New Brunswick cannot afford working under the presumption that everybody will benefit no matter how we get New Brunswick’s economy going. We know that places with similar levels of growth can have very different levels of inequality and poverty. You can have a growing economy with small wage earners who are not benefitting. Economists have words for it – “weakening relationship between wages and growth”, “jobs-poor recovery”, “the concentration of wealth’s effect on economies”, “big money’s influence on democratic politics” – words that I am not fully qualified to handle, but I know that, if they don’t take care, even governments that earnestly try to restart an economy may produce results only for certain segments of the population. (And then there might be even fewer citizens able to afford the $300 ticket to hear the “State of the Province” speech by our Premier!) If we want broadly shared economic growth, we must ensure that is what happens, because, in these times, it is unlikely to be created by chance.
New Brunswick cannot afford governments conducting mindless consultations. The way that the process for the program review now underway has started – a four-page note from the minister and two-hour meetings around the province over one month – is not enough to launch a thinking process or a change of course. A coalition of citizen groups has called for a more thoughtful process, suggesting that the government take a few extra months, produce a real discussion paper giving a picture of the situation, the challenges, and some options. When we are simply asked to “name three things that you think government could stop doing to save money” and “three things government could do to raise money”, you will get many knee-jerk reactions, anecdotes, things people have been repeating all their lives – whether they apply to New Brunswick, would save money in the long term, or would hurt more than help. You will get some useful suggestions, but nothing like what would come out of a real process of citizen participation. You can look it up. In times such as these, where we have been told that a race to the bottom is the only way to go, asking for ideas may produce more than one “Kill my neighbour’s cow because I don’t have one” suggestion.
Another thing New Brunswick cannot afford are citizens who don’t say boo, except maybe to mumble and moan or even praise and encourage but only to themselves. I won’t repeat the holy truth that “making democracy work requires informed and active citizens who understand how to voice their interests, act collectively and hold public officials accountable”. I’ll just suggest, Oprah-style, that you ask yourself a question before you fall asleep every night: Are you sure you’re not a chump? Are you sure the powers that be are not laughing at you? Your world – how we live together – and the world you leave to your descendants is defined by how politics decides to spend public dollars and how it deals with the forces that want your labour, your money, your compliance. And you say you can’t be bothered talking to those politicians, because they are air-heads? Because they are air-heads, if true, would be the best reason to become involved. Read up, attend a meeting, challenge yourself and your ideas, write a letter, join a group, demand real citizen participation.
New Brunswick cannot afford austerity, in the form of program cuts, which has been shown not to work to reduce government budget deficits. Ask the International Monetary Fund and Nobel laureates. Austerity slows growth. It shuts down even the hope of better times. For New Brunswick to contemplate austerity is the old “cutting off the nose to spite your face”.