1990s with little luck. Now I fear we are heading into a long wilderness period where costs will be shaved, taxes raised, long term debt increased – etc.
Done for now but hopefully we will start to see ourselves as 0.0001% of a province rather than 100% of an economy of one.