Nova Scotia will invest $1.9 billion over the next three years in infrastructure, one of the largest such commitments in the province’s history. Funds will be channelled through the Building for Growth plan, the premier’s office announced. Investment and job-creation initiatives will be matched with strategic priorities, including energy conservation, roads, bridges, highways and schools. The $1.9-billion investment is estimated to create or maintain about 20,000 direct jobs.
In my opinion, governments need to avoid making spending decisions based on what will get the best political bang for the buck. We saw that this week with the NB budget which was complimented by just about everyone far and wide – even national editorials were written praising the budget.
After 20 years of looking at this stuff I think that government decisions that arouse more criticism than praise tend to be the ones that better sense longer term. Tough decisions need to raise a hue and cry not universal praise.
Who is going to complain about Nova Scotia investing $1.9 billion into roads, bridges and schools? Just about no one. At the same time no one seems to care that Nova Scotia’s population growth has stalled. Why do we need $1.9 billion in new investment when the number of people using this infrastructure is declining?
And we are told that this $1.9 billion will create or maintain 20,000 jobs over the next three years.
Alabama invested less than that to build an automobile manufacturing sector that created over 40,000 jobs for a generation.
But no op/ed or talking head would ever put that on the table. It’s easy to spend government money on the usual stuff. The stuff that governments ‘do’. $2 billion for roads. $1 billion a year for EI in New Brunswick. New hospitals or schools. You get the picture. But somehow to invest in things that may lead to a sustainable economy – that is out of the comfort zone of most governments – particularly and ironically in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
If Ontario was facing population decline like New Brunswick (Ontario’s population is still growing strongly despite this current hiccup), it would be an international disaster. You would see a mobilizing of government effort behind economic development like never before witnessed in human history. You know it’s true. The auto sector is hurting in Ontario and look at the massive response – billions in government money a $200 million/year new economic development agency for southern Ontario. Imagine if there was a crisis that actually turned Ontario’s population growth into decline (like New Brunswick). You would see an unprecedented response.
But in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia you get shrugged shoulders and a Premier blaming “demographics”.
I’m not against governments building roads and bridges – that’s a key role for government. But in the current context if I was advising government I would be recommending far more investment in economic development – both in the infrastructure that powers economic development and the process of attracting and fostering new business investment.
Imagine Nova Scotia investing $1.9 billion in green energy infrastructure and then offering that energy at an industrial rate below the competition. Sure, the public would be ‘investing’ now so that industry could get cheap electricity in the future but what makes that any different than any other kind of ‘investment’?
Imagine Nova Scotia investing $1.9 billion in R&D?
Imagine Nova Scotia investing $1.9 billion to make Halifax a leading financial services back office centre around the world?
20,000 construction jobs are more comfortable for government and will garner lots of media and politicial benefits. But in the long run, what will it do to address the underlying structural economic problems? Not much.