New Brunswick: Out of sight and out of mind (mostly)

I attended university in Virginia and after I would tell people I came from “north of Maine” they would respond with “isn’t it ocean north of Maine”?  It may sound like a Rick Mercer sketch but it is true.  More Yanks know about New Brunswick, New Jersey (home of Johnson & Johnson) than New Brunswick, Canada.

But even in Canada, it amazes me how little the rest of the country gets us.  Particularly the pundits who are supposed to know better.

I have read multiple commentaries and blogs about the native protests over shale gas written by these folks and they just don’t get it.  One on Huffington Post talked about it being domestic ‘terrorism’.  Jeffrey Simpson and others heralded the brave police.  All were concerned about poor New Brunswick.

Apparently none of them saw the rally of support in Moncton.  The native protestors are considered heroes by a large segment of the population.  There are far more calls on social media for an inquiry into the brutality of the police than the Molotov cocktails and IEDs.

As I said before this makes me heart sick.   That it could get to this.  That BC native bands are doing deals to ensure their people reap the benefits of shale gas while ours are blowing up police cars.

No matter your views, this has been a big black eye for New Brunswick – at least in the view of folks outside the province (I know many New Brunswickers see it has a great triumph of good over evil).

Someone told me earlier this week he was trying to convince someone to make a large investment in a New Brunswick firm and the guy specifically questioned why he would want to invest in a place where this stuff happens.

We can overblow this, of course.  It’s  not like all of New Brunswick lives in anarchy.  We are still mostly the same old polite, sincere people we always were.

But these days when you poke New Brunswickers in the eye you will get a response.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  The motto of New Brunswick is now an old Twisted Sister song from the 1980s: “We’re not gonna take it”.

Politicians and Texas gas firms are starting to get the message.

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14 Responses to New Brunswick: Out of sight and out of mind (mostly)

  1. Johnny Canuck says:

    I was just in NB this summer, visiting friends, family etc. I also took time to enjoy the beautiful view of the Baie de Chaleur from the top of the Dalhousie power plant … which is soon going to be demolished because it’s raison d’etre, supplying energy to Dalhousie’s pulp mill, no longer exists. Nor does the pulp mill. Or what used to be called “the CIL plant”.

    This leaves my old town without much in the way of employment. And a sizeable portion of northern NB is in similar straits.

    I left NB in 1978 with a freshly minted degree and a job offer in Calgary. I could have signed on with NB Power or the pulp mill in Dalhousie, but in the eyes of a 21 year old, the West offered better opportunities. And so it turned out. Now, instead of being an out of work engineer with lots of pulp mill experience, I’m comfortably retired with money in the bank.

    I weep for NB. On my last visit, people in the south think that things are just great; their lawyer and doctor friends are building cottages and driving BMWs. In the north, the economy is dead. People complain that it’s the government’s fault. There are no jobs for young people, who now travel to Alberta’s oilsands.

    One big new item in the Telegraph referred to the fact that SJ police do not have bilingual contstables, meaning that people can’t choose in which official language their rights will be violated. Is this the most important thing on the agenda? Yeah, we’re poor, but by God, we can bitch and moan in two languages?

    And now it seems that FNs and some white folks think it’s a good idea to run a company out of town just because they’re looking for gas? Granted, fracking has some serious downsides and these should be closely investigated and planned for. Here’s a chance to get away from fishing and chopping trees for a living. To deep-seated unemployment. To ignorance and mediocre education. To a moribund economy and few prospects.

    On the plus side, this determined drive to the bottom means that the beautiful vistas of the Baie de Chaleur and other one-of-a-kind wonders will remain relatively untouched for come-from-aways like me.

  2. mikel says:

    Pretty fair blog, I was surprised. To the poster above, yeah, you NEED to learn more about fracking, particularly the part where all the jobs are in the first few years of development, then no more jobs. And do you really think these companies are going to bring in their own trained workers, or hire unemployed foresters for the job? I know people who work for Irving, and talk about every thursday, when all the americans who work at the oil refinery hop on planes back to their homes down south.

    I don’t think ANYBODY has said this was ‘good over evil’, I’ve never seen that from any of the people there, or even commenting. Unless you meant that the RCMP was good and overcome a bunch of evil unarmed protestors, which is an interesting view to take.

    It IS a black eye, I don’t think any business person is SERIOUS about that comment about ‘who would want to invest where such a thing happens’. Well, given that supporting native protests happened right after, that pretty much means no investing in all of canada because ‘such things happen’.

    It DOES put New Brunswick on the map, and once again its the fault of government, that same as years ago when NB was also front and center because of the protest and militant violence by the Department of Fisheries.

    Again, the ONLY reason this is an issue is because of the police. The national media never even mentioned this as the protest dragged on. However, I don’t agree with the glamourizing of it. Its the PROTEST that signifies “we’re not gonna take it” not the act of getting arrested. So the real significance will come out at the next step-will the militant action scare NBers into subservience? Or will they continue fighting?

