Let’s step things up a notch

Instead of low level sniping and drive by smears, how ’bout sinkin’ your teeth into this.  It’s an academic paper on New Brunswick’s IT industry that “estimates a structural model of an industrial innovation cluster”. I hadn’t seen this before.

The author concludes that “Effective innovation policy must be based on plausible explanatory models of innovation.”

I have to admit that while I wish we had more rigour in our economic development planning, this paper went a bit over my head. I will reread to see if it makes more sense.

A reconceptualized model of a cluster, inspired by the Porter Diamond but including a Penrosean component, is shown in Figure 2. This model postulates pathways between the business environment, the firm’s internal capabilities and resources, and the firm’s performance. The model has two dependent variables: firm‐level capability (CAP) and performance outcomes (OUT). Firm‐level capability (CAP) is hypothesized to mediate between the environmental constructs and business performance. This is the Penrosean component of the model and it refers to dynamic alignment of internal resources (more recently conceptualized as capabilities) with business opportunities in the external environment.

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28 Responses to Let’s step things up a notch

  1. mikel says:

    Always look for ‘key’ words-in this case “postulates” and “hypothesizes”. Abstracts are usually quite helpful, in this case we learn they talk to 41 different firms-what would be most helpful is simply the data from the questionaires. The abstract states that there is a strong correlation between firm output and their customers and interaction with near and distant suppliers of specialized inputs. Do we really need a paper to tell us that a business’ potential depends on their customers and suppliers?

    What I found interesting was the claim that “cluster theory is too complex and has too many meanings”; combine that with the studies use of the Porter Diamond theory, in which it outrightly calls “too ambiguous” and you’re headed for trouble.

    What is usually of use in such papers is the data-starting on page 6. Unfortunately, IT is VERY transitory in NB, and the data is from 2001. It had 240 firms, 5-700 million in revenues. This is just under the tourism sector in size. 10% of the firms earn 75% of the revenues-it would be helpful to know which ones.

    Importantly, it is heavily tied to the telecommuniciations industry which developed in the nineties, and which no longer exists. Exporters did better than those servicing home markets. The paper notes the strong growth rates, but this was 2001, a lifetime ago. The study notes that much of the growth was heavily reliant on “public innovation support services”-meaning government.

    I skipped the ‘model’ part, partly because they are usually highly technical and usually flawed in some respect. The conclusions speak to that, and note that ‘cluster theory’ doesn’t explain many factors. What is quite interesting is that there doesn’t seem to be a link between ‘sources of highly qualified personnel’ and firm output. What the ramifications of that are, would be a good discussion. Maybe finding qualifed personnel was simply too easy. For public policy, it does reiterate the idea of developing a supply side training model-in other words, tying education to local labour needs is an iffy idea.

    SO, now readers don’t have to read the paper:) (although they should). It would be interesting to contact the author and ask for a list of the companies just to see which are still around-and how well his model predicted ‘output’. It really says nothing new about ‘cluster model’ except the usual ‘its inadequate’ statements. What is obvious from the study is that ‘clusters’ certainly are not ‘geographic’ as both labour, suppliers, and customers were national, even global. A little more detail on these companies, rather than ‘models’ would be helpful to us, though I agree blog readers are not the main customers of academic papers. David has been big on the ‘cluster’ model in the past, hopefully this study means that that kind of talk is quantified when dealing with ED clients, who probably don’t read studies like this. And please, lets not turn this thread into an “academic papers are a waste of paper”, nobody is forcing anybody to read it or like it.

  2. Scott Mackay says:

    If NB wants to find a way out of its mess, high level officials should keep an eye on the Washington Nationals and monitor their progress. If they are able to dig their way outta sheer obscurity, then there is no question, there is hope for NB. lol

  3. I followed the frigging Montreal Expos to Washington (i.e. remained a fan). I was assured that Washington could afford to field a competitive team. Not only are they worse now, they attract about the same amount of fans in Washington as they did when they had a good team in Montreal. Teeth grinding.

  4. Scott Mackay says:

    HaHA! You’re right. They’d do better in Jarry park then Washington for cripes sakes!! lol Bring back Rusty Staub…Le Grand Orange!! 😉

  5. Anonymous says:

    Wow, what an academic exercise reading that. I am sure it worthy of research funding but I don’t see much practical value from an economic development perspective.

