We need an attitude adjustment

Russell
Russell Wangersky
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Around lunchtime on a rainy Saturday afternoon in late June in Saint John, N.B., there don’t seem to be many cabs on the road. A run to the small airport — where the only apparent occupants are two security staff sitting on a conveyor, waiting for customers to search — means a good 15-minute wait until a small taxi van appears at the hotel.

The streets are empty, but the cab still has all the signs of heavily driven cab fleets running on small margins. The engine light is lit on the dash and the wipers are in desperate need of new blades; every pass through the raindrops leaves  smears that obscure more than the rain did.

The driver is from the Middle East and he’s just welcomed his son back from Montreal, the young man having threaded his way through the thunderstorms that mixed up most of Central Canada’s air travel two weeks ago.

The driver’s frustrated about the fact his son has to work outside New Brunswick — that a young, bright, educted entrepreneur can’t find a place in Saint John.

The New Brunswick economy, the driver argues, is caught up with the interests of its biggest business owners, the Irvings and the McCains. That in itself is a well-known situation, the way New Brunswick’s economy operates reflexively at the behest of its two biggest players, and it’s been that way for years — but the driver’s talking about a different facet of what that overall control and focus means to the province’s economy.

Immigrants, he says, start from the ground up fighting corporate behemoths that can crush nascent businesses at the drop of a hat. New startups — especially by people with foreign names — are ignored or actively discouraged.

It is, he says, a huge waste of talents and skills — you have to be resourceful to make your way into Canada in the first place, he argues.

You have to be driven and able to look to the future — and you don’t necessarily expect to have that drive end up behind the wheel of a cab, though the driver is quick to point out there’s nothing wrong with good hard work wherever you can find it.

Governments, he says, should be looking to the resources of their immigrants the way they look to any other natural resource. Instead of pandering to existing and aging industries and wealthy industrialists, they should be looking at a new wave that could be the next set of new and different businesses. They should welcome new people and new ideas.

It’s a welcome he says he finds lacking in New Brunswick.

That made me think about this province, to a degree — particularly about the occasional spikes of disdain for people from outside the province, the things that crop up like backbench Tory MHA Keith Russell saying on “Open Line” a few weeks ago that: “The people from those countries do have residents here in Newfoundland and Labrador, certainly we do, and they are most welcome, but the bottom line is this: the fire in your heart should be for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. It should certainly be foremost for the people who are from here.”

Ouch.

As another come-from-away put it to me, if CFAs are going to be represented as second-class residents by MHAs like Russell, they probably shouldn’t have to pay first-class

taxes. This, from someone who, on her own, is bringing the equivalent of close to $80,000 in new GDP dollars into this province’s economy every single year. New money from out-of-province contracts that would not exist without her work, not just money that’s already spinning around inside the province. And it’s money that’s taxed here and spent here.

The federal government has already turned back the clock on scores of immigrants who were working their way towards legitimate immigration to this country. Those prospective immigrants played by the rules, but a huge backlog grew and the federal government has simply sent everyone back to the drawing board, even people who have been waiting for years.

It’s hardly welcoming; no matter how resourceful and driven you are, why on Earth would you start the process again?

Similarly disheartening is hearing provincial politicians claim that government’s first responsibility should be to the “true Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.”

I’m not from here.

I never will be. I’ve been here since 1986, and in that time, I’ve watched successive governments more closely than most citizens. Still, when someone disagrees with me about politics, I’m used to hearing “you’re not from here” trotted out as if it were actually a legitimate argument. I’ve even heard that pronouncement from people who weren’t even born when I started covering politics here.

Here are some cold, hard facts: we’re a population that’s aging rapidly.

We’re not even having enough babies to make up for our own death rate, let alone to make up for the outmigration of our skilled youth.

Our economy depends on a tremendous amount of money from non-renewable resources, and we have a limited amount of time to find new and inventive sources of revenue to replace things like oil and iron ore.

If we’re not welcoming to new people and new ideas, this province is going to both age and stagnate.

We should have open arms, not closed minds. Because if we don’t, the future will belong to somewhere else.

 

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s

editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at rwanger@thetelegram.com.

Geographic location: New Brunswick, Canada, Saint John Middle East Montreal McCains Newfoundland and Labrador New Brunswick.That

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Recent comments

  • JT
    July 03, 2012 - 08:10

    "Our economy depends on a tremendous amount of money from non-renewable resources, and we have a limited amount of time to find new and inventive sources of revenue to replace things like oil and iron ore." Unlike our sister province and Russell's point of origin, Nova Scotia, which get's the lion's share of federal jobs, and which is continuosly touted as the eastern most point in Canada.

