From a recent TJ column:
I recently appeared before the Nova Scotia Commission on Building our New Economy to provide my views on how Nova Scotia could foster a stronger economic foundation for the future. The commission is chaired by the president of Acadia University and is mandated to tour the province and consult with business, community and academic stakeholders and then report back to the premier and the legislature.
I talked with the commission on a variety of topics that I thought would help Nova Scotia move toward a stronger economy. I provided my thoughts on how we could attract more investment to the province and on how we may be able to foster more high growth potential entrepreneurs.
I talked about the need to view immigration through a more strategic lens and how we are not leveraging our pervasive broadband infrastructure for employment opportunities around the region.
The last question put to me by the chairman was an interesting one. He is determined the commission’s work will be more than just an academic exercise. He asked me how we could encourage Nova Scotians to embrace a new economic agenda.
This is the crux of the problem. It has been hard to appeal to people on the grounds of personal economic insecurity. Most Nova Scotians and New Brunswickers are doing quite well.
It’s becoming harder and harder to use the “do it for your kids” argument as many have seen their children move away already.
I suggested that ‘shame’ might be a good motivator. Do we really want to be the generation of leaders that lets Nova Scotia (and New Brunswick) become even more economically unstable? Ultimately that is a nonstarter as people aren’t really motivated by shame.
Driving home in my car after meeting the Commission, I settled on the issue of ‘legacy’ as the organizing principle for engaging the current generation of community leaders to move forward a bold new agenda for economic prosperity.
It is common today to hear politicians say they aren’t concerned about their legacy. I say this is a problem. Today’s politicians should hold themselves and their actions up against the best of the best in their province from decades past.
Today’s senior public servants should do likewise. In New Brunswick they should look back at the years when medicare was rolled out and when equal opportunity became the law of the land.
They should remember times when the public service did very interesting things and helped turn the big ideas of politicians into workable public policy.
The province’s business leaders should also consider their legacy – not only as businesspeople but as builders of community. What good is it if an entrepreneur builds a successful business as the community around them falters?
When they are writing up your biography for admission to the Order of Canada what will they say? That you worked tirelessly to build up your business and your community?
When they are carving your bronze bust for prominent display in a public park, what will be written on the front? That you were the quintessential community leader? That you helped turn things around during a fairly bleak time?
Many of the challenges facing Nova Scotia are similar to New Brunswick. It is unlikely either province will fall off a cliff anytime soon. We will muddle through. There are constitutional commitments that essentially ensure the federal government will continue to top up provincial tax revenues so that we can access health care and other public services.
But muddle through shouldn’t be good enough. What kind of legacy is that? You wouldn’t want your epitaph to read “he just muddled through.” The same should hold for our communities and for the province.
Let’s put legacy front and centre again. Maybe that will be just the motivator to get people serious about working to change our economic trajectory.