Riddle me this New Brunswick: what do shale gas, public service pension funds, selling NB Power to Hydro Quebec, changes to French Immersion, forestry policy, abortion and river ferries have in common?
A sense of style that is fast going out of fashion.
It’s a belief that a particular group of people knows what’s best for all of us.
Political parties. Business leaders. Labour unions. Industry associations. Advocacy groups. Church leaders. And yes, even media commentators.
All have spent the past six weeks telling us what to embrace, what to fear and what to shun.
To all of them I say…Sit. Down.
No one group has the answer to any of the big policy issues New Brunswick must face – but all of them have something useful to add to the conversation.
Business people bring an understanding of the marketplace and the rigour of organizational processes.
Labour unions, non-profits and industry groups have a ground-level understanding of how people work and interact with stuff.
Advocacy groups know how organize others around a cause.
Researchers and journalists bring the data and the questions that naturally follow.
And government brings us together in support of a common purpose.
That is who we are, when we are at our best.
But New Brunswick, we haven’t been there for quite some time.
It’s why we’re annoyed, frustrated and, let’s admit it, disgusted with the way politics works in this place.
It’s why we turfed Bernard Lord’s Conservatives just as they thought they were hitting their stride and why we booted Shawn Graham’s Liberals after one rocky term. It’s why we spent the past year growing increasingly impatient with David Alward’s Conservatives while wondering aloud if Brian Gallant’s Liberals could do it better, listening with a little more interest to Dominic Cardy’s NDP and David Coon’s Green Party, and seeking out information on Kris Austin’s People’s Alliance.
For a lot of us, politics – as we practise it here in New Brunswick – has gone out of style.
We’re not interested in closed door negotiations, highly-controlled public consultations in place of ongoing public engagement, “us versus them” political rhetoric and highly-centralized decision-making about local issues.
The crowd has moved on – and our politics must follow.
Across New Brunswick, groups of people are getting together in-person and online to talk about the stuff they are most passionate about – and then to set out to make it better.
They’ve brought healthy alternatives into school lunchrooms, cleaned up city parks and beaches, volunteered to teach kids and adults how to code, rekindled interest in local culture, explored cooperative business models for local economies, and organized sports leagues that get kids and grown-ups moving.
These groups succeed because the members within each group trust each other. Exactly the opposite kind of relationship New Brunswickers have with our political leaders.
We don’t trust them and they don’t trust us.
Sadly we got here the old-fashioned way: we earned it.
They earned our distrust over the years by negotiating deals behind closed doors that favour powerful private interests over the public interest, and we in turn earned their distrust by refusing to rise above our detached cynicism of professional politics and support them when they got something right.
We all need to set aside our narrow self-interests (are there any other kind?) and actively seek out the common ground on a laundry list of issues, starting with how we are going to generate more wealth in New Brunswick.
To do that, we need people with a new sense of style.
We need political leaders that are prepared to share power with New Brunswick citizens through active and sustained engagement.
In turn, we, as citizens, must recognize that voting isn’t enough – we must participate in an ongoing way to make life better through our words and actions.
That’s what this election should be about.
Because that’s how we change, New Brunswick.
Lisa Hrabluk is the founder of Wicked Ideas. Follow her on Twitter @lisahrabluk.
Wicked Ideas’ 2014 election series is financially supported, in part, by the New Brunswick Business Council. Wicked Ideas retains full editorial control of all content and members of the New Brunswick Business Council are not consulted or informed of Wicked Ideas’ content prior to publication.