Remember the game where kids secretly taped a “kick-me” sign onto the back of their unsuspecting target. This game was cruel and degrading for everyone involved, especially the victim. Today, New Brunswickers are victims of a similar game being played by corporate investment agents coming into the province with get-rich-quick schemes and the politicians drinking their Kool-Aid.
So many people across New Brunswick are doing critical work to protect their environments, fellow citizens and communities. Care-givers for the elders are seeking a just living wage for the hard work they do. There are folks defending watersheds, rivers, mountains, wildlife, forests and all living things. There are organizations committed to feeding and sheltering people struggling with addictions and mental health challenges. The labour movement across New Brunswick is working to protect and defend the rights of their members.
These hard-working citizens are seldom recognized in “state of the province” speeches. Instead most New Brunswick politicians along with their NB corporate media supporters make grand promises to grow “business” and promote the belief that private sector efforts will create prosperity for all.
Over and over investment agents come to New Brunswick to pitch multi-million-dollar pie-in-the-sky schemes to our government and ask for only a few or hundreds of millions in public funding to make their dreams a reality. They set up their corporations and then seek their victims with promises of billions in revenue and hundreds (or thousands!) of new jobs.
Their sales pitches are impressive, enticing and expensive. They come with invitations to tour their offices in far-away places. They come with fancy graphics, posters, packages, and silver-tongued sales people. The promises of benefits for all are just too good to be true.
New Brunswick seems to attract the biggest and most expensive “developers.” They are the shale gas industry players or the Sisson Mine proponents or more recently the Small Modular Nuclear Reactor and Maritime Iron start-ups. Our government hands over millions in taxpayer dollars to dream agents and their massive “developments” instead of making strategic investments in New Brunswick community economic development that would keep the benefits local.
Start-up funding from Opportunities New Brunswick (ONB) becomes the first hook into New Brunswick. In just one example, Maritime Iron received $250,000 in 2015-16 and $375,000 in 2016-17 for their “pre-feasibility” studies” to begin their development efforts. And now, five years later, Maritime Iron is making its biggest pitch, with the New Brunswick government’s support, to the Federal government for another $30 million after claiming to have spent $25 million to get to this point in their “development”. Who have been the beneficiaries of these millions so far?
In another recent example, New Brunswick is now into the Small Modular Nuclear Reactor game to the tune of at least $10 million. This “investment” in nuclear energy is on top of the billions already spent on the refurbishment of the Lepreau reactor, where the work ran three years behind schedule and went $1 billion over budget. Nuclear energy is the most expensive energy available in the world and continues to be in sharp decline as it is abandoned by other countries in favour of renewables.
Ever so quickly the demands of these dream agents escalate into the millions. As the costs rise so do the grandiose promises of riches and employment along with the threats playing on people’s fears and reinforcing our need to depend on others for economic prosperity.
The amount of time and resources spent on dealing with these characters who come to New Brunswick to access these millions is astounding. New Brunswick politicians love to talk about their promises of riches. Program officers trying to do their jobs of examining the risks involved are forced into the game by the lobbyists along with politicians, boards and their managers who are convinced by these stories of riches and fame. New Brunswickers are called to public meetings, they read about these schemes, they talk about them and they want to believe in them.
The Irving-owned media loves to write about these people and their corporations. These bully-victim games are a great distraction from the Irving companies’ own gaming efforts in New Brunswick. Historically, Irving companies have been playing the game for years, getting tax breaks for their oil refinery and other properties, accessing Crown land timber rights at a price that actually costs the province money, accessing subsidies for spraying glyphosate on Crown forest, to name only a few examples.
Premier Higgs, a proud Irving-man for more than 30 years, supports continuing the game. Higgs’ state of the province address spoke directly to his party’s corporate supporters in Fredericton on January 30, 2020.
In his speech, Higgs promised to support “new initiatives to increase the population, productivity, private investment and exports” by working with Opportunities New Brunswick (ONB). Developers of large-scale projects will get more support to access public resources; ONB staff will work in other countries to support exports and attract international talent and investments; and funding, policies and regulations will be further simplified and accessible for economic development and emerging technologies initiatives.
Each of these goals are nice concepts but all it really means is to continue business as usual in New Brunswick for corporate interests to take whatever they can sell and leave everyone else to continue the daily struggle of supporting families, communities and the province.
At the same time, organizations such as Food For All NB, the Conservation Council of NB, the New Brunswick Environmental Network, the New Brunswick Federation of Labour, the Common Front for Social Justice in NB, and many other provincial groups along with all their local and regional affiliated organizations continue their work to protect and create a healthy environment and province for all New Brunswickers. Long after the bully agents and their corporations leave, it will be the local people and their organizations who will remain to continue their important work.
Maybe it is time to take that sign off the back of New Brunswick and begin supporting the communities, their organizations and the people doing the work to build something great.
Brian Beaton, a writer and the calendar coordinator for the NB Media Co-op, lives in Fredericton.