Lots of folks tell me I have to elevate my analysis to a national perspective or at least to develop some broader theories related to economic development that are applicable far and wide. I have grappled with this and have made some attempts – i.e. my Globe writings – too do this but the reality is my subject matter area has been discrete by design. Very few people are actually thinking about economic development problems through the lens of New Brunswick (I’ll throw in Nova Scotia and PEI here because we share many common challenges). Academics don’t see much value in it. We don’t have any New Brunswick ‘think tanks’. Even a lot of the pundits and experts that are accessed think about New Brunswick rarely (i.e. Jack Mintz) and will try and apply ideas framed in other contexts to the situation here.
So we end up with much of the thinking coming out of experts with very little interest or concern in the New Brunswick situation. The Mowat Centre has churned out research on EI that follows a narrow viewpoint. Conversely, the vast majority of response on the EI issue has been essentially political – turning it into a binary choice – EI reform good, EI reform bad. Someone somewhere needs to think about this in a more nuanced way. It’s just about close to an established fact that EI had become a barrier to economic development in parts of Atlantic Canada. It had a distorting effect on labour markets and likely had a negative effect overtime on income levels. However, in its current context, EI has become a very important source of income for tens of thousands of New Brunswickers and there are cultural attributes now – after decades – that need to be thought about.
There is very little economic development thinking within government – ACOA does have a policy shop with some good horsepower – but for the most part economic development is 99% focused on programming and 1% on ideas and thinking about the future.
So, I have taken on this niche in the full knowledge of its career limiting focus. Maybe at some point in the future I’ll grab a larger elephant but for now I think there must be enough horsepower for a few folks to spend their days thinking about how places like New Brunswick can foster economic prosperity.
I’m able to put food on the table. I talk with very interesting folks on a weekly basis. I work with interesting clients. I can write on a wide range of issues (hard to be narrow when your geographic scope is so tiny) and likely have some limited influence in this space – I say limited because most of my ideas never find their way into policy.