    I am a fan of focused effort and therefore make time for discussions on clusters, however, clusters are widely used to explain how an economic success was acheived but I don’t think there are many examples where a community deliberately set out to establish a cluster and succeeded. Most of the time a cluster forms from some naturally occuring advantage, or by good luck or perhaps a result of some sort of intervention or urgency (like a miltary air base closing and an aerospace cluster forming).

    The discussion on a supply generated cluster is interesting but I don’t buy it for a minute. Following that theory, if we graduated lots of astronauts, we could expect to have a space program in New Brunswick or if we graduated lots of oil riggers we’d have an oil industy.

    I think we need to keep it simple. Find an industry where the private sector can make money, ideally more by locating in New Brunswick, and support its development.

  6. Anonymous says:

    And in the interest of providing constructive input as has been recently suggested, some areas where we could invest some resources to see if NB can develop a niche/competitive advantage:

    – Highest tides in the world. Toronto or Alberta can’t claim that. This has helped to create a prosperous aquaculture industy. Could it give us an advantage for tidal power development?

    – Trees with particularly long fibre. Is there speciality products we could focus on rather than basic newsprint? Maybe products that could replace oil based products. Nackawic is moving in this direction, could others?

    – Uranium. We have lots, the world wants lots. It is controversal because people have not been respectful of the environment. Could we develop safe and environmentally neutral extraction techniques and provide the world with the first source of ‘green’ uranium? Kind of the like the blood diamond issue only we become the good guys.

    I am sure there are lots of other ideas where there is some sort of native building block as a starting point. I think our ED people spend too much time chasing the latest hot trends that often have little connection to New Brunswick. If we want to target sexy stuff like health care, or the film industy then we need to ask what is our advantage, what are we going to sell/pitch? I don’t think many people would think we can outperform Hollywood with box office movies from New Brunswick, but maybe we can become one of the best places for animated commercials. Anyway, you get my point, we need some niche if we are going to succeed with ED.

  7. mikel says:

    Good points above, but the question is how to get the government to do this. For tidal power, in 2005 the province partnered with NS, Maine, Alaska, Massachusetts, San Fransisco, to do a ‘study’ of tidal power. The grand contribution from NB was $30,000.
    The trouble is, where is the ROI on tidal power? Like most alternative energy sources its not going to make anybody any money-at least not for some time.
    For Uranium, there is no such thing as ‘green’ uranium. The world, at this point, doesn’t need ‘lots’, and its dirt cheap. And like in all resource industries, commodities couldn’t care less how it gets it-in fact it wants it as cheap as possible. New Brunswick is known as being ‘mining friendly’, and has fewer restrictions than even most third world countries-that’s an issue for New Brunswickers, not the industry, which is very happy about it.

    I don’t think the study (or me) was suggesting that developing a supply side labour force will develop an industry, it simply stated that there didn’t seem to be ANY kind of correlation. That would at least indicate that an educational policy shouldn’t be tied to industry-and unfortunately NB”s is VERY heavily tied to industry, and becoming moreso.

    There ARE tons of ideas out there, just about every person will have their own. There is NOTHING stopping government from developing a ‘cluster’ if it wants to. Again, there is no evidence right now of ANY industry that is ‘successful’ without heavy government intervention. Hell, Microsoft was breaking every law in the US federal book.

    There is even less evidence that any ‘niche’ development will build an economy. When there was a pulp mill in Miramichi, that ‘drove’ the local environment, but it wasn’t a ‘niche’. It was simply an economic fact. There is NO reason why government can’t develop industries-or at least try. When Nova Scotia released it’s tax credit program for cultural industries, the NB government COULD have had a press conference and said “Good God, we’ve got to step it up and top this program or else we will lose our cultural firms to Nova Scotia”. And stayed up all night and released a plan the next day.

    In case people don’t know, that’s essentially what they did in Income tax, said “Good God we’ve got to lower income taxes on the wealthiest or else they’ll leave”. Which, by the way, most film development DID do. That’s because of their priorities, they obviously don’t give a rat’s ass about cultural industries, its been over two years. That COULD be because nobody is pushing it, but I suspect SOME are, so again, that could go back to the theory that there is only certain types of ED the province (Irving) wants.

