There is a pervasive view that in order for New Brunswick to grow it has to empty its rural population into its urban centres. We are too rural and that is the problem we are told.
Once again many people are mistaken. We are not too rural, we are not enough urban.
That is a huge distinction with significant public policy implications.
Across Canada, the rural population has actually been on the rise (for the most part) for many decades. In 1951, there were 5.4 million people living in ‘rural’ Canada according to Statistics Canada and by 2011 there are something like 6.3 million. Very slow growth – but growth.
The problem in New Brunswick is not our need to empty rural New Brunswick – it’s that we haven’t been growing our urban centres. That is where much of the policy focus needs to be be.
We need strong and growing urban centres and that will have spinoff impacts in the rural periphery. For the small towns and rural areas outside of the urban areas, hopefully a strong natural resources sector and others that are suited to these areas can be exploited.
But I am quite shocked when I hear people talk about emptying rural and Northern NB as the solution to our problems.
If we followed the national trend, New Brunswick’s rural regions could grow slowly, it’s small urbans could do reasonably well (i.e. Bathurst and Edmundston) and its large urbans would grow strongly.
Good golly, Miss Molly.
We heard about an interesting program today. It’s the U.S. Office of Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). The mission of EPSCoR is:
“to assist the National Science Foundation in its statutory function “to strengthen research and education in science and engineering throughout the United States and to avoid undue concentration of such research and education.”
Fun stuff. It wasn’t that long ago that the policy wonks were suggesting that Canada should divert all research funding to just five research-universities in Canada (hint: none in New Brunswick) and the rest of universities should just stick to teaching.
The Yanks have a statutory federal program specifically designed to “avoid undue concentration of research” in the big urban centres.
I have to admit feeling quite blue when I read that SWN is postponing its seismic testing for natural gas until 2016. I guess we all knew it was coming given the price of gas right now but it is still disappointing. Rural New Brunswick is struggling and I really felt that few of these projects – potash, the beginnings of a gas industry, maybe some more mining – would have invigorated much of the rural economy. And that would give policy makers some wiggle room to think about the equally important task of urban development in this province.
But that isn’t happening – even potash is not a sure thing – in fact, the head of PCS said it is an unlikely thing.
I realize that SWN says their postponement has nothing to do with the protest and that may be true but I can’t help but think we should have been (and should be) spending more time thinking about how we can develop markets for our own natural gas. I don’t think there has been hardly a minute given to that aspect (I have been calling for it).
An expert recently said, as one example, that the window on exporting LNG from Canada is rapidly closing. The markets that will need gas are rapidly having their supply addressed by places like British Columbia. I’m not saying this was an option for NB.
We have great energy companies and minds in our province from Irving Oil to Emera. I wish there had been a team of experts thinking about this.
The reality is that 2016 is likely a moving target until the price of gas rises considerably and there are experts now suggesting it will stay below $7 for 20 years or more as new development in the US – PA, NY, TX, etc. comes on stream. This will stymie both NB shale gas and offshore NS gas.
In the end, we might just end up reversing the MN&P pipeline and bringing shale gas from the US to serve our market. I realize there are some bottlenecks along the way but that is one possibility.
So what we do with rural and Northern NB?
I like ACOA and I, in fact, do work occasionally for the agency and find the people very professional. I hope I will continue to do work for the organization in the future.
But I think they are treating the CEDAs badly here. I am not going to go into a big debate about the merits of ACOA pulling funding. The Minister has bragged about the important role of the CBDCs and how the CEDAs were just getting between ACOA and its clients.
That’s one interpretation. I happen to believe that economic development must be grounded in the community and region – it’s the only way to truly get support and engagement from the local business community. The CBDCs are just another bank – maybe an important bank – but just another bank. They are not involved in sector development, in regional economic development strategy or in building the value proposition for investment. They are a bank.
But that’s not actually why I am disappointed with ACOA.
Apparently, the CEDAs have to run through a bunch of hoops to get their funding until May 2013.
When ACOA laid off its internal staff, did they have to lay out a full work plan until May 2013?
If the CEDAs are being phased out (and I don’t know that – the province may come to the table but it looks quite grim) – they need to have time to give their employees a proper transition. These employees don’t have government pensions, they aren’t getting big severance packages or early retirement.
The right thing to do would be to allow the CEDAs to use the funds until May 2013 to do the right thing by their clients (existing) and staff. I don’t know the logistics of this but at least six months’ severance per worker might be a good place to start.
Some of these CEDA workers have been there for 10 years or more.
I’m in Boston all week on a course looking at innovation as an economic development driver. I haven’t formally taken courses in a few years and I felt now was a good time and this was an important subject.
However, one of the most important Census data points comes out today – population by age group – and I am nowhere to be seen. I already have had three requests to speak on this subject today and my location and schedule makes it impossible.