    There are LOTS of issues in NB, however, to disregard language rights as being ‘not important enough for you’ seems a little silly.

  3. Susan Linkletter says:

    Au contraire mon ami, you are just the person we are looking for. Our pristine environment, clean river and air are perfect fodder for the development of a tourism industry. This would be far better than betting that we could develop a shale gas industry and not have the same problems that they do elsewhere. The biggest problem that we have now is the bloated and excessive wages paid by the oil and gas industry, that sucks money and people out of our province. Wean the country from their dependency on oil and gas – which we need to do to battle climate change, and then see who prospers.

  4. Chris Baker says:

    If New Brunswick wants a higher profile in Canada and on the continent generally, we need to promote ourselves. We are off the mainstream (which has some advantages) but NB will never get its due as long as people think of the Maritimes as Halifax and Anne of Green Gables or that Atlantic Canada can be symbolically represented by a St. John’s kitchen party. NB should stop being such a wallflower and get out there to promote a positive view of our Province and its people.

  5. mikel says:

    The ‘view’ of the province is pretty irrelevant. No matter how much promotion is done, its never going to be a tourist draw. The world economy is tanked, so tourism is certainly nothing to bet the farm on. PEI markets tourism aggressively, its still a have not province despite being tiny. Nova Scotia did balance its books, but have much higher utility prices, and about an equal amount of debt and higher taxes than NB.

    The wages of the oil sector is somewhat irrelevant. If people weren’t leaving to go to ALberta, they’d be going someplace else-outmigration has been a problem for over a century. However, the main issue isn’t outmigration but the economy. I was in the Azores last winter, a portuguese colony of tiny islands in the middle of the atlantic. They have ‘relative’ stability, however, there are more Azoreans living in Toronto than there is in the Azores, simply because of ‘outmigration’.

    But Blackberry just announced layoffs now in both NB and NS. A real blow to economic developers. The Nova Scotia government wooed RIM for YEARS to finally get them to invest in Nova Scotia. In fact, I think they chased them for longer than the company actually operated in the province. So the problem with economic development right now seems to be that NOTHING ‘works’. If you have oil then you are sort of set for a little while, and some are still banking on that.

  6. Johnny Canuck says:

    @mikel
    There are Newfies, NBers and others who hop on planes to fly from Fort McMurray in Alberta to their homes after working as welders, drivers, maintenance people etc. Alberta has been drilling and fracking for about the last 50 years and a majority of the people who work in Alberta are Canadians. So to say that energy industry projects don’t benefit the ones who live close to them is silly.

    The language issue is silly. French is a dying language. The only people who don’t know are French Canadians. When I dealt with customers in France, they spoke English because that’s the language of business. I speak some French and in the 25 years I’ve worked in industry, my ability or lack of it has had no effect whatsoever on my prospects. It’s stupid for people to be fussing over bilingualism when NB has bigger problems than how to prounounce ‘poutine’.

  7. Johnny Canuck says:

    @Susan Linkletter
    Re tourism. I live in Victoria, one of the smuggest cities in Canada. One of the big industries here is tourism because “it’s so beautiful” (for the record, NB is also very beautiful). Tourism is all very well, but it’s seasonal and NB has a very short summer season. The pay for people who work directly for the industry is little better than minimum wage.

    Yes, let’s hope we all smarten up and stop consuming oil. That will happen over night with no disruption to the economy.

  8. mikel says:

    Not sure I quite understand your point, but in case you missed it, go reread yours-you said almost in one breath that people come from away to do the work in Alberta, and then said that ‘of course’ energy projects benefit those close by. Which is it? What if there were a newsstory tomorrow that said that so many Newfoundlanders were trained in the industry that Albertans could no longer find work. What do you think the response in Alberta would be? That ‘hey, its ok, we can work in the restaurants that these newfies who make $100 grand eat in’. If you don’t think those companies hire albertans first, you don’t know much about westerners. Do you think those guys are hiring maritimers because of a work ethic? Thats actually pretty analogous to what would happen in NB, because as has been stated, almost NO businesses are prepared to work in the supply chain of a natural gas industry, and anybody that thinks you NEED to buy local supplies is kidding themselves-and the industry in the US is already functioning along those predictable lines-moving trained workers into areas for short periods of time, then moving on the the next place.

    From NB’s short experience with the industry, the biggest long term winners are those who own motels and campgrounds, which, ironically are the benefactors of the tourism industry. What a smart idea, build your business infrastructure on the backs of motel owners and restaurants! Thats SURE to bring prosperity!

    However, I certainly didn’t say energy projects don’t benefit local people, but quite obviously they only benefit them while the resource is economically viable, and commodities are a pretty strict mistress. Alberta is currently in a deficit position, Saskatchewan is doing better because they basically made the promise they wouldn’t do like Alberta and up royalties or look at environmental regulations.

