Harper and regional economic development

Just saw Stephen Harper giving a bilingual news conference somewhere in Ontario. He’s certainly come a long way from the squareheaded firebrand, policy wonk that wanted to build a firewall around Alberta. He is sounding Prime Ministerial. He is on point – every answer comes back to the three or four main points he wants to make and everything is tightly scripted.

In addition, he has certainly adopted centerist positions on many issues from EI increase (this is the second increase to the EI program from Harper since he took office) to big spending to Quebec. No more hard line Harper.

I am sure that you savvy Liberals can see right through that “onion-skin charade” but poor gullibles like me….

Actually, if Harper came out strongly in favour of regional economic development, he’d get a check mark from me. I don’t understand what he has to lose. I realize he doesn’t have much to gain either but..

If I was advising Stephen Harper for a day (or Dion or Layton, etc.), here is what I would advise should be the regional development focus.

1. Admit that each province is facing unique economic challenges and that the federal government should adapt to help with these challenges.

2. Play a more visible role in support of regional economic development in places like New Brunswick. Offer to accompany Shawn Graham on a trip to Germany to pitch that CEO on the merits of setting up in the province. I wouldn’t make this a full time job but a few times a year I think would add value.

3. Instruct senior bureaucrats to be supportive of New Brunswick’s efforts to attract large industry projects. Federal funding programs that are almost exclusively used in Ontario and Quebec should be available to little old NB too.

4. Instruct senior bureaucrats in the federal research establishment to work with NB on a plan to get R&D levels in the province up to at least the national average.

5. Forget anymore highway funding announcements. Come to New Brunswick to announce the opening of that 300 person manufacturing plant in Miramichi or that 150 person software development studio in Fredericton.

Five little things. Potentially big impact.

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0 Responses to Harper and regional economic development

  1. nbt says:

    No more hard line Harper.

    Minority: no.

    Majority: ?

    And for the record, I call it the right line which has been hard to get to.

  2. mikel says:

    Come on, there's political reality, and then there is 'reality'. Under Chretien the government slashed more money than ever dreamed, but nominally increased military spending. Law and order was the main theme. Privatization began in earnest, in fact was far more prevalent under the liberals than the tories.

    So there really IS no 'charade', like the US we have two main parties with subtle social differences. Yes, Harper maybe would open up gay marriage and be even tougher on criminals than currently, but Canada is already harder on criminals than even the states. Recently a report on the Kingston Penitentiery said the place was something out of 19th century britain.

    He maybe would be harder on abortion and same sex marriage, but again, the former has a federal government that won't even get involved even though New Brunswick is breaking federal law, and the latter, while important, really only affects a small minority and as critics of the time said, semantically calling it 'union' instead of marriage with all the same rights would satisfy even the most fundamentalist of religions (not all I'm sure).

    As for your advice, some criticism is warranted:

    1. That has essentially already been done, only the 'public voice' makes the claim that 'we treat everybody the same'. What other province gets this much highway spending? What other province gets a 50 million investment in synthetic wallboard?

    2. That has SOME merit-maybe, but although Martin went to bat for ontario to get Toyota, there is debate as to whether it was him or the package. It's highly doubtful the Toyota execs thought a minority PM facing an election was that much of a celebrity.

    3. This is tricky. Again, we KNOW about the 50 million to Irving for synthetic wallboard, we KNOW about the federal funding program that the NB Premier put into building the trans canada north of Woodstock-that was 150 million I believe. We know about ACOA, and we know that even FatCat got $100 grand for new computers (that's not much, but we don't know what other programs they benefit from, from his remarks the President certainly didn't sound like NBT calling for less government involvement).

    So, again, we KNOW that NB has lower R&D spending from the feds than even PEI or NFLD. It would be interesting to see a chart showing specifically where its going, but it does sound like there is simply nobody ASKING. That may or may not be true, we don't know.

    4. See above.

    5. Again, you've got a government privatizing highway maintenance and construction…that's NBT's industry for you. Where do you THINK money is going to go? It's no coincidence that the Miramichi company that does the trans canada west maintenance is the same one that got that bridge building contract. But again, that bridge building contract is investment, but I don't see it get much play here.

    That's no doubt because of what you said before-the numbers make it look more like an EI seasonal or at least temporary work program.

    Here we have to be realistic, it COULD be that the Premier wouldn't want any big manufacturing investment because then suddenly everybody would be saying "what the hell do we need another oil refinery or nuclear facility for?" That COULD be true-I think that may be the reason they don't try very hard, but I suspect if RIM called up Graham and said they'd set up a research facility under conditions X, Y and Z, that the Premier-if he wants to get re-elected, would take that pretty seriously.

    The simple reality is that under NAFTA manufacturing is pretty much gone. They are leaving ontario in droves, and as your blog on TVO discusses, Ontario makes the feds dance. If THEY can't get manufacturing here, then what chance does NB have?