    Economic development IS cause and effect-when government controls the economy and doesn’t ‘get controlled’. Like I said, if tomorrow the government announced a provincial public broadcaster, and started local purchasing of shows, there’s a ‘niche’. It’s a springboard for local talent and provides other types of services, but the country is headed in a different direction, the feds announced changes to the Canadian Television Fund which essentially means YOU are paying money for Shaw, Rogers, and Bell to make shows. There is no ‘cultural’ imperative or anything else-they are getting carte blanche. So, the problem is NOT lack of ideas, its the political structure. Until ‘we’ controls the strings, the puppet dances to a different puppeteer.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Of course there is no such thing as green uranium. The comment was if we could develop a neutral process, we’d have a marketable advantage. It is far fetched I agree, but no more so than New Brunswick beating out Hollywood in the film industry.

    Our ED strategy has to be centered on things with sticking power; at least with the thought we might be able to thrive for 15 years. The trouble with all the hot sectors in the ED journals and conferences(pharma, biotech, films, animation) is we have to find the connection to New Brunswick else whatever incentves we put in place, some hungrier locale will beat them next month. Case in point with our NB animaters being courted by PEI; one-up the incentive and off they go unless there is some connection to NB. Our ED people go off to a conference and get all pumped up then come back and decide New Brunswick ought to be the next silcon valley or the health research center of the world or the next yarn capital. It is good to dream but the targets have to have some connection to New Brunswick if we want a chance to sustain a cluster or they will last only as long as the incentives.

  9. Bill says:

    I felt like I was back in university reading that. But I did muddle through and one thing that struck me was something the paper and Mikel touched on: the idea of geography, as far as IT goes, not being very relevant. One of the characteristics of IT is that it is/can be national, global. And when I saw the kinds of IT businesses in NB it seemed they were, to a degree, disparate – not necessarily related.

    But all the talk of “clusters,” as well as a reference to what the paper was defining as the home or local market, made me wonder if it doesn’t make more sense to think in terms of Atlantic Canada, as opposed to NB alone. (Ignoring for the moment the political difficulties in that.)

    I seem to be obsessed with the idea of aggregation these days, particularly when I look at the major southern centres: Moncton, Fredericton and Saint John. Would there be more benefit to think in terms of linkages between NB industries and NS or PEI, and how these could be enhanced to make an industry more robust? Let’s say, for example, Nova Scotia has a relatively strong film industry and NB has similarly strong animation industry. Together, they become a complete and stronger package with (hopefully) greater economic appeal. Are there ways forestry or tidal power, combined with what might be happening in PEI or NS, can fuel economic growth? Could the innovation opportunities be in how we see the region (as larger, rather than smaller)?

    It just seems to me that so many things here are disperse, operating in isolation, and small, when I don’t think that needs to be the case. Yes, politics and culture may make the notion of working as one difficult but it seems to me that if many, if not all, the factors described in the cluster models were larger it would lead to more promising prospects.

  10. richard says:

    We already have economic clusters in NB – forestry and energy – we just have never gotten enough value-added out of them. NB has focused on raw product or minimal processing of raw product for export instead of value-added products. Perhaps we should try working a bit harder with the clusters we have; that means R&D investments.

    As far as IT is concerned, perhaps there is hope there; but then again we had NBTel and blew that opportunity. I wonder what percentage of our IT outfits have some connections to the old NBTel. We seem to have lost our historical memory and keep re-cycling things.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I agree Bill, we need to focus for many reasons. We are small and cannot be globally competitive in everything.

    One of the key benefits in focuing would be to attract Federal support. Ontario focused on the auto sector and has garnished billions, influenced trade and tax policy and even labour laws. Quebec focused on aerospace and had similar benefits. We have ACOA trying to help 20 sectors that are the pet prpoject of whatever blowhard politician can get in front of them not to mention ACOA is used for community halls, sporting events and sewage treatment funding. Imagine if Atlantic Canada focused on one sector, perhaps biotech as an example, and pressured the Feds to support it with tax and trade pplicy and r and d money. Then we may get some traction.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Richard has good points. Energy and forestry are two good sectors as a starting point but we need the provincial government to talk about those two sectors and ask for support every time they communicate with the Feds. We cannot go to Ottawa with a laundry list of 750,000 different ideas from snowmobile trails to convention centers else nothing will happen except for more pot holes being filled.

