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.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.