Some people seem to have a hard time differentiating between national and global issues and New Brunswick-specific issues.
I say we need a moderate level of GDP and population growth to stabilize our fiscal situation and ensure we have the economic base to afford good quality public services and infrastructure over the next 10 years or so. To this, several people respond with long screeds about the need to consume less and the pounding we are putting on the earth and the environment.
I say we need some more folks generating above average market outcomes and translating that into wealth so we can have the economic base to afford good quality public services and infrastructure over the next 10 years or so. To this, more than several people respond that I am advocating for a deeply unfair income distribution that favours a few ultrarich at the expense of the poor. How dare I?
I say if we have natural gas under feet and we can get it out safely – understanding that any industrial process such as mining and distribution of oil and gas comes with risk – we should at least make the attempt. This, what seems to me reasonable idea, provides me with more verbal abuse than any position I have taken since the ill fated proposed sale of NB Power. If you have gas locally, why not use it? It seems more environment friendly than shipping the stuff over thousands of kms of pipe.
Anyway, the point is we have to be able to decouple local issues from global issues. They are certainly linked but they are different.
I am for more wealthy folks in NB – by that I mean more wealth creation – risk capital and highly valued labour inputs but against an increase in the global gini coefficient. Eventually, we are going to have to figure out the latter – but in my mind it is not the same thing at all as the former.
I am for national and international efforts to consume less and reduce our environmental footprint. I resist the consumer driven society but am caught up in it too. I am happy to have that debate but in New Brunswick’s specific context our economy needs more activity – not less. I don’t see a conflict between a global conversation about environmental stewardship and resource usage and the need for a little place like NB to stabilize its economy.
The same goes for natural gas. Natural gas is going to be a part of our energy mix for the next 50 years or more. That is an almost certainly. Why penalize a little place like NB with higher costs and no economic value when the gas will flow anyway? If there is a national or international agreement to ban all natural gas development – fine – but if not I find it strange that we would not want to use our own resources for our own development. In case you don’t realize it, New Brunswick has substantial natural gas needs locally – most of our big industries have either converted or are currently converting to gas. A substantial amount of natural gas will flow in New Brunswick for decades. The only questions are where the gas will come from and who will get the economic benefits?
Some of you will find this mealymouthed. You will say change starts at home and we should consume less, get off natural gas, eschew rich people and wealth and be a just and environmentally friendly society.
But people expect certain things in our modern society. They want good health care. They want decent schools with well paid teachers. They want good roads. They still want nice houses and – many folks – still want to travel and own toys. In New Brunswick, our economic base does not allow for this without significant cash transfers from other parts of Canada where the economy is stronger. I don’t think it is unreasonable to want a New Brunswick that has a stable economy, a moderately growing population and communities that people want to live in.
Let’s have that broader conversation about consumption, environmental stewardship and fairness. Let’s find ways for NB to take a leadership position in certain areas. But let’s understand and try to address our challenges as a province which will put us in a better place to have those conversations anyway.
We live by examples so here is one:
What would happen to the economy if we all – as a province -make a collective decision to consume 30 percent less next year? Answer: It would plunge the province into the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression – it would cut out hundreds of millions in tax revenue and – for those actually able to save the 30 percent (because many would lose their jobs and dramatically reduce their household income) – that money would go into savings and investment put to work in China, Brazil or Toronto. It would hurt the economy here to the benefit of an economy elsewhere.