Back in the office today after nearly two weeks away. I missed most of the media while out of the country so I spent sometime over the weekend looking at recent articles (online) and I can’t find a whole lot of insight into the past decade.
This should be an ideal time for New Brunswick to take a sober look at the decade. It continues to be a frustration to me that most of the coverage is either on very thin slices of the decade or partisan commmentary on a specific government’s performance. How can we do better in 2010-2020 if we do really understand what happened over the past decade?
I have put a few stats out there but my analysis is very narrow and limited. What we need is a thorough assessment of demographic, economic and social trends. We also need a focused review of whether or not New Brunswick is on the right track in terms of its focus on 21st century industries. This should include some detailed benchmarking (I still cringe when I remember the words of a former Minister in the Lord government saying, and I paraphrase, “we don’t like to compare ourselves to other jursidictions” when asked about a labour force survey report).
New Brunswick is a province on the margins of the North American economy. It’s population is stagnant and its employment growth was the worst among Canada’s 10 provinces in the past decade. It’s income growth is second last in the country and underperformed in the past decade.
On the positive side, the province’s unemployment rate has dropped below the national rate for the first time – I think – since the 1970s. But even that is not as positive as it seems when you look at the underlying data and realize that it is driven by out-migration, a shrinking margin between births and deaths and historically low immigration in the 2000s.
As I said in my column next week, the past decade was one of mediocrity and it has been a bad set up for the coming decade. At the turn of the last decade, we had balanced budgets and were in the middle of the most successful job creation initiative in the province’s history (like it or not the call centre sector created more jobs more rapidly than any other industry in the history of the province).
We start this decade with an $800 million budget deficit and no rainmaker industries on the horizon. We will have to dig out of the fiscal hole. You remember that the government’s own forcast for getting out of deficit by 2014 is based on a 0.6% increase per year in government spending until that time. Given that the government budget has gone up around 6% per year over the past decade, it is hard to believe it will be able to curb spending increases to 0.6%.
I agree that my view on the subject is somewhat narrow and constrained by the fact that I don’t have the time or resources to complete such a thorough review. Maybe if I did my conclusions would be someone different. Who knows? Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living. I think that applies to communities and provinces as well.