We’re all in this together

Over the past couple of weeks I have had the opportunity to travel around New Brunswick and talk to various groups about some of the challenges facing the province over the next few years and make the point that we need a more robust economic development focus going forward.

There is no question that government, community and business leaders are realizing that New Brunswick is about to enter a period of serious austerity when it comes to government spending. Just like previous recessions, governments have built up big deficits and will need to either cut spending or raise taxes (or both) to climb out of the hole. Since both political parties are on the record saying they will not raise taxes, the only other short term option is fiscal restraint.

Government spending in New Brunswick over the past 15 years has been well above private sector spending. When we clamp down on public spending, will the private economy pick up the slack or are we in for an extended period of economic malaise?

In addition to the need for fiscal restraint there are a number of other significant public policy challenges that will influence the economic trajectory of the province. Our competitive position is being eroded by high energy costs and increasingly tight labour markets. Having low unemployment is a good thing but it does put upward pressure on wages. Higher wages, higher energy costs and a Canadian dollar close to par with the U.S. dollars is a dangerous combination for our export-intensive industrial economy.

But travelling around the province I get the sense things are different this time. It might just be me but I think a lot of people are really starting to understand the scope of the challenges and are not interested in settling for the superficial political rhetoric that pervades the public square these days.

The other thing I see is less interest in assigning blame and more interest in getting down to business.  Assigning blame for the lack of economic development is a cottage industry itself in New Brunswick – north vs. south, urban vs. rural, Moncton vs. SJ, Moncton vs. Halifax, – someone else wins ergo I lose.

It’s easy to blame the other guy.  It’s harder to take responsibility.

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2 Responses to We’re all in this together

  1. richard says:

    “It’s easy to blame the other guy. It’s harder to take responsibility.”

    You are more optimistic than me. During the UNB symposium on NB Power that was held a week ago, a former public intervenor blamed politicians for the mess that the utility finds itself in, and he was rewarded with cheers and applause. It’s my view, however, that, when politicians decided to push NBP to construct thermal plants and Lepreau, they were in large measure responding to the demand for jobs. Using NBP as a job engine rather than as a utility was and is wrong, but the politicians were just giving people wanted they wanted – jobs (and to hell with the long-term consequences).

    In large measure, the utility’s mess is a result of doing what people wanted. Now the people want to blame someone else – the politicians and the nasty corporations. I will believe that people’s attitudes are changing when I see more people admit that the utility’s problems are largely a consequence of the public’s short-term focus.

  2. mikel says:

    I halfway agree with Richard, however, New Brunswick is not a democracy. The public certainly doesn’t have a ‘short term focus’. Let’s take orimulsion. There’s lots of documentation on why orimulsion was chosen. They got a good deal, and had few other recourses. As I’ve said before, the idea of changing CC to a thermal generating plant using natural gas was thrown around, but there was no way to get natural gas. So the question then can be asked…exactly what role did the ‘public’ play in the orimulsion deal? Heck, even the MLA’s admitted they had nothing to do with it, even the Premier said it wasn’t his decision.

    As for Lepreau, same story. IF there were referenda questions and people voted for these policies then I’d agree we could make SOME conclusions on what the public wanted. But the public was so far out of the loop here it isn’t funny.

    What I find interesting is how in one blog guys can complain that New Brunswickers don’t care enough about jobs and economic development but are only interested in toll highways and moose fences and municipal infrastructure, and then a few blogs later complain that all NBers care about is jobs!

    As for nuclear power I suspect Richard is right on. NB has quite a few technicians and engineers in the nuclear field, lots of consultants and a strong presence at UNB. So the idea to not mothball Lepreau had a lot to do with the fact that the nuclear industry is virtually the ONLY high tech industry that NB has an education-economic link. But again, it certainly wasn’t NBers who made any kinds of these decisions.

    As for the blog, good set of blogs today, and I’d submit that the NBPower fiasco was a big reason for all that, as well as social media. It’s still not a majority, but like in much of the developing world, canadians are beginning to make more democratic demands and stop being content with simply being pocketbooks for political projects. This is especially apparant with Alward, who is trying to play himself off as a ‘democrat’ and sincerely interested in what people want. I wouldn’t predict anything about the fall either, if Graham had been around as long as hatfield then I’d say a reverse repeat of 1987 could be in order. But one thing is very clear, there are more new political organizations THIS YEAR than I’ve seen in my lifetime. That makes things very exciting, in much the same way as the HST battle in BC is pretty exciting thanks to ballot initiatives. It doesn’t mean anything will change, but that change depends on the people. If you want dull, try enacting some political change in ontario!

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