Commenting on this issue is a complex one for me. I am talking about the retirement of the Deputy Minister of Business New Brunswick, Brian Dick. There are two reasons why I can’t have a candid conversation abou this. The number one issue is that I am an economic development consultant in New Brunswick. Sure, about half of my consulting business is in other provinces but that means that 50% is here in New Brunswick. I have never – in 8.5 years of consulting – received a contract or done work for Business New Brunswick (I have done work for provincial economic development agencies in two other provinces) but I do work with local and regional economic development agencies here in New Brunswick.
The second reason is that I know a lot of current and exBNBers. I talked on the telephone with two current employees of the department last week and they shared candid thoughts with me on the state of things in the department.
All I will say is this. I hope that BNB does some introspection and listens to some of the voices calling for change. These are not hostile views. No one is questionning the character of the people at BNB. There are well intentioned people of good will that would like to see BNB move in a new direction.
When a government changes, that is an ideal time to rethink how any government department does business. We saw major changes in Health. Certainly Energy. We saw some changes in other departments but very little – beyond tweaking – at BNB.
The Minister, Deputy Minister and Premier are all publicly satisfied with the direction of BNB. I would urge the leadership to reinterview many of those that have left in the past few years. Then, I would urge them to confidentially survey employees in the trenches as to what they think needs to change.
Nobody wants a hatchet job. This is not partisan or acrimonious in anyway. There are a broad range of voices inside and outside the system that think New Brunswick could do better.
Finally, I’ll say a few things about the Deputy Minister position. Whether Phil LePage becomes the DM or they bring in someone new, I think these comments apply.
One. the DM of a department has to take a balanced approach to how they lead a government department. It’s not like a private sector company where you can come in and ‘clean house’. You need to cast a broad vision for the department and then engage senior leadership and staff in achieving the vision. You can’t come in like Eloi Duguay claiming publicly that you are going to crack the whip.
Two, BNB has got to be much leaner and meaner in its approach. Ontario has implemented a guarantee that from the minute a company walks through the door they will have a final answer on funding or support within 60 days. I am not kidding when I say that several companies have told me it takes 60 days to get a meeting with BNB (in some instances). BNB must be able to act quicker.
At the same time it has to be more project-based and less bureaucratic. I’m not going to litigate the pros and cons of various organizational models but I will say that BNB has to be able to set up project teams to take on specific opportunities in a quick and timely fashion. We saw that approach under McGuire (think call centre team) and I think that is necessary. Otherwise, by the time you get around to doing something, the specific opportunity is passed.
Finally, I’ll end on this. I believe that Business New Brunswick must be the lead agency for economic development in this province. There are regional economic differences and these must be recognized and supported by it makes sense to have a well-funded, well-resourced and strongly mandated provincial agency. BNB is the agency that needs to lead growth. I urge the Department to use this change of leadership to rethink everything – from how it supports entrepreneurs to how it promotes R&D to how it works on attracting firms to the province.
Good luck, BNB.