I have said this before, and you (and my clients) are going to hear it more and more. I have just read three more chapters of Donald Savoie’s book which detail in excruciating detail the federal government’s attempts at regional development going back almost 100 years.
It is interesting to note that regional development was a ‘top priority’ of every single federal government from Trudeau to Harper. Trudeau said that regional economic disparities was more of a threat to national unity than language or cultural challenges (I have said this as well in the past). Mulroney said he was going to ‘inflict’ economic development on Atlantic Canada. Fast forward to 2006 when Stephen Harper boldly intoned that grandparents would be visiting grandkids in Atlantic Canada after he gets through with us.
And yet, when the economy turned down in the early 1990s, where did the focus go? I’ll give you three words: Technology-Partnerships-Canada. Billions doled out to companies in the strongest and most economically secure urban areas in Canada -diddly squat in New Brunswick.
I am now increasingly convinced that economic development is a bottom up exercise:
1. The individual decides to start taking control of his/her economic destiny.
2. The community decides to start taking control of its destiny.
3. The province decides to start taking control of its destiny.
In that order. The further you get up the food chain – yes you get access to much more resources but you get all that politics as well. Imagine. A Trudeau-era program DREE designed to stimulate economic development primarily in Atlantic Canada ends up spending the bulk of its funds in places like Montreal.
So, with or without you, that’s my new mantra – in fact, I might even get around to changing the name of this blog. If a person wants to get off EI, get an education, etc. he/she should take control with or without the help of government. If a community wants to move ahead on development strategy it should be with our without the help of the province. And if a province wants to change its destiny, it should be with or without the help of the Feds.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s harder without support. Government should be supportive. It’s just that history proves that if we wait around for the other guy to help out – we may be waiting a long time.