Why can’t Maritimers be motivated?

That’s the title of a Charles Moore commentary in the T&T today. I hope you can read it by clicking here but you might need a password.

Here’s the first paragraph of the column:

How excellent it would be if even a fraction of the energy and passion being expended on whinging and whining about the federal budget’s equalization reforms could be redirected toward support for initiatives with real potential to help Atlantic Canada’s economy grow and prosper, like the Atlantic Gateway, an “Atlantica” free trade zone, and tax/duty exempt “freeport” value-added, final assembly, and manufacturing enclaves.

Once again, the image being presented to the rest of Canada is that the only thing that gets Atlantic Canadians exercised and motivated is changes or perceived threats to their cherished federal subsidies.

“Why can’t Maritimers be motivated?” is a whopper of a question. I don’t want to argue the semantics of it or its derivation. Moore is obviously looking to provoke with the nature of his question and the tone of the column.

I wouldn’t be too hard on Maritimers if I were Moore. We have underperformed the national economy for employment and population growth since Confederation (I looked at this in 10 year increments).

My grandmother in 1945 told her kids if they wanted to be ‘successful’ they would have to move out of the Miramichi. My mother remembers as a child her mother telling this to the kids. That’s over 60 years ago, folks.

The amount of money the Feds have invested in the ‘Maritimes’ in the kind of growth oriented projects that Moore is espousing has been much lower than similar types of investment in central Canada – at least as long as I have been around. The Pacific Gateway is just another example of this. $600 million from the Feds (and Emmerson says this is just a ‘start’). $75 million for railway upgrades (when was the last time the Feds put $75 million into New Brunswick’s rail infrastructure – there are lots of us that think a rail-based ‘clipper’ service from the Port of Halifax to New England makes perfect sense but don’t expect $75 million for this anytime soon from the Feds). Hundreds of millions in to the Prince Rupert port. Port of Vancouver.

Let’s not mention the Auto Industry Partnership or the Aerospace industry partnership which both put hundreds of millions right into central Canada-based industries. And of course, don’t forget the hundreds of millions for biodiesel/biofuels which will disporportionately benefit where? Western Canada.

But the Feds have a pat answer for this. We give you pogey. Billions of Equalization. Use that for investing in your industrial growth.

But that’s not the way things happen. In fact, Equalization by definition is supposed to be used to provide health care, education and such. There is no mention in the Equalization about equalizing economic opportunity.

So, instead of complaining about Maritimer’s and their lack of motivation, I think someone should ask why the Feds aren’t motivated to support real economic development down here? The Atlantic Gateway – whatever that is – is a tailor made project for Fed funding support (because the the precedent in BC). If Shawn Graham has a plan to grow specific sectors of the NB economy but needs to make serious investments in infrastructure, training, marketing, etc. – that should be a tailor made project for Fed funding support. Imagine if there was an “Auto industry partnership” in New Brunswick – only substitute ‘Data Centres’ or ‘financial back offices’ or ‘nearshore manufacturing’.

But no, we get our pogey and we should just shut up.

Keep your pogey. In fact, give it to Ontario. We’ll take the Auto partnership funding or the Aerospace funding or the biofuels funding – put it on sectors that make sense for New Brunswick and try to grow our economy.

Equalization is a trap. It’s designed to reward failure. The more you need the more you get. Where’s the incentive to grow industries? This is, in my humble opinion, the source of the anger in NS and NL. They finally have that incentive, and they are getting their hands rapped.

So, I propose a slightly different focus. Harper can keep his Equalization top-up. But give Newfoundland $500 million for its own auto partnership. Give Nova Scotia $500 million to develop its financial services cluster. Just like they are doing everywhere but here.

I am not a psychologist but it seems to me that to be ‘motivated’ you need to have a source that ‘motivates’ you. 140 years of underperformance on the economy. Decades of our best and brightest ‘goin’ down the road’. More and more Equalization needed just to provide government services (that’s NB specific). That’s not much to inspire motivation.

You want to motivate Maritimers? Give them something to be motivated for.

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0 Responses to Why can’t Maritimers be motivated?

