As this is my first blog, I’ll start by introducing myself. My name is David Campbell and I live and work in Moncton, New Brunswick. I have had a long standing interest in the economy and economic development of the province and most of the subject matter covered will deal with these issues. But as this is a blog, I will also deviate from time to time on any subject of interest. This blog will not be a political rant nor a general critique of the media. But, on occasion, both our political leaders and the media will be targets when I feel they have not provided the public with an accurate assessment of an issue related to our economy and its economic development.
I’ll chastise the provincial government for openly bragging about cutting all spending except in the areas of health care and, ostensibly, education without mentioning that much of that ‘other’ spending is absolutely vital to the long term economic health of this province. I’ll complain in a long winded way about the shortsightedness of lobbying for more of Alberta’s tax dollars to prop up our economy (through Equalization) while cutting spending to programs that would help us become more economically self-sustaining. I’ll grumble about the Prosperity Plan which called for reducing the GDP gap with the rest of Canada (it has gone up) and increasing R&D spending (it has gone down). But, the Premier states on as many occasions as he can that the Plan is working! Perhaps he should quit politics and start advising other governments on how they can cut economic development-related spending, divert all time and effort into health care, watch the province sink into the first sustained population decline in its history – and still be able to confidently claim that ‘the Plan is working’.
I’ll also target the federal government for, it seems, giving up on Atlantic Canada. During the last election, the federal government made two major economic promises – $500 million for the auto sector in southern Ontario and $300 million for employment insurance top ups in Atlantic Canada and Quebec. I’ll point out, politely, that their priorities are inverted. Atlantic Canada needs the $500 million for industry development and the $300 million? Maybe we’ll be able to save that for other priorities. I’ll inform you that the Federal government spends $600 million per year in New Brunswick to keep people from working (EI payments – mostly to seasonal workers) and less than 5% of that amount to help people find work and to grow the economy.
The New Brunswick media will not escape my ramblings. I’ll wonder in amazement how they can write dozens of articles about insurance premiums going up by a hundred bucks and none about the population decline in New Brunswick – the first, by the way, decline in New Brunswick since Confederation. On a monthly basis when the latest labour market survey is published, I will protest the media’s characterizations of the positive health of the New Brunswick labour market when the province, in fact, has had the third worst job creation record among the ten provinces in Canada since 1999.
Last but not least, I’ll turn the pen on us, the public, for not holding our governments or the media accountable for the economic crisis facing our province. Threaten to close our hospital? We’ll scream, protest, write angry letters and try and bring down a government. Insurance rates going up? Why that’s the government’s fault. Potholes in the road? Shame on you. On any number of relatively small issues, we get all fired up. But when it comes to our economy – population decline, tepid job growth, no increase in real income levels for over a decade, out-migration of our best and brightest, closure of our major industries, second highest unemployment rate in all of North America – we give government and the media a pass. A political insider once told me that economic issues consistently poll fifth or lower as a priority in public opinion polls in New Brunswick. That is why nothing is done. That is why our politicians put the focus anywhere but on our economic health.
So, today, it begins. We start a public dialogue about our economy, economic development and the role of government, the media and ourselves. Maybe someday when the pollster calls, we will say resolutely that the economic wellbeing of myself, my community and my province trumps all other issues and then, maybe then, we will begin to see our governments get serious about creating a strong economy in New Brunswick that will, somewhat ironically, provide the tax base needed to support public programs such as health and education and make us less dependent on the tax dollars of our neighbours.