I would be curious to try and understand why former Premier Lord never took economic development seriously. Never put any real focus on growing industries or attracting people. And don’t try and convince me that he did. Spending on economic development as a percentage of the budget dropped every year he was in office.
I have been told by people that LJR was focused on economic development – particularly the poorest regions of New Brunswick. I just talked last week with someone who identified himself as having a very good knowledge of Richard Hatfield and he told me that Hatfield was preoccupied and even worried about economic development in New Brunswick. We all know that Frank McKenna had economic development at the top of his agenda.
So why did Bernard Lord drop it like a hot potato? Was it to distance himself from Frank? Was it because of some narrow ideological view that the government shouldn’t be involved in economic development? Was it not hiring talented people and getting good advice?
It wasn’t long into the Tory mandate that they were taking credit for McKenna call centre jobs and it seemed that was enough of an economic development strategy for them. I can’t find one single economic sector that the Lord government said “we are going to develop that sector for the good of New Brunswickers”. Not one. Not even tourism. Not even culture. Not manufacturing. Not IT. Nada.
And of course that begs the question. Would it have made a difference? As I have shown in other blogs the downward trend in population (declining growth throughout the 80s and 90s and now outright decline) and employment has been a 30 year trend -despite McKenna.
The optimists say that if Lord had made economic development a priority, had increased spending significantly, had hired top notch people, it would have made a difference. The pessimists think that New Brunswick is doomed to decline, ultimate merger with Nova Scotia and eventual marginalization as a true retirement region.
I lean in the direction of the optimists. After all, Canada has enjoyed an unprecedented period of economic and population growth from about 1994 onward. There have been billions of dollars transferred from the Feds to New Brunswick during that timeframe. I have to believe that a creative use of just a fraction of that money could have led to real economic development.
But at the end of the day it would be interesting to understand the reasons why Lord took economic development all but off the table for seven years. It might help the current gang and future governments not make the same mistakes.