  1. NB taxpayer says:

    Great post, David

    Ontario, unlike Alberta and BC, are finding the current political environment a challenge to grow industry.

    Furthermore, you have a mayor in your largest [Canadian] city taxing people to death with his new found powers and you have a premier whose word cannot be trusted in the business community.

    If they want to be successful, they must find a way to make land taxes, property taxes, personal income taxes and business taxes more competitive with other thriving economic jurisdictions.

    As for us, we must find a way to veer away from the dependency of corporate welfare programs and grants as well as regional development schemes. They have never worked in the past and likely won’t work in the future.

  2. richard says:

    Excellent post. This is the best writing I have seen on economic development in the Maritimes in a long time.

    To be fair, tho, the ‘non-equalization’ federal spending that has been made in Atlantic Canada has often been in response to political demands from the locals. Have governments in Atlantic Canada asked (loudly) for those of kind of investments, i.e. funds for attracting IT or financial services industries? Seems to me they tend to go cap-in-hand to Ottawa asking for forestry/fisheries bailouts more often than not.

    Contrast that with the Auto-Pact, federal support for aerospace in Quebec, or oil development in the West. Perhaps if Atlantic governments has a long-term strategy that made sense and tried to sell it, we could get somewhere.

  3. mikel says:

    Richard hit it on the head, sort of. I agree with David as opposed to NB Taxpayer that jumping off corporate welfare is a nice idea in theory, but goes nowhere in reality. The conservatives saw what happened when they said no more corporate welfare and have since completely flipped. The world is being divided in two, those governments that kowtow to business, and those that control business (at least to an extent).

    It’s no surprise that the countries which are essentially ‘corporate run’ -hell, even the Irvings printed a letter saying exactly that today-are those with the archaic first past the post system that stymies actual representation. In other words, when ONE gets control, the others suffer, whereas in other jurisdictions, there is more representation for other groups (thats a bit of a simplification).

    But back to Richard’s point, we saw this before when somebody from BC brought it up and even got David to admit that its a two way street. The PROBLEM with that is this, with the electoral system the way it is, shutting out other voices, its impossible to get those other projects even in the pipelines. I used to make pin money by doing ACOA applications for people over a decade ago, when they basically admitted that they were getting out of the funding business.

    Now, of course, unless you have some political clout and are not in an area that will compete with ontario, you may get some money, like the federal initiatives in aquaculture at saint andrews.

    However, other ‘businesses’ in the area do not have political representation. Thats why I’ve mentioned about a television station, since IF you get ten or so ‘cultural contributors’ suddenly you have a single voice and can go to the feds to support an ‘industry’. Phatcat is not an ‘industry’, they are one business just getting by.

    So now we have Ottawa saying they are interested in Atlantica, and Graham talking about shovelling tax dollars into nuclear reactors all over the place and trying to to ‘manufacture’ an ‘energy hub’. This isn’t Alberta though, gas and oil is essentially being shipped through, and there is even more talk about getting oil refined in mexico.

    In a way though, Graham simply has no choice. There is virtually nothing else he can talk about to the feds to get ANYTHING. This is very similar to those who like history. ALmost since day one its been a game of ‘catch up’ where politicians have no choice but cater to the whims of business leaders who essentially run the province. Again, hell, even the Irving papers said that verbatim.

    But again, it assumes that business interests are the same as population interests. We saw with the LNG deal that that is not the case, apart from a short term job creation strategy (much like the highways) which is almost ended, this particular deal has little benefit for the poorest New Brunswickers. Again to curse, hell, the Premier is even saying that to get gas up north they want to bring it in from quebec.

    Once again, the taxes from the terminal could have paid for the running of gas lines right to every door.

    So to answer Richards point, there is a ‘deal’, namely ‘atlantica’. However, what has been missing from Graham is exactly what this money will be used for. Savoie claims that its only a pittance anyway, but highways seem to be the only thing on the agenda. Once again, even the Irving paper today said that was stupid.

    There’s a guy trying to start an acadian television station, and he’s headed to ACOA to see what they can do, so it will be interesting to see what the feds say to that initiative.