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Divergent Visions Between Government and Community?

Sue Rickards, columnist and SPADE board member
Published in Telegraph Journal on May 5, 2018 and on our blog with the author’s permission

Sometimes it seems that government decision makers are floating above New Brunswick in a beautiful balloon, surveying the landscape from their heavenly perspective. They see a province punching above its weight in terms of entrepreneurial and technological innovation, with a bilingual workforce welcoming new opportunities and global investors. They see thriving and emergent cities cooperating in economic development initiatives. They see the export potential of agri-business as food production is impacted elsewhere by climate change. They see a quality of life which will attract and retain newcomers. They drift across rural and wilderness areas, imagining how they can be developed to contribute to economic prosperity. They rain money onto worthy projects which will make their dreams come true. The top-down vision is rosy indeed, but in many respects it is quite disconnected from the reality on the ground.

From the bottom up the view is different.    Yes, the innovators are world class, and the fact that many are products of our public schools and universities is a significant achievement. But down here we see other young people educated in the same system who are adrift without work or hope, remnants of schools which cater to the academically proficient with little attention to the experiential, hands-on learners. We see students disadvantaged by the focus on early French immersion, which consumes excessive resources while begging for qualified teachers. This program has institutionalized educational injustice even while it struggles to stay afloat.

Down here, despite the efforts of enlightened civil servants, we see bureaucracy impeding attempts at innovation which are not technology-based. Demand for access to farmland for the local and regional production of food is growing; young people and immigrants want to reconnect with basic needs like food, housing, and community. There is a global movement in the non-profit sector to encourage socioeconomic development at the grassroots, to promote small-scale agriculture and social enterprises which can inject meaning and income into the lives of marginalized people. But our efforts to introduce the concept of social enterprise through the New Brunswick poverty reduction strategy seem to have evaporated entirely; decision makers are oblivious to the benefits of training businesses and small-scale entrepreneurial incubators.

The simple life is not an option.

From the balloon, our elite power brokers see a network of shiny new nursing homes which will be irrelevant within a generation. They urge young people to stay in New Brunswick, despite the fact that our youth need exposure to external ideas and cultures. They trumpet our quality of life, although our public infrastucture, schools and health care facilities are stressed to the limit. They advertise our people as our greatest asset, yet they keep some 30,000 of our most resilient trapped on social assistance in a soul-destroying system which encourages self-medication with drugs that will soon be legal.

Down here we see the grass sprouting blade by blade to grow community- based economies. Meanwhile, government drops loads of sod from above, carpeting the landscape with picture-perfect superficiality, which eventually withers and dies because it lacks the depth of community roots.

Our greatest divides are not lingustic, geographic, political or even economic. The yawning gap lies between our visions of the future. In the stratosphere of cyberspace we want to be rich like every other province which promotes the growth of the consumer society. But on the ground, we want wealth defined in terms of caring for our communities and our environment, protecting and nourishing what we value most, which is each other. Can we have the best of both worlds?