  • Petertwo
    July 03, 2012 - 04:47

    "If we’re not welcoming to new people and new ideas, this province is going to both age and stagnate." Perhaps one needs to believe in oneself. People coming to the province do not check their minds into a depository in North Sidney. People coming to the province are already well versed in political machinations, very often that is why they choose to come. It may not be perfect here but it is a lot better than a lot of other places. And of course "pioneers get the arrows in the back". Maybe this is just the dawn? People cannot be held back forever.

  • Maggy Carter
    July 02, 2012 - 01:19

    'We Need an Attitude Adjustment'? ..... Get over yourself Russell. I've never heard anyone not from this province gripe so much about the way they're treated by those who are. So there are a few people out there who are insensitive to CFAs. You'll find people resentful and distrustful of outsiders wherever you go in this world. My experience is that we have far fewer of those in this province than anywhere else in Canada. How is it then that you seem to encounter so many? Surely you have read - if not written - about Lanier Phillips. Does his experience not tell you something of the ready acceptance by Newfoundlanders and Labradorians of all nationalities, creeds and colours? When people make asinine comments - especially those elected to represent all of us - I have no problem with you calling them out. But given that this has become a recurrent theme, and given your propensity to tar us all with the same brush, I wonder if you're not simply mistaking philosophical differences for xenophobia? In point of fact Russell, I think it is you who are being offensive. It is very galling to hear a Canadian who's lived here a quarter century - and seemingly done well by it - complain about not being accepted. Has your stay not given you some appreciation for the far more legitimate, substantive and longstanding complaint Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have in the reticence of Canadians to recognize and accept them as full fledged citizens in their own country. Yes, there are the large grievances such as Term 29, CN rail/ferry, Upper Churchill, offshore petroleum, SAR, and - most egregious of all - the destruction of the cod fishery. But equally grating are the many little ways in which the national government has shown its disdain for Canada's newest province. Everything from its proclivity for leaving It off the map to its continual depiction of us as the lazy louts of confederation. These slights have aroused feelings in this province that are still palpable and which, incidentally, were quite eloquently described by Gerry Phalen in his letter to the Telegram published a couple of days ago. When you take Newfoundlanders to task for despoiling their own environment, I applaud. When you take the provincial government to task for secrecy, arrogance and hypocrisy, I applaud. But I have little reason to applaud as I watch you become an unappointed apologist for Ottawa and Quebec. You repeatedly refuse to hold these governments to the same standard of conduct as that of your adopted province. You are aware, or ought to be aware, of the systemic abuse of this province by institutions more powerful than itself. You are the principal editorialist in the province's only daily newspaper and yet cannot be relied upon to reflect back to Ottawa, to Canada and to the people of this province the frustration born of the political powerlessness that has so characterized our 60 odd years under the Canadian flag. Perhaps it is the reaction of your readers to that reality on which you are picking up - not any unwillingness to accept you as a bonafide Newfoundlander.

  • P F Murphy
    June 30, 2012 - 22:41

    We are not "getting older faster". Our reproductive generation has been removed by the Canadian UI system. That section of our population has gone to Ontario and Alberta and is still producing, just not here. Gutting us of the young part of our population increases the average age of the population that is left in Newfoundland faster than the Canadian population which keeps it youngsters increases in the rest of Canada. The new Harper UI changes will maintain and perhaps even increase this leaving rate with the result that you can see little but old people in the malls and hearing baby cry is a rarity. The retirees will age and perish leaving NL with a disappearing population and the provincial government with elder care as its main concern. Soon the federal government will have to list the province as an isolated posting and pay bonuses to have people relocate to here just as they have to do now for the NWT, Yukon, etc. It would not surprise me that finding the island is so underpopulated, the Russians, Chinese, Spanish, French or Americans might decide to occupy the empty island just as the Russians and Americans are attempting to push their claims for the islands in Canada's North as the ice recedes. So we're probably looking at NL being part of Canada for say the next 40 years given that most of our present retirees will not live into their 100s and defence from a Canadian army can be counted on just as much as our current support from the Canadian government. Canada goes from sea to sea (i.e. Vancouver to Halifax) and once they give Labrador to Quebec, they'll throw the island away as not worth the effort. Welcome to the "Disappeared"!

  • Jerome
    June 30, 2012 - 10:29

    "It is, he says, a huge waste of talents and skills — you have to be resourceful to make your way into Canada in the first place, he argues". That is, of course, you want to work in a menial job like a fishplant.