Just got off the telephone with Hal Fredericks, one of the first real economic developers in Atlantic Canada. He read my column and called up. Fredericks cut his teeth in the 1950s with the original APEC and worked for years promoting New Brunswick for economic development.
This guy is an absolute legend in the business of economic development. At 82, he is still going strong, living in Freddy Beach and trying to poke and prod.
We have lost that connection with the 1950s and 1960s, a period in which New Brunswick and the Maritimes was on the brink, I believe, of becoming a serious economic engine in the North American context. Much of the thinking was in place – promoting the region internationally, proactive government policies, infrastructure development, etc. Somewhere we got tripped up. Somewhere we decided to opt for massive federal government investment in our social infrastructure instead of our economic infrastructure and now we sit as the most dependent region in North America on the tax dollars generated in other provinces.
What I wouldn’t give to be back there with what we know now. The feds have spent something like $4 billion on seasonal EI in New Brunswick over the past 10 years. They have also spent – I may be off by a few hundred million – something like $12 billion in Equalization in that same period to make up for the New Brunswick economy’s inability to generate enough own source tax revenue to pay for government services.
With the right strategies and effort in the 50s and 60s, maybe that could have been $5 billion. Maybe zero. Maybe, just maybe, New Brunswick would now be contributing to the pie (providing Equalization support to Manitoba or something).