“It’s snowing still,” said Eeyore gloomily.
“So it is.”
“Yes,” said Eeyore. “However,” he said, brightening up a little, “we haven’t had an earthquake lately.”
― A. A. Milne
A lot of folks these days are pushing back against all the pessimists suggesting that doom and gloom doesn’t help and we should be more like Pollyanna. As I have written many times (and mentioned again this week on the radio) it is both important to convey the extent of our challenges – short and longer term – and that these challenges are relatively simple to fix. We are not Greece. We do not have a massive problem. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t discuss our challenges. We have a short term fiscal crisis that is pushing up unemployment and holding down taxes. We have a medium term forecast that doesn’t show much new private sector investment on the horizon and we have a longer term demographic challenge.
This latter issue is the one that has the potential to be the biggest barrier to growth. In 1971 NB had 333,000 young people under the age of 24. It was this wave of young people that we needed to find jobs and economic activity to support. In 2012, there are 206,000 people under the age of 24. In 40 years, our young population has dropped from 52% of the population to 27% of the population. I’m not a sociologist but it seems intuitive that a population that is predominately young (75% of the population in 1971 was under the age of 44) will collectively have a different perspective than one that is older (the median age in 1971 was 23 – it is now 43.4).
This guy telling the journalist that he had recently retired and “just wanted to be left alone” in response to why he was protesting against natural gas development keeps ring in my ears.
The problem is that older New Brunswickers should be just as interested in development as young New Brunswickers. The youth will leave if there is no opportunity. It is harder for older people to leave if we have to dramatically decrease the scope and scale of public services around the province.
We can’t just turn away from this and hope that everything will come out right in the end. This is Canada and New Brunswick will never fall off a cliff – as long as Alberta keeps churning out the oil and gas – but we could be in for some very rocky times ahead.
Saskatchewan and Newfoundland are two examples of jursidictions that have completely turned things around – just like we require in New Brunswick. Saskatchewan in the mid 1990s looked an awful lot like New Brunswick does now. Their economic renaissance was predominately natural resource-based. We don’t have the level of resources compared to Saskatchewan (although I think there is much more potential there than some think) so we need a mix of resource and knowledge-based development.
If the price of getting higher public consciousness about our challenges in the public domain is being branded a pessimist – I’ll wear the tee-shirt.