    The pipeline being built will obviously have SOME effect, and there will be SOME royalties, although Bernard Lord said he was going to sue at one point because NB was getting royally screwed on the gas pipeline from Nova Scotia. And we can’t even find out what that number is. The royalties from Penobsquis never did amount to much, and I’m not even sure whether the province even factors in the potash company, which owns a half stake in the gas and uses about half of it. I’m not even sure whether royalties have taken into account the occurence of a natural gas producer who isn’t even selling their product to the market.

    Alberta is a BIG place, and as has been repeated, Alberta’s wealth certainly does not come from gas but from oil. Hardly any gas producers are making much money, although prices are slowly increasing. In New Brunswick you have a relatively small area to develop for gas, and most of it is populated, so its completely different than Alberta.

  9. Johnny Canuck says:

    @mikel Thanks for pointing that out; it does sound like gibberish, doesn’t it? What I was getting at was that if Alberta oil companies are importing Maritimers including NBers, then NBers are more than just “unemployed foresters”. They have skill sets that are applicable to a wide range of industrial environments.

    I’ve spent something like 20 years in Alberta as an engineer in the utilities, oil and mining sectors. Yes, some people have complained about “eastern creeps and bums” coming out to take their jobs. But if you are a company HR person trying to fill job openings in a hurry, you’re not going to get too excited about the province the hiree hails from.

    And remember, a lot of “Albertans” are themselves originally from eastern and central Canada and travelled to Alberta as part of previous waves of creeps.

  10. Chris Baker says:

    The original post was with regard to the “brand identity” of New Brunswick. What most people do not realize is that, if you are not actively promoting the identity you want, you get stuck with a public identity by default. I would say that New Brunswick’s “default identity” is not a very positive one.

    This will not change unless action is taken by ourselves.

    Chris

  11. mikel says:

    It didn’t sound like gibberish, just a little off topic. For those with REAL skill sets I’ll repeat my point-that if they weren’t going to Alberta then they’d be going somewhere else. Nobody sheds a tear that the province has no vet school. These are some of the wealthiest people in the country, yet there is no way to get local training. Then the people move away. Skilled workers have the whole WORLD to choose from, in fact you’d be crazy once you got a little bit of skill in Alberta to stay put there. Who wants to live in Alberta when you could take your skills to the far east, or South America, or just about anywhere in the world?

    Those in the Arts have been leaving the province since forever-to go teach english all over the world. Why hasn’t that been all over the news and a source of provincial pride? Not to be indelicate but now all of a sudden we’re supposed to get all worked up because of a workforce that doesn’t even bother to get a post secondary education is going less than HALF the distance away, within the same country even, and earning ten times more than those who have to get a job teaching english?

    People have unlimited ‘skill sets’, its actually a waste of human ingenuity that people are restricted to driving machinery or doing repetitive tasks simply because our economy hasn’t figured out better things to do with human ingenuity.

  12. richard says:

    “These are some of the wealthiest people in the country, yet there is no way to get local training. Then the people move away.”

    Nearly all vets in NB are grads of the UPEI vet school. They do not move away unless there is insufficient demand for their skills – a situation we are now approaching due to poor population growth in NB. Those and others with valuable skills can’t remain here if there are no opportunities. If the skill is related to a local service type of job then the demand is dependent upon overall economic growth.

    Its important to separate local service jobs from those that export products and services. Vets are largely the former; ITC and natural resource industries largely the latter. NB has done well when our natural resource products are highly valued; perhaps we have not done enough to add value to those natural resources.

    Getting back to brand identity, tho, NBs brand has been IMHO ‘blue collar’ (and now perhaps ‘paranoia’). Perhaps we need to change that if we want to attract eg ITC investors. One way to do that might be to follow the suggestion of a local entrepreneur and add more programming/coding and ITC hardware to the HS curriculum. We also have to shake off what has become a paralyzing resistance to anything new.

    As to Mr Canucks comments re French – sorry but since that issue has a trivial impact on NBs economic growth, I don’t think it is worth opening up the can of worms. Move on.

  13. mikel says:

    New Brunswick’s ‘default’ identity is NO identity. Ask virtually ANYBODY outside the east of what they think of New Brunswick and you’ll get a blank look. That has both good AND bad ramifications. For investors though, one look at the makeup of the province -namely the Irvings, and it would make you write off investing right away unless you are an idiot. And that has NOTHING to do with New Brunswickers, most of whom are as repulsed by the situation as anybody would be if they knew about it.

  14. Will says:

    I love how people who don’t understand hydraulic fracturing and don’t want it say that for the first time ever, oil and gas development will be short-lived jobs and fully run by people from other countries. I guess we can learn from how poor Alberta is and how few local jobs there are.

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