I took my kids to see the blockbuster film, The Incredibles, this weekend. The lead character, Mr. Incredible, is the spitting image of former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. A few months ago, Report on Business Magazine reported on Brian Mulroney’s new corporate power (The Prime of Brian Mulroney, ROB April 2004) but I never thought it extended to the top of the Hollywood echelon. What a way to subliminally suggest to the adult population of Canada that the former Prime Minister was, indeed, incredible.
As the movie dragged on, my mind started to wander on to the topic of the former Prime Minister. On the night that Kim Campbell and the Conservatives were crushed, a pundit (whose name I can’t remember) suggested that history would ultimately look kindly on Mr. Mulroney for all he accomplished and, yes, even attempted to accomplish during his time in power. At the time, I scoffed at this but now (upon reflection in the middle of a long kids movie) I am starting to come around. His implementation of the GST, a national sales tax, was perhaps his most reviled move. However, no subsequent government has removed it and now the U.S. is considering such a tax as a way to streamline and simplify the tax process for consumers. His negotiation of the FTA and then the NAFTA has been very successful as that initiative anchored the strong economic growth the country has seen throughout the 90s and into this decade. His attempts to bring Quebec into Confederation by signing the constitution were bold and nearly brought the country together. What do these three initiatives have in common? They both required bold and decisive action and came at a great political cost. What’s another word for that? Leadership. In a time when our provincial government will not make even the most basic reforms until the electorate drags them kicking and screaming, that kind of leadership would be refreshing.
Maybe we need to bring back Mr. Incredible to tackle the largest single issue facing this county (and our province in an even more acute way) – that being the growing regional economic disparity. Economic disparity is at the core of almost all separatist movements (staring in Quebec, Alberta, BC and most recently Newfoundland) and this disparity has grown wildly out of control in the past 10-15 years. The unemployment rate difference between the strongest provincial economy (Alberta) and the weakest (Newfoundland) is over 11 percentage points (4.7% to 15.8%) which is among the highest among the G7 countries. Business investment into areas such as Atlantic Canada, Northern Ontario and the Gaspe region in Quebec has been declining in real terms even as the desparate need for economic growth increases. And by far the most important issue contributing to regional disparity is the growing population divide. Decreasing population in the ‘have not’ regions of Canada will only exacerbate the problems even further in the coming years.
Don’t be confused by the politicians and their marketing shtick. The focus on health care is a distraction. If New Brunswick had a healthy and growing economy, there would be funds for health care. Diverting money and effort out of economic development-generating activities and into health care is a little like providing aspirin to a person with a brain tumor. Sure, the aspirin will alleviate the short term pain, but not addressing the root cause will ultimately lead to disaster.
So, maybe Mr. Incredible would consider coming back. Politics and ideology aside, we are desparate for a few good leaders who will tackle this issue head on.