    Why don’t we get aggressive with the Feds and look for changes in policy that could help us prosper in those sectors; it worked for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland with their oil and gas deals. We don’t have much oil and gas so maybe Ottawa makes a nuclear power deal with us and headquarters research and development efforts here, and/or makes New Brunswick (or taking Bill’s point, Atlantic Canada) the renewable energy research capital of Canada. Back it up with a few billion in research money as they have in Quebec and Ontario and locate a Federal Department here to oversee it and adjust trade and tax policy as necessary for the sector to flourish.

    Our fragmented, ever changing efforts make it easy for Ottawa to ignore. If we had a consolidated and consitent pitch, we might get somewhere.

  13. mikel says:

    Again, the problem is political, not economic. The province NEVER goes to the feds with ‘750,000’ ideas, they go with ONE-roads. Just as a reminder, last years budgets that was supposedly a surplus actually addeed 350 million to NB’s DEBT. And that was thanks to one thing-the highway between Woodstock and Grand Falls (which essentially is privatized thanks to a lucrative maintenance contract with ‘that guy in the miramichi’). And again, that money came from a federal provincial partnership that the feds had set up for provincial infrastructure. PEI spent is largely on industrial parks, Nova Scotia spent theirs on R&D and education-New Brunswick, YOUR government, blew it on a small section of highway. So there’s no point it talking about ‘narrowing the focus’-you don’t get much narrower than that.

    There is nothing fragmented about that, its all from the Atlantica playbook-just like St. John’s energy infrastructure. And those things really haven’t changed in decades, so there is nothing ‘ever changing’ about them. Like Richard says, the focus is on resource extraction, and thats where their interest lies. And again, even those are managed for investors. Community and native forestry provide FAR more jobs than the current corporate model, which essentially has one guy on a skidder that can wipe out 500 acres and strip it in a day-again, go watch “Forbidden Forest”.

    As for niches, again thats a misnomer. Offering payroll tax credits doesn’t ‘hurt’ any. NB’s animation sector isn’t nearly the size of NS, so again, we can’t belly ache because Nova Scotia actually has a government that does something. FatKat said specifically that ‘they’ wanted to stay in NB, because the guy is FROM NB. THAT is the strategic advantage-people FROM the area, want to STAY in the area, which is why you have programs to support them.

    But unless Bill wants to join the Atlantica Party there is no point in talking about alignments with Nova Scotia, etc. Those are completely out of your power. As Richard points out, its hard enough, perhaps impossible, to even get your own government to actually represent the population, but it IS possible, more possible than federally or regionally where you essentially have no vote.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Wow, talk about a defeatest attitude. Thought we were trying to be more positive/constructive.

    You are correct on one thing, the provincial government has not gone to Ottawa with 750,000 initiatives but they have certainly approached them with dozens; point is, it has hardly been a focused effort. The symptom of their lack of focus is money flowing only to highways so why it may look like that is all they asked for, the reality is it is all they are getting.

    Some of the multi million dollar asks, presented in an urgent/priority light, that have been in the media over the past 2 years include:
    – foresty bail out money
    – new courthouse
    – various convention centers
    – Lepreau refurbishment
    – various university major research projects
    – Saint John harbour clean up
    – Pedicodiac river clean up
    – medical school funding
    – new track and field facilty at UdeM
    – new gym at UNB
    – various pools, hockey rinks and soccer fields
    – various sewar treatment and water treatment facilties
    – eLearning rearch funding
    – Port of Belledune improvements
    – various golf course builds/improvements
    – Fundy trail development money
    – US border crossing improvements
    – aerospace research funding
    – numerous highway improvements

    We can go on but we are all over the map with our ‘priorities’ and one can see how Ottawa can easily brush aside our requests or cherry pick what they happen to like; it just so happens they like highways because Stephen Harper photograghs well against the backgroud of that bright yellow construction equipment and the majority of people here have lowered their expectations of government so far that getting a pot hole filled is about the most they can hope for.

