New Brunswick is leading North America on Covid-19 recovery; let’s use this rare opportunity to take the lead on transitioning to a new economic, social and political age too.
It might seem odd to think of this small, financially precarious province on Canada’s east coast as capable of leading others to long-term prosperity and stability. A fair assessment if all we see is its chronic have-not status within the Canadian federation, but that would be to limit our view to the narrow lens of our nation’s own business, political and media elite.
New Brunswick, situated in its usual spot far from the existing centres of power, has to date managed to avoid the worst of not just Covid-19, but also reactionary politics and angry isolationism. Those voices, so loud in other parts of Canada, the United States and Europe have been quieted by the pandemic, but will roar back to dominate headlines soon enough.
For once, New Brunswick’s location may prove to be an asset. As the theory of innovation goes, world-changing ideas rarely happen at the centre of things. They happen out on the edge started by small groups of people brought together by a single shared passion or purpose, which they hone into a clearly defined mission to attract the attention of others, who then commit to use the collective knowledge and resources of the group to achieve their shared goal.
New Brunswick is just the sort of place where such a movement for change could take hold. It is small, which means we can move quickly. Its residents have deep, oftentimes multigenerational roots, which results in high levels of trust within communities, and those roots have branched out, creating a tightly woven net of personal and professional relationships that stretches around the world and across sectors.
This provides New Brunswick with a small window of opportunity to power ahead if we, its residents can come together to clearly define who we are and what we want to become in this emerging post-Covid-19 knowledge age.
To start, we need to change our perspective on how we see ourselves and the role we can play in helping to shape the future direction of the places we call home.
Consider the emerging public conversation about a Covid-19 recovery. I’ve read passionate, clear-headed recommendations from cooperative business stakeholders, business people, environmentalists, farmers, small business owners, anti-family violence advocates and early-learning specialists. I’ve watched as the provincial government has adapted service delivery and policy development to meet the immediate challenge and cheered when I read solutions-focused decision-making is being integrated into non-pandemic government operations too.
I love that so many people are thinking about our immediate future. I’m on board for all of this…but I’m also a little worried. I’ve been to this dance before.
The last two decades are littered with the remains of failed conversations on just about every major issue — economic development, education, Indigenous inequity, health care, seniors care, population growth, resource extraction, land management. We’ve fought about them all. While the topics vary, they all fail and will continue to fail post our current Covid-19 togetherness for the same reason: the advocates all mistakenly assumed their self-interest and the public interest are the same thing.
I get why this happens. We all naturally define problems and offer solutions through a self-interested lens. If we don’t advocate for ourselves at work, at school, in our families and among friends, who will? However when we step into the public square, we need to consciously work to find balance among the varied perspectives that exist. Individual concerns must give way to shared purpose. Failure to do this will lead to more stalled conversations and will further embed our province’s systemic inequities.
Covid-19 has revealed systemic weaknesses and challenges, and in doing so has presented us with opportunities to improve – to build back better. Let’s take advantage of this and actually invest in deep, systemic changes that can set New Brunswick on a path to greater stability, wealth and sustainability.
This must be an ‘and/and’ proposition, not an ‘either/or’. A crisis is precisely the right time to introduce different ways of working and living that address the underlying challenges big crises such as Covid-19 lay bare. We failed to do that after the 2008 global markets crisis and economic inequity deepened.
Let’s learn from that mistake and take a deeper dive into repairing what’s not working in New Brunswick. Let’s introduce new business models alongside existing ones, invest in new types of infrastructure while reaching for the tried and true ‘shovel-ready’ projects, and try new policy development processes that embraces citizen co-creation alongside traditional attend-this-public-forum-respond-to-this-discussion-paper-hold-a-media-conference type of engagement that is all too familiar.
We will be most successful if we mix and merge these and other ideas to develop new processes, workflows, products and services, rather than simply pandemic-adjusted relaunches of familiar ways and offerings.
There seems to be general consensus that a world-wide Covid-19 vaccine won’t be ready for 18 months, which takes us to autumn 2021. We have time to figure this out; to adjust our course into the future while restarting our present.
Who’s going to do this? We all can. With patience, courage, empathy and good humour. New Brunswick is small, which means we can be nimble. We have tightly knit social and business networks, which means we trust each other. We live and work outside the centres of power, which means we know how to develop creative solutions.
We have the tools to a chart a course for ourselves and in doing so show the rest of the world how it’s done. All we need is the will to do it.