There’s an interesting story in the TJ today about New Brunswick’s debt and a poll done by CRA to find out how New Brunswickers want to pay for it.
There was almost no appetite for any new tax increases and very low interest in cutting government services and spending.
The problem with polls, as I have said many times before, is they don’t force a hard choice on people (usually). For example, a typical poll will ask whether something is a good idea – without setting it in a context.
Would you like a cut in taxes? – will get you almost A 100% YES response but Would you like a cut in taxes? if it means we have to close your local hospital will get a completely different response rate. Of course, the direct line between tax cuts and hospital closures is never really there but the respondent to a poll should at least be given a set of outcome options.
But back to the debt issue. The truth is our debt load is manageable – relative to most other provinces. As I shown elsewhere it is growing faster than most other provinces so we will catch up within 5-7 years if we don’t get it under control but right now it is not as bad as Nova Scotia, PEI, Quebec, etc.
And people don’t connect the dots on this stuff because the “every New Brunswicker owes $11,500” is not exactly true.
Every natural gas user in New Brunswick ‘owns’ over $15,000 worth of Enbridge Gas NB deferral account exposure because that is the per customer amount sitting in that account – which, by definition, will be paid down through future revenue taken from said customers. But people don’t connect those dots because they can just walk away from Enbridge and go back into the loving embrace of NB Power.
I would argue that at a basic level, people see NB’s debt the same way. Canada is a free country. People are mobile. If I don’t like what is happening here, I will just move to Saskatchewan or Alberta just like my siblings, my cousins and my great uncle Pete.
Alberta has something like $60 billion in the bank. In other words, if I move to Alberta – using the logic of this story – I immediately have $12,000 in the bank. Lucky me. I leave my $11,500 in NB debt and immediately claim my share of the Alberta surplus just by moving from Moncton to Hinton.
My point is we need to connect people at a different level. We need them to think about their community and think about whether or not they want their government to do things that will help it survive and thrive into the next generation. If you could get 90% of New Brunswickers to feel strongly about this, you could get buy-in for a whole lot of decisions – including a broader focus on economic development.