    Hence the point, we need to select a strategic investment area, lets say biotech products from applications with our forestry industry for sake of arguement, and consistently ask for support. When Ottawa says we’d like to build you another hockey rink, we say no thanks, but would you direct that support to our biotech research projects. When they say we’ll build you a couple more medical schools, we’ll say no thanks, our priority is our biotech education. When they saay let’s talk about energy transmission through NEB, we say sure, as long as we can talk about biotech policy. As noted above, it worked for Ontario and Quebec and it has worked elsewhere (read up on the Korean shipbuilding industry for example).

    2010 is an election year. Let’s ask for each party’s economic development platform and look for substance, not catchy slogans. I’d vote for the party that had a plan to take one of New Brunswick’s strengths and exploit it so that it becomes a major economic driver.

    David, when the election is called, why don’t you invite each leader to do a guest blog on their economic development policy?

  15. Anonymous says:

    David is not exactly someone that would attract honest political debate! What politition ever called david, like they do Charles Leblanc? He is known!

  16. Pat says:

    Good point on asking each leader to do a guest blog on their own party’s economic development policy.
    Many special interest groups get answers from the parties regarding their specfic issues at election time. It can be helpful to sort out whose platform seems to make the most sense.

  17. Anonymous says:

    It would be great to hear what the leaders have to say on economic development and for them to realize there are some people left in New Brunswick that care more about economic development and meaningful advancement than pot holes.

  18. Rob says:

    The last election in NB turned on a few choice slogans, one of which, self-sufficiency, actually had something to do w/ Economic Development. I think the generally positive reaction to a “self-sufficient NB by 2026″ proved that the political will exists for government to make big moves on that front. However, I think we can easily sour an entire generation on the idea of “self-sufficiency” if nothing more than lip service is paid to the idea.

    Although Self-Sufficiency was an idea created by the Liberal Party, I think it would be great for all parties to seize upon, and buy into, the idea, and thus be able to hold the Government’s feet to the fire. It’s all well and good for the Government to talk about how a new tourism grant in St George helps “move toward our goal of self-sufficiency by 2026″, it would be another step more to have critics questioning ministers in the legislature on the progress made towards the goal.

    I also think that we should be completely revamping our civil service upon the same goal of self-sufficiency. I remember Shawn Graham talking about the “supercrats” during the last election. We should be energizing the public sector, and hiring the best and brightest. BNB should be finding the best salespeople NB has to offer.

    The will exists within the electorate to make bold moves on this file. If, however, we limit our bold moves to twinning highways and cutting taxes, we won’t be much farther ahead in 2016, let alone 2026.

  19. mikel says:

    The list above aren’t priorities, getting some money for a building is nothing, and ‘asking’ for federal money is exactly what parties are SUPPOSED to do. We aren’t talking about nickels and dimes here, actual ‘investment’ takes real dollars. A courthouse, gym or such things are barely even ‘asks’, you don’t tell everybody to NOT ask for any money because ‘we want to focus on biotech’-no need for a clean harbour, that money is for biotech.

    But 150 million dollars is REAL money, it probably tops all those things in the above list put together. You can say that Ontario’s ‘niche’ is auto or aerospace, but that didn’t stop the local Perimeter Institute from getting 60 million in federal subsidies, and its ludicrous to go to the Perimeter Institute and say “stop asking for money, we’re trying to focus here” And we can add that MOST of the things which were ‘asks’, either took decades for the feds to come through, or else still haven’t.

    The above aspect about getting David active is far more interesting. Even better would be for some people here to get together and form some kind of organization. There absolutely is the will out there, but again, there are only two parties, which are virtually identical in most of their priorities. A group needs to come along and get other voices in there. Just asking some questions of politicians isn’t going to do ‘much’ good, although its better than nothing.

    For funding initiatives, there is a very simple procedure-start fundraising. Make fundraising part of the mix, then add municipal contributions (even tiny ones), then go provincial and federal. That’s how programs get funded nowadays, and unfortunately a big part of the mix is going private. That’s hardly ‘defeatist’, that’s simply how funding decisions are made-defeatist is saying ‘well, there’s no point in doing anything’.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Mikel, we are on the same page if you can get by your ego.

