ACOA – whither art thou?

Check out Alec Bruce’s piece on the ACOA situation. He’s defending the agency. Guess what. So am I.

I am constantly amazed when westerners speak of their oil and gas as if they had poured it in the ground.

I am constantly amazed that most westerners will defend agriculture subsidies tooth and nail and then hammer ACOA. Agriculture, they pompously state, is subject to ‘forces beyond their control’ such as the weather and international competition.

Yeah, right. And the New Brunswick manufacturer has full control over the rise in the Canadian dollar or in the subsidy regimes of competitor locations.

The hypocrisy of this attitude is just plain silly.

ACOA must remain. But, if I were whispering in MacKay’s ear, it needs to have a much greater presence in international markets promoting both outside investment into Atl. Canada and this region’s product and service providers abroad.

Heck, he’s the minister of Foreign Affairs, n’est pas? Sounds like a one two combo.

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0 Responses to ACOA – whither art thou?

  1. Atlantic Canada First says:

    David, you are dead on.

    I’m going to quote myself because I’m too lazy to paraphrase. But here’s an excerpt from an ongoing dialogue I’m having on my blog with ‘anonymous’ re this issue:

    ——

    The bulk of federal spending in the Atlantic region is in the form of transfers/equalization payments.

    These are (allegedly) designed to equip our “have-not” provinces with the wherewithal to operate health, education and social systems at a level commensurate with “richer” jurisdictions.

    Other spending programs involve separately negotiated deals with individual provinces, mostly having to do with infrastructure improvements (highways, ports, water treatment, and the like).

    Direct federal subsidies to businesses are ACOA’s territory — and that amounts to less than one per cent of the total value of Ottawa’s annual goody basket to the Atlantic Provinces.

    The Atlantic Provinces Economic Council produced a pretty good article on this subject about six years ago. I’ve laid my hands on some more recent research over the past few days (though it’s not yet online), and it seems to shore up APEC’s earlier findings: That federal subsidies to businesses in the region are falling on a year-over-year basis, relative to other parts of the country.

    Is that a good thing?

    Hard to say, when the only useful evaluation in the economic development world is ROI — that is, the long-term bang for the buck you spend.

    I completely agree with you, anonymous: federal spending on mature, traditional industries (which still dominate rural areas, in particular) is like flushing cash down a billionaire’s toilet.

    Tourism? Get out of it. Acquaculture? Utter nonsense. (The Norwegians invented the business model for this industry, and even they can’t make it work anymore).

    Still, in 2002-2004, nearly $385 million of federal funds entrusted to ACOA went to high-tech, university-based commercialization projects under the Atlantic Innovation Program.

    What I’m interested in knowing is how well those investments are actually doing on the basis of the standard product-to-market assessment. I haven’t been able to get one whiff of this, but that’s where the ROI rubber hits the road.

    Does ACOA need to change? I think it does. As I’ve said, its staff and program directors should be recruited from the much vaunted pool of underutilized engineers, scientists, and commercially proficient entrepreneurs in the Atlantic region — people who are programmed to embrace and move on economic opportunities relevant to a 21st century economy.

    But is this change a radical departure from the Agency’s original intent?

    I would argue that it is, in fact, a return to the basics of sensible economic development — and ACOA’s fundamental mandate.

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