It’s kind of fascinating to watch. The PM was in the Miramichi announcing funding for hockey arenas. The picture shows him standing in front of a podium that reads “Improving Arenas”.
We have unemployment in Northern New Brunswick 15% or more. We have employment rates up there of as low as 44%. We have continued out-migration. We spend over $350 million a year on EI payments in the North – every single year – the bulk to top up a lot of folks’ income needs during the year. I don’t think there has been a more bleak time for Northern NB than right now.
And we get investments in arenas.
As usual, I am obliged to say I don’t have a problem with investing in arenas per se. I just think the PM would have been far more relevant to New Brunswick to stand in front of a podium in the Miramichi that read “A partner in New Brunswick’s economic development” and announcing a new fed/prov agreement.
I talked with someone involved with northern economic development and they told me “it will take time” – they have only had a couple of years (they being the current government). Yeah, but the last guys said “it will take time” and the guys before and the guys before them.
I still maintain there is a de facto policy of slowly emptying out the north in favour of ‘urbanization’. New Brunswick was told at least a couple of decades ago by the experts that our lack of urbanness was the main impediment to growth. But when you are 50/50 urban/rural you just can’t go around espousing the emptying out of rural NB.
I have never been hung up on the concept of ‘growth’ itself. I always said that the Miramichi (for example) with 20,000 people, a few key large employers and a high employment rate and low seasonal unemployment would be a dynamic economy (as compared to 30k in the area with high unemployment).
But I also don’t subscribe to this slowly bleed the north dry model either. I think there should be potential to transform the region in to a manufacturing hub with Belledune as the key transit point for goods. I have been told there are ‘union’ issues particularly in places like Bathurst and Miramichi. I am not sure what that means but I suspect if good, well-known companies agree to set up in these communities and pay good wages with good benefits they have much problems in that area.
But eventually we need to rethink things. This idea of setting up a ‘northern fund’ and doling out in dribs and drabs has been the centrepiece of northern economic development as long as I can remember and we still are losing population and faced with weakening local economies over there.