There was no way anyone could have predicted what New Brunswick could have accomplished in the last two decades. Just 21 years ago, the beautiful place we call home had yet again won the unenviable position of neediest among the regions we call Canada. The world had every reason to doubt our potential.
For decades, the leaders of our public institutions had clung to a tradition of kicking the can just far enough. Choosing time and time again equivocation over boldness, procedure over substance, and capital over compassion. Many residents stayed, unaware of the extent to which modern horrors were being perpetrated against our sacred, public lands. Those who were aware found their voices choked by the din of industrial mediocrity so common in that fading age. Nowhere was that essential connection and love for the land.
Only here could leaders have made such a striking admonition against modes of the past, and only here could we have been so pragmatic as to forgive and leap towards the future. What is obvious to us now was obscure then; we should not feel anger towards those among our ancestors who parsed their words and dragged their feet. True courage is a rare and fickle quality. Rather, we should feel joy that good sense has prevailed. The world is healing, and we may now, for a short time, revel in the harvest of what we sowed in this place.
It is astounding even now that little, angry, extraction-obsessed New Brunswick could have become a leader in renewable energy. No one, least of all me, expected us to reprise our status as a hub of rail transportation. We now know the potential that seemingly incidental shifts can present over the span of decades.
Fredericton abolishing the suburban parking and set-back requirements formerly contained in municipal by-law 5.2 (1) was a decision met with nothing but utter, entitled fury in its day. After far too much debate, it was given a chance, and as of now, has driven a rediscovery of the concept and benefits of walkability, not only here but across the continent.
Incremental changes like this, to say nothing of the more than 3,000 megawatts of renewable energy now harnessed through our world-class coastal wind and hydroelectric facilities, have done far more than provide for our people and make New Brunswick into a “have” province. It has made us leaders in questioning the fundamental validity of that tired distinction. The freedom to explore that has been among the fruits of our labour has transformed the very meaning of personal responsibility.
Armed with nothing but knowledge, compassion, and sheer, bottomless will, those among us with hearts based in the land and eyes turned towards history showed up and got to work. Thanks to them, and thanks to those inspired by the overwhelming evidence of their legacy, our role on the land and in the world are ideas which have never seen greater understanding than now, in this place.
It was not what was developed, but what we had held all along, that saved us. Our relationship with the winds and the tides could only have grown from our heart and the minds of those who fought with love, battered and discouraged every step of the way, just to be in this place.
The future of our province is still far from concrete. We learn more every day about just how gravely we wounded our home. If the land never extends us its full forgiveness, this will be what we deserve. Looking back now on outlandish failures like the endless plans to expand the nuclear station at Point Lepreau or the whole fruitless regime of extractive exploitation which alienated us from the bounties of our collective heritage, it is easy to be indignant and feel reproach. But as we opened our ears and hearts to the first people’s knowledge in accepting and moving beyond the reality of our trespasses, we should also open our minds to accepting the actions taken by our forebearers as well. The only reward earned from conflict comes in the form of new understanding. We have earned the right to claim an enlightened place among the earth’s many peoples. While we must never forget the mode by which the entirety of our spirit was nearly extinguished, nor be so quick as to forgive what was done, can we truly say our ancestor’s motivations were something that is wholly alien to us, even now? It was believed that their lifestyle was an apex of achievement, a claim echoed more often now than ever before. Our relationship with the land that hosts us has certainly changed for the better. That much can be felt in every breath one takes in this place.
Perhaps the only quality more ubiquitous to humanity than the drive forward is the tendency to claim pre-emptive victory. It is true that what we have accomplished since the year 2019 has defied every expectation, but the work has only just begun. Any move taken right now that is not a redoubling of our commitment and effort will prove as much a mistake as if we had done nothing at all. Our relentless style of development had resulted in a breach of our nature. Fortunately, we are bigger people now than we were two decades ago. But the wounds that were made then still hang wide. It has not been two years since what we believe to be the last of the generations of children we tried to extinguish have been returned to the places they were robbed from in life. There are still far too many missing sisters, mothers, daughters, and aunties, waiting, somewhere out there in the cold, to be brought home before we might consider any true celebration of what we have done in this place.
The world we inhabit is precarious, this much has always been true. For the first time, we are beginning to find our footing. We have a coherent plan, and it includes long-term sustainability. This was never impossible, nor even out of reach. We might still mourn time wasted in reaching this conclusion, but do not for an instant allow rumination to breed complacency. We are not wholly free from the traps we built. We will not be the generation of celebration; our roles are now as builders. If we are diligent and take joy in this task, we may live to see our children raised in a world whose celebrations aren’t empty. A world where the innocent are free to use the time afforded by our advancements towards living, loving and simply being in this place.
This letter is part of the RAVEN project’s new Letters from New Brunswick’s future initiative, written and edited by young people in New Brunswick. The project managing editor is Kelly Green, a student and coordinator of the fossil fuel divestment campaign at St. Thomas University.
Ben Manette is about to start his fourth year of studies at Mount Allison University. He can’t imagine making his home anywhere other than New Brunswick.