Getting the ball rolling

This blog is in response to a fairly critical but well penned response to a recent blog about attitude in New Brunswick. If you want the context, read it here. I wanted to bring out the response to the front because it is fairly long.

I admit that this blog and in fact many related blogs have a fair amount of critical commentary. The reason for this is simple. For the few hundred that read this blog and the thousands that read Alec’s in the T&T and online, it is important to point out – either by wit, irony, cynicism or just plain fun the problems facing this province. Then others can chime in with their points of view. I won’t rehash all of that but the reality is that NB is in trouble. It’s a slow burn, admittedly but a burn none the less. We are falling behind the rest of Canada on over 90% of the economic and social statistics that I have tracked over the years ranging from the obvious – population decline – to the obscure – the percentage of the population with advanced degrees and we are slipping.

So, what I would like (and I think many of these guys like Alec who are bringing voice to many people out there in the system that can’t speak – economic developers – educators – municipal officials – etc.) is for our government to clearly recognize our challenges. Further, I would like them to clearly articulate them to the populace. Yes, I would like them to park politics for 10 minutes and speak clearly to New Brunswickers. We are in trouble. Every year that goes by our population drops and our need for Equalization increases. Every year. And it is likely this will get worse because of the structural shifts to our traditional industries. We need to replace our dying industries with new ones. In one sentence that is it. PEI has built an neat little aerospace cluster. NB nada. Nova Scotia has offshore oil & gas and a reasonably growing IT sector. NB nada (except for the last throes of a call centre sector). Be clear about this one point because I’ll go to my grave believing it: Equalization increases will not last forever and it is fundamentally flawed because it rewards economic failure. The single fiscal goal of the province should be economic self-sufficiency – even if that goal is 30-40 years out or more.

So, long winded answer – to get the ball rolling I would like to see four things:

1) A massive education campaign to inform the populace of the economic realities and the consequences of not acting. I would combine this, obviously, with a strong message of hope and resolve on the part of our government and community leaders.

2) I would double if not triple economic development spending right away. Further, I would attempt to negotiate a new deal with Ottawa and the Haves that would tie Equalization to economic development. The arguments that these two are not linked is just plain silly. Equalization rewards economic failure. I would ask that Equalization levels be locked in for 10 years regardless of the successes of economic development. I would petition the Feds to match dollar for dollar every dime NB puts into economic development.

3) I would go out into the highways and byways of the province and gather input on what types of jobs and industries would people like to see in the province. What would convince our kids to stay here and work and what would convince highly talented ‘come from awayers’ to move here? Then I would pick a few growth sectors and I would invest in them to beat the band. I would hire top notch sales guys/gals and send them to India, Ireland and to the uttermost parts of the earth seeking out companies and people that could be interested in investing in New Brunswick. I would align college and university training to the strategic sectors (cripes, New Brunswick has at least three firms doing leading edge stuff in Internet and wireless security and Dal-friggin’housie University attracts the world leader in Internet security to a run a research program? – That SOB should have been wooed to UNB – shame – but I digress).

4) Finally, I would try to create a new partnership with the media. In Ireland, the newspapers and media take a much more growth-oriented approach. I think in the 21st century media-saturated culture, that alternate reality becomes our reality. So rather than fight it I say join it. I would encourage and hope that the media would be highly critical where required and supportive where required but above all, it would put the future of this province on its agenda of at least the top five main issues. I would like to see localized shows such as Venture and others – maybe on Rogers community TV or something. I would have the Premier do ‘Fireside Chats’ on a monthly basis updating people on the progress and on the challenges.

This last point is critical. Because points 1-3 could lead to political ruin for any party adopting them. It might result in deficits. At least in the short term. It might result in some serious pushback from the civil service as you try and change stuff that hasn’t changed in decades. It might result in less funding for health care (heaven forbid) and it might even require more taxation (he wields the death blow).

Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight.
Got to kick at the darkness ‘til it bleeds daylight.

When you’re New Brunswickers in a dangerous time.

-slightly bastardized Bruce Cockburn.

What’s the alternative? The dopey, sleepy do-nothing reality of today? 14 straight years of net out-migration and I have never read about it in the media or in government publications. We bleed our best and brightest talent and make token efforts at immigration? Think Tank after Think Tank publishes reports saying the Feds should encourage even more out-migration from New Brunswick – reports funded by the Feds. Can we just stroll merrily along as these fundamental changes occur and hope that the Equalization cheques keep coming in?

And don’t be fooled by those experts that say we need a ‘structural’ change in the New Brunswick economy – which is code for urbanization – which is code for collapse of the rural population. We need urbanization to be sure – but not at the expense of our dozens of great towns and villages. I think its a shame to watch community’s built over generations go down the tubes because of bad government policy – the very government that by definition is the representative of the people.

We need economic growth. I once did a quick and dirty analysis of what it would take to make NB a ‘have province’. I held costs constant and just added the number of workers and taxes paid. At that time, we would have had to double the size of the workforce – and keep costs constant (an impossibility). Now, it’s worse.

So forget about eliminating Equalization – in the short term. But we should be able to stop its growth. We should be able to nurture new industries to replace the old.

Shouldn’t we?

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0 Responses to Getting the ball rolling

  1. Cooker Boy says:

    You hit the nail on the head!

    There needs to be a willingness to change things and unfortunately there is not.

    What’s the old saying: “An ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure.”

    Too bad there are more people willing to gamble their children’s future then do what is required to make us a have province.

  2. Anonymous says:

    That wasn’t quite what was meant. If you ask any person they will have their own ‘wish list’ and be convinced they are right.

    Skip the conspiracy theories, but the reality is that if it hasn’t dawned on you yet, there is virtually zero chance of any of those happening.

