For you long time readers, we revisit this issue of democracy and economic development on occasion – not because I have any particular insight into the area but it certainly is fun.
Take the issue of protests on the Legislature. They are virtually always a protest against a proactive move of government (not always). When governments have moved to cut hospital bed cuts to try and rein in health care costs, protests at the Legislature ensue.
When the Lord government tried to trim back farmer subsidies, protests at the Legislature took place – government backed down.
I was working at the Legislature as a page with McKenna made the unfortunate attempt to force Snowbirds to pay for health insurance while in Florida for 4 or more months of the year. The logic was fairly simple. They aren’t paying taxes for a third of the year, should they get Medicare coverage while in Florida? Bedlam ensued. Never take on Seniors or Farmers. Those two groups are sacrosanct in this province.
Now we have the NB Power sale – some say there were 200-300 hundred, the CBC reported today it could have been over 1,000 and they were a raucous bunch reading from their cue cards.
My point is not that I am against protest – I would just like to see protest about things that are fundamental to moving the province forward. Where are the protests demanding more focus on attracting industry here? Where are the protests demanding efforts to keep industrial power rates competitive to shore up some of the most important employers in rural New Brunswick?
When Bernard Lord saved the A.V. Nackawic pulp mill he was treated like a hero. I remember the media reports. Women were openly weeping – they were so thankful that the mill would be staying in town – even though it was with less workers and it cost the taxpayer $67 million initially and millions since then.
Now when a government moves to make a structural change that should end up making that mill competitive in the long term and save those jobs beyond the subsidies, the governments get pilloried – likely by many of the same people that were weeping just a few short years ago.
This goes beyond the Heritage Pool or transmission rates so I don’t want to go down that rabbit trail in this post. It’s about people drawing a link between efforts to create a competitive environment for vital industries, or drawing a link between trying the effectively manage the costs of government and efforts to keep tax rates competitive, etc.
Of course these protests are virtually always organized by a group – environmental, labour, etc. – rarely is it some spontaneous act of public will.
Maybe the answer is that the CFIB or the Chambers of Commerce or the Business Council should organize protests at the Legislature demanding action on economic development. Demanding that the province raise its spending on research and development to the level of the government of Ontario (10 times more than us). Demanding that the province do something about NB Power before the industrial rate structure drives more industry out of the province. Demanding that the province attract more industries here to at least replace the big employers that have left.
I’m only half kidding.
Fundamental change in this province will be driven by the people. Minister Murphy last week talked with almost holy reverence about the “Tim Horton focus group”. Maybe it’s time the Tim Horton focus group to start debating the issues of economic development.
I’ll take a double/double.