    I agree asking for money for a courthouse is nothing but we do very little prioritization so when we ask for say $150 million to get our forestry industry on track and in the same meeting we ask for $20 million for a new courthouse and jail, we make it easy for the Feds to pass on the meaningful initiative and give us the consulation prize of a building and photo op. Ditto with the highways.

    If we do not prioritize ED initiatives, they will never be addressed; our votes are not significant enough.

    We need to hold the Feds feet to the fire to do something meaningful for ED in Atlantic Canada. The last significant effort was the forming of ACOA. ACOA is now used for community halls, water treatment and event funding; all stuff the Feds can do but not under the veil of economic development.

  21. mikel says:

    I have no idea what that means, I just debate the arguments that I read. I agree with the last paragraph, but not with the idea of ‘priorities’. For forestry, there has NEVER been an attempt by the province OR the feds to deal with this, it wasn’t until last year, about five years after the ‘crisis’ began that Harper announced a measly $30 million. There is no word on how it will be spent.

    When it comes to specific funding there are various programs in place that provinces apply for, the highway funding was part of a national program that saw the feds pay half, up to 150 million, for insfrastructure projects. THere was no ‘adding to the list’, the province filled out the forms and got money for whatever it wanted-it wanted highway funding.

    For specific ‘asks’, we don’t know what happens in internal meetings. After Harper announced some forestry money, Graham was interviewed and said Harper “sounded sincere”-that’s hardly a productive meeting.

    The last paragraph is again, political. HOW do you ‘hold the feds feet to the fire’, THAT is the issue, in fact it applies provincially to-HOW do you get the government to do what people want? It’s well known that when it comes to economic development, maritimers are very pragmatic, it comes down to jobs and money. So, why are there forestry policies that purposely put people out of work? Why are industries that provide good long term jobs ignored? Why does Nova Scotia and even PEI manage to put programs in place to develop industries and not NB? Until those problems are at least addressed then people can have all the ideas and criticisms in the world and it won’t amount to much. I’m glad we’ve got a few new people with some ideas about that, but they need to go further than “hey Dave, why don’t you….” Getting a blog to contact MLA’s is a good start, but it really is just a start. David is an entrepreur and has to make a living, so really needs help to push these policies. I’m perfectly willing to chip in in most ways possible, but to be politically relevant, ideas have to get political.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Now back full circle. We hold their feet to the fire by prioritizing ED initiatives and not letting them off the hook with highways and hockey rinks.

  23. richard says:

    After going through the article cited by David, I’d note:
    1) this is a conference presentation and so has perhaps only a minimum of peer-review;
    2) if I am interpreting things correctly, of the three model variations, only one – OUT2, the export model – has an R2 value that is acceptably high. For this model, the author is claiming that important factors for exporting companies are: a) a large proportion of employees with export mandates, b)inovation, and c)partnering (clustering) with suppliers and spinoff companies.

    The R2 values for the other two models are too low to draw any conclusions – i.e. they do not explain enough of the variability in the dataset to have much value.

    “Although Self-Sufficiency was an idea created by the Liberal Party, I think it would be great for all parties to seize upon..”

    I think that is a key approach – the goal of self-sufficiency has to become something that everyone buys into. Then every demand for funds, whether a local demand on the province, or a provincial demand on the feds, can be scrutinized in that light. Perhaps then we can begin moving in the right direction. How do we get the buy-in, not just from the politicos from from the average joe or louise?

  24. richard says:

    Another ‘natural’ cluster (common to the Atlantic region) would be music. Seems to me the Atlantic area has a high number of musicians per capita. Is this being developed to maximize the economic return to the region? We export musicians; shouldn’t we be trying to export musical products to a greater extent?

  25. George Miller says:

    A significant number of blog entries end with “if only the politicos would sign on” such that it would be useful to ask why politicians are not more committed to change. The answer is not that they are corrupt or stupid or ignorant of the challenges since the majority are none of these. But knowing what would motivate or leverage politicians — and why — would be very useful.

    Any takers?

  26. richard says:

    “knowing what would motivate or leverage politicians”

    We know from recent events that they can be pressured into reversing/modifying positions. Public pressure tends to come from hot button emotional issues rather than ED. If we had a hard copy press that addressed these types of issues in a meaningful way, rather than subjecting us to boilerplate from AIMS, perhaps we could end up in a situation where a more rational approach to ED would be regarded as commonsense rather than being politically unpalatable.

