Every once in a while I will get a call or an email usually from a bureaucrat, journalist or partisan criticizing me for a) being far too negative and b) distorting the facts by using selective data and putting forward just one view of the issues.
For those of you who have read this stuff before, it will be old news but for those of you that haven’t this goes to the fundamental reason I started this blog some 2,032 posts ago in October 2004.
First, on negativity. Related to the subject of economic development in New Brunswick, there are a large number of folks who will give you the superficial view that is quite rosy. These include the Times & Transcript and many other media sources. If you like your data on economic developed served up with a huge helping of Pollyanna, you can read government press releases (until the party in power gets into opposition then the exact same set of data will be cataclysmic). I tell good news stories some times when the point to successful economic development efforts. I will gladly post positive ED stories here as I find them – please feel free to send them along.
Second, on distorting the facts. The typical comment to me goes like this. New Brunswick has the lowest unemployment rate since the 1970s, it has balanced budgets and good government debt ratios, its debt rating is among the best in Canada and the number of people below the poverty line is below average. Why am I complaining? The stuff I talk about is peripheral. New Brunswick is way better off than it was 10 or 20 years ago. If it is a politician or partisan they will then sprinkle in a few talking stats about record employment growth, record investment in health care and record levels of investments in roads. In short, I will be told to start telling the truth.
Now, put aside the fact that when in opposition my stuff makes sense. In fact, I remember distinctly having a conversation with a senior backroom Liberal while in Opposition and was told that everything I say was right on the money. Now, off the mark.
But I guess the real point is this. We can haggle over a particular statistic or time frame for comparison or frame of reference. We can compare month to month, year to year, per capita, provincial or not, net or gross. At the end of the day most governments in New Brunswick can get by 4 or 6 or even 8 years by twisting and stickhandling through. Then they go off and become high paid lawyers and talk about their great successes in New Brunswick. Fine. That’s their right.
But utlimately you have to ask yourself what kind of New Brunswick do you want to live in and are we working towards that goal or slipping behind? That, beyond all the noise, should be our utlimate measurement of success.
And the New Brunswick I want to live in would be a place the is attracting migrants not a place of 15 straight years of net out-migration. I want to live in a province where all regions are achieving some level of success (I realize that individual communities will go through ups and downs). I would like to live in a province where my kids will have options – to stay or to go if they want to. I believe that New Brunswick should able to reach at least the national average on a variety of economic and social metrics. We don’t have to go worst to first or some such slogan but incrementally improving.
Finally, to the bureaucrats, politicians and economic developers out there in the trenches I will say this. It is easy for guys like me to be armchair quarterbacks. To criticize without any of the risk. To complain without having to be the one to implement tough changes. But I suggest that you shouldn’t dismiss opposing voices out of hand as partisan or uninformed. There are lots of folks with good ideas (and just as many with bad ones) and in the longer run a government is better off when it listens to and benefits from these voices.