    It ‘may’ be possible if Atlantica gets more press, since the ‘things are bad’ is a good line for getting people to accept massive change. We can skip the in depth analysis of AIMS ideas of what that may entail. Without Atlantica, there is no way the ‘educational campaign’ will happen (and do we really need a ‘fireside chat’ like we’re all retarded?)

    The problem is essentially the aging population. They see their kids leave but still aren’t convinced ‘times are bad’. Mostly because they all read the Irving Press.

    Forget the federal stuff, its clear where Lord is coming from. It’s hard enough to effect Fredericton let alone Ottawa. The history of Canada shows that dime for dime economic development is a non starter.

    However, if people are interested in that, again, check out “www.theatlanticaparty.com”. They need people, and that sounds like a perfect campaign theme. But ‘waiting for somebody else to do it’ makes people just as bad as that beer swilling TV watcher mentioned before.

    There’s a bit of a misnomer with the ‘travelling through NB to find out what people want’, and then stating where the investment money would go. That’s a central problem with equalization-there are consultations to beat the band, but the decision is done by some guy who thinks he knows better.

    But forget Rogers, you have a better shot with CBC. In fact, if you want innovation, who’s interested in investing some money or time in internet? MPBN has created a bittorrent to make shows available for download. Flash makes audio capabilities a snap.

    St. Andrews has created their own community television station, what’s Moncton’s problem?:)

    There is a reason media is the way it is. If you still have delusions that they will ‘snap out of it’ and suddenly come around, good luck with that.

    Unfortunately, as a guy who is actually doing something, a lot rests on you setting an example. Unfortunately I know what that is like, the more you do, the more you are expected to do.

    I’d just like to end on a constructive note. I have software that changes audio formats from mp3 to flash to make audio files much smaller. I notice that you have a very good speaking voice, even think of ‘podcasting’? Forget radio and television,the next generation is downloading off the internet to their computers and phones.

  3. Freddy Beach says:

    Great list of wished for developments David! As mentioned, the need for economic self-sufficiency should be the central long term economic goal of the government. Seeing Bernard Lord beg and plead the feds for money for every little thing annoys me and as a New Brunswicker, I’m one of the beneficiaries of the money. I mean should we really expect the federal government to subsidize our electricity by funding the refurbishment of Lepreau, clearly a provincial responsibility? And now NB is begging for more equalization. It not only makes us look bad to the rest of the country, ultimately it affects our confidence as residents that we can ultimately be economically self-sufficient.

    As already pointed out, actions 1 and 4 could be partially addressed through the power of the Internet. Access to information about what is going on in NB not only helps New Brunswickers but it also exposes NB to others. If people (especially business decision makers) don’t know about or don’t regularly think about New Brunswick, they will not be likely to want to invest there. By getting “in their face” and talking about New Brunswick, we are in effect marketing ourselves. Little Jane’s blog about life in Saint Andrews or Joe’s blog about life attending UNB each add an additional insight into what is going on in New Brunswick (good and bad). We need to get our success stories (and there are some) out there as well as talk about present and future challenges.

    David, your blog (along with my subscription to Stats Canada’s Daily Stats) helps shed light on the real economic realities in New Brunswick and across Canada. We need to encourage others out there to read blogs and the numbers to see beyond the biased and VERY limited media view of things. Maybe an NBStats website where we could collectively dissect economic stories and stats. Many people are not good with statistics and number and need the commentary and the trend analysis to really see what is going on. Getting the average Joe New Brunswicker to care, read and understand may be a little more difficult.

    As for number 2 on your list, a doubling of economic development would be great but what specific priority projects should be targetted? It looks like Bernard has been reading previous proposals on your website ( http://www.gnb.ca/cnb/news/rdc/2006e0950rd.htm ) so maybe there are a few more ideas for targetted investment that could be proposed to politicians or Enterprise NB or ACOA or whoever may want to listen. Maybe Lord will want to fund some of them if there is an upcoming fall election.

    Great work David and let’s keep the ball rolling….

  4. David Campbell says:

    As for number 2 on your list, a doubling of economic development would be great but what specific priority projects should be targetted?

    For that, you have to be a paying client :-).

    Just kidding, but for a Franc, I’ll tell you my thoughts.

    If you want to get to the nitty gritty, I wouldn’t just double spending. I would look to reinvent the whole system of economic development in New Brunswick. How’s that for a ‘bite sized chunk’?

    Anyway, aside from the practical realities that reinventing the whole system would be immeasurably hard and meet with unmitigated resistance, I think we do need to tear it down and rebuild it from scratch. Then I would properly fund it with serious monies.

    I don’t have time to write the manifesto here – but I have discussed most of my thoughts in previous blogs. First, though, I would jettison this notion of economic development as the ‘lender of last resort’. They don’t use this term any more but that thinking is prevalent. Essentially, we fund projects doomed to fail. My idea? If you are giving out money (and I prefer tax breaks – not cash grants/forgiveable loans) – I would give it to firms that are going to be around awhile. Yeah, hold your nose. UPS doesn’t need government money. But they took that $10 million in 1994 and have paid the government ten times in taxes since then. As long as Maine, Georgia, Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Ireland, France, Brazil, Mexico, Texas and North Carolina are serving up big fat incentive deals to attract investment – so would I. We owe it to our children. I have heard for 15 years that New Brunswick ‘can’t compete’ on incentives. Well, look around, you made this bed, lay in it – while your kids move to Alberta.

    So, if we can rethink how things are done, then we can properly fund it.

  5. Cooker Boy says:

    I agree with doubling the effort. Unless we begin to attract outside investment into the province, you might as well kiss your tax base goodbye for health care, education and infrastructure.

    Pay now or pay later with interest, you decide!