  27. mikel says:

    I’ll reiterate a comment I’ve made many times before, so sorry to longtime readers for the repetition, but this focuses on both George’s post and anon’s post. You don’t ‘hold their feet to the fire’ by making comments at a blog. What we KNOW is that government DOES have ‘priorities’, although Richard doesn’t like calling them priorities, they are highways and ‘gateways’.

    Those are priorities because that is what the organized sectors are asking for. Nobody should think politicians are corrupt, stupid or ignorant, although they certainly can be, and in smaller provinces with fewer members in political parties, there can even be a tendency to ‘weed out’ some nominees. Parties with a powerful leader can often see that leader trying to ensure that OTHER ‘strong’ members don’t get the nomination because that leader doesn’t want to face the competition within their own party.

    But parties and governments respond to lobbies. Irving doesn’t sit back and wait for government to come to them, the top Irvings often go to see the Premier themselves. What ‘motivates’ politicians are the same things that motivate everybody. First, they of course need to win-if you don’t win, you don’t have a job. Second, they respond to pressure. If they are made to look bad, that IS bad. Unfortunately, with a media monopoly there is little focus on individual politicians in NB, you can’t even find out what legislation members voted for without going to the legislative library.

    Politician’s are human beings, and usually are well meaning, so it often takes a LOT of lobby effort for business interests to override populist concerns. Again, to reference the only political experience I have, when we recommended changes to the Residential Tenants Act, the liberals adopted our wording verbatim. Then the conservatives jumped on it and passed their own. Unfortunately, OTHER interests then obviously get involved, but those other interests are obviously pretty powerful, since even the politicians admitted that this was a case where 5% of the population lacked even basic human rights available everywhere in the country.

    History SHOWS how to ‘motivate’ politicians-namely grassroots political action. If WE don’t get involved, obviously the government isn’t going to listen to a bunch of whiners at a website-in fact they SHOULDN’T, since anybody can shoot off an idea. It’s the political ‘process’ that lets ideas get scrutinized from all different angles and presented in the legislature. And the most effective means of lobbying is through organization. It takes work and diligence, it has to be done over long periods of time, especially in a province like NB, which, lets face it, has more dysfunction than most-a media monopoly, only two parties, and a poor electoral system.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Well George, I agree politcians are motivated to do something about economic development; the buzz McKenna initiated around economic development still echos in the halls of the legislature today and garnered national recognition.

    The difference is that subsequent leaders come up with the glossy presentations (Prosperity Plan, Self Sufficency Plan) but cannot execute.

    I realize not everyone thinks McKenna was wonderful but he certainly generated lots of talk about economic development and he executed. He did this by being personally involved and working his butt off. He earned the respect of boardrooms accross the country. He made some sacrifices; check out the old press releases and you’ll see he announced new businesses locating to the province, not new hockey rinks and community halls. He focused on some uniquely New Brunswick competitive advantages (mainly a leading edge telecommunications infrastructure and a bilingual workforce) and exploited them for economic benefit. Recognizing it is difficult to manage by committee, he showed leadership and made decisions wasting little effort on massive studies, task forces and cross province consultations.

    So, I think there is political will, there is just not the know-how about how to execute. Drawing on lessons learned here in New Brunswick and demonstrated in successful economies around the world, we need:

    – true personal commitment from our leader; he must act like economic development is his priority. Our economic development staff used to be tailed by local authorities when they traveled out of town. There were articles about our economic development efforts in the G&M, McLeans and elsewhere. We need that take-no-prisoners attitude that captures attention of the media and our targeted developments.

    – identification of NB strengths that can be converted into economic benefit. A list has been started on this blog. We really do have some competitive advantages; we need to learn how to develop them.

    – a strong relationship with the Federal government. We will need their resources.

    – some budgetary sacrifices in favour of economic development; our resources are limited, we need to allocate more money and that will likely mean some truely tough decisions.

    As has been suggested on this blog, we also need to question our elected representatives about economic development and let them know we expect better results. When they knock on our doors, let’s ask about economic development before we ask them to fill in that pot hole on the road to the cottage.

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