And I wont be able to live tweet the results – maybe Kurt Peacock will have time – so you will get my commentary later in the day.
Because we saw a mildly surprising bump up in the population data – I suspect the drop in young population will not be as large as I was expecting (based on projections). However, you can be sure that the population under the age of 35 has dropped again as it has for many Censuses. You can also expect a dramatic rise in the 50+ population as the Boomer bubble hits full stride.
It’s interesting to see the animals moving into New Brunswick. The wild turkey population is reaching a level that there is interest in starting a hunting season. A few weeks ago, a cougar was caught in a trap near Sussex – the first one formally sighted in a long time and I just read that a hunter shot a wolf thinking it was a coyote. Wolves were hunted to extinction here more than a 100 years ago.
On a related note, New Brunswick has lost 12,000 young people aged 20-34 to net interprovincial migration in the past 10 years.
But New Brunswick has a significant positive net interprovincial migration of people aged 55 and up.
I want to clear up an important statistic. People are now widely using the 110,000 figure to talk about the number of NBers who collect Employment Insurance each year. That is the correct number but there are two points to keep in mind. One, that includes everyone that received money from the EI program including maternity and paternity leave – although the number of folks under this part of the program would be limited – likely well below 10,000 – because we aren’t having that many new babies each year.
The bigger error is to use the 110,000 and the 350,000 in the same sentence. In other words, people take the employment number from the labour force survey (in 2011 around 350,000) and they say that 110,000 of those collect EI.
That is incorrect. The 350,000 is the average monthly employment during the year (i.e. when the surveyors call). Over the course of the year, upwards of 480,000 New Brunswickers will earn some amount of employment income (including students) but given the high level of seasonal employment (hence the importance of the EI conversation), there is a big spread between those collecting employment income and the average monthly employment level.
So when I say that 32% of NBers outside of Moncton and Saint John collected EI in 2009, that is a correct statement but in Moncton and Saint John it was close to the national average of around 17 % of all persons who collected employment income.
It’s important to talk apples to apples when looking at numbers.
My TJ column tomorrow discusses the fact that New Brunswick has pervasive broadband Internet ‘access’ (i.e. availability) but the lowest percentage of households ‘accessing’ it. If you strip out the urban areas of Moncton, Fredericton and Saint John, the percentage of homes with Internet access is likely below 60 percent.
I make the case that smarter public policy would be focused on the real barriers to Internet access – literacy, income levels, relevancy-in-daily-life, etc.
For example, New Brunswick has far fewer people working from home even though this would seem like a logical way to address high unemployment – particularly in rural areas. I realize there are broad set of issues at play here but one thing is clear - availability hasn’t improved access.
PS – Just so we are clear – when I say percentage of households with Internet access – I mean they have Internet in the home (not the availability of Internet if they decide to choose it).
I have been thinking a lot lately about the limits to migration. With the revelation that the federal government has been asking Atlantic Canadians what it would take to get them to move out of their communities to where the jobs are, I wonder if there are ultimately limits to this approach? Atlantic Canada has already gone from among the youngest regions in North America to one of the oldest in just 40 years – if we stimulate even more out-migration – what will happen?
Even within the region, I wonder about the limits to intraprovincial migration. Some migration makes sense to recalibrate things – I have always maintained this – but eventually every region even within a province needs an economic rationale for existence – and I don’t think retirement community will pass the grade. It would be interesting to see the results of a study showing what it might look like if you turned the whole region of Northern New Brunswick or southwest Nova Scotia or Cape Breton into a retirement community.
It shouldn’t be that hard to model. Just extract what is left of the core industries – fishing, forestry, the rump of manufacturing – and the workforce and then cost out what kind of tax revenue could be expected against the cost of public services. These regions would still need hospitals, roads, police, other infrastructure and a service-based workforce for what would be left of retail and personal services.
Of course the radical alternative would be to take Smallwood’s approach in NL back in the mid 20th century with the small outports and just shut them down. I don’t know the logistics of this – shutting down whole communities and even regions.
As you know, my preferred option, is to have a viable economic foundation under provinces and under regions within provinces. It’s not necessarily about population size but it is about having an economic rationale for the existence of the community/region in the long term.
As the charts below show, at least using population as the main indicator, Atlantic Canada hasn’t performed very well in the past few decades.
I’ve never been a big fan of the retail sector as an economic development focus. I was reminded of this fact after reading this article discuss the great length communities are going to in their desire to attract Apple Stores. The article suggests that Salt Lake City may have even offered free rent to attract the store.
The logic is that Apple Stores will be draws for retail traffic that otherwise would not have come. This is the reason why municipal governments will attempt to attract big box or niche retailers (such as outlets).
This has multiple benefits including a broader range of retail options for local residents they would otherwise not have been able to access locally and potentially more tax revenue for governments.
It’s still not my favourite sector. Wages are low and value add is limited.
But like President Obama, my position on this is ‘evolving’.