The central theme of this blog and one of my central preoccupations is the need for a comprehensive strategy for economic development in this province. One that reverses our population decline, lowers unemployment, brings back expatriate New Brunswickers, leads to higher incomes and a better quality of life for our province.
However, once again, it seems that our provincial government – starting with the leader – just doesn’t get it. According to media reports, the government is planning to “boost agricultural spending, lower small business taxes, cut more red tape, fix up the crumbling matrix of rural roads, improve day cares and increase wages for their workers, hike welfare rates and increase the heating fuel supplement for low-income New Brunswickers” (Times & Transcript). Which one of these new spending programs will even begin to address the central and overarching problem in New Brunswick – our declining economy and population?
How about lowering small business taxes? The first Lord government small business tax cut in 1999 was supposed to stimulate small business growth. However, from Q3 1999 to Q2 2002 – the number of businesses (those remitting payrolls to CCRA) actually declined 1.4% in New Brunswick compared to a 2.3% growth in Canada as a whole. Not much luck there. The reality is that small businesses do not need another token tax cut. What they need is economic growth. Virtually all small businesses in this province rely on their local market for business. If this market is in decline, their business will suffer – regardless of Lord’s 75 cents a day per small business tax cut (this is what the original tax cut amounted to for the average small business). I just talked to someone from the Miramichi over the weekend who is at the end of their rope. They are a small business owner and the steady decline in the local economy has put more and more pressure on their business to the point that they are now seriously looking at leaving. Does anyone blame him? Northumberland County’s (Miramichi) population has been declining since the late 1970s.
So the new Tory priorities are roads, welfare and daycare programs. Well, the way I see it, with their economic plan, we won’t need roads, welfare and daycare in most New Brunswick communities because there will be no one left to use them.
My friend from the Miramichi says that he has never seen his community a more dejected place. The mill is closing, young people are leaving, hospital beds are declining – not much to be happy about. After this weekend, they at least can be sure about one thing – no one is promising to fix the economic woes in their community any time soon.