Is the best yet to come in New Brunswick?

From a recent column in the TJ:

The latest jobs numbers from Statistics Canada underscore New Brunswick’s ongoing economic challenges. In October 2007, on a seasonally adjusted basis, there were 356,900 people working in the province. Fast forward six full years and there were 350,100 New Brunswickers working in October 2013.

New Brunswick has the dubious distinction of being the only province in Canada to have fewer people working in October 2013 than October 2007. Newfoundland and Labrador has added 17,400 jobs. Employment on Prince Edward Island is up by seven percent. Saskatchewan, a province not much larger than New Brunswick, has added a whopping 52,000 jobs.

You may or may not be surprised to find out I get accused quite often of being a pessimist. People will read my columns and conclude I must be cranky old curmudgeon.
I am actually an optimist by nature. I believe that determined people of good will can make a big impact and truly change things. But ignoring our economic and demographic realities is not going to make them go away.

I talk to a lot of government, business and community leaders and many are quite pessimistic about our future as a province. They do worry our best days are behind us.
Many people in my generation (people in their 40s and 50s) long for the good old McKenna days. Frank McKenna, they say, was a guy who got things done. He promoted this province far and wide and made us proud to call New Brunswick our home. As we get older, we are more likely to look back with nostalgia and look forward with apprehension.

New Brunswick does face a number of significant challenges. The structure of our economy is changing. The demographic picture is more challenging now than ever before and the federal government is slowly dialling back its financial support for our social programs. Combine this with weak economic growth and we end up with a provincial government facing a large, structural budget deficit.

But these are not insurmountable challenges. We have some exciting industries with potential for growth in rural and urban areas. Our demographic challenges can be addressed through an intelligent approach to immigration.

But pessimism breeds pessimism. We need to be able to have an honest conversation about our challenges without slipping into gloom or nostalgia.

One of the ways to address this is by engaging more young people. Young people aren’t constrained by the past. Anyone under the age of 30 isn’t caught in the McKenna nostalgia trap.

We should place more young leaders in strategic roles in the community such as the boards of directors of economic development agencies, airports, port authorities and other development groups.

The other way is for the rest of us old timers to get a second wind. We need to step back, take a breath and realize things are not that bad after all. Remember 50 is the new 30. We are older but we are also projected to live much longer.

Healthy people in their 50s are likely to live another 40 years or more. We shouldn’t spend those years wasting away playing golf and preaching doom and gloom.
Our best days as a province should be ahead of us.

New Brunswick’s urban centres should be dynamic hubs of entrepreneurship and creativity. Rural areas should be able to leverage our natural resources and tourism potential to strengthen the economy.

The alternative is evermore internecine fighting over public sector pensions, Employment Insurance, health care for the elderly, taxes, youth migration, lack of spending on highways, and other effects of a chronically weak economy.

Winston Churchill said a pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity while an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. We are facing difficult times. We need our optimists – in the public and private sectors – to step up and get it done.

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