I have been watching with great interest all the new talk about the need for more economic development in Atlantic Canada. First it was the Premier’s Prosperity Plan, then the Federal Liberal’s Rising Tide and now everyone has a plan from Frank McKenna to Andy Scott. Even Rex Murphy has a plan.
However, most of the discussion has centred around actions required but no one is talking about outcomes – at least in terms that make sense. For example, everyone says we need immigration. To what end? We need more R&D and innovation. To what end? In the Prosperity Plan, the government set objectives such as raising average incomes and increasing the labour market participation rate. To what end? Nobody is stating an end game. A goal. An outcome. In Ireland, the goal was to bring the GDP per capita to the EU average. Great goal. Simple, well defined and incredibly hard to achieve. However, if we don’t set goals, we will have nothing to measure by. To get back to the Prosperity Plan example, we could raise the participation rate but lose population. We could increase incomes but have a declining population. My point? My point is that we need to articulate broader overall objectives for the region. For example, reducing and ultimately eliminating equalization. Now that’s a Irish-style goal. Maybe we don’t want to go that far. How about 100,000 new jobs over the next five years? How about leading the country for GDP growth for the next ten years? The point is that if we don’t have targets, we have nothing to aim at. If we talk in general terms about the need for immigration, investment, innovation, etc. nothing will get done.
And, most importantly, having targets will shift public interest and resources. If we have a practically unachievable goal – that will force us to make massive investments of money, time and resources to achieve them. If we say in cavalier way that we are focused on economic growth and then actually cut funding and resources – then what’s the point? That fuels cynicism. Instead of camping out in Ottawa looking for more equalization, maybe we camp out looking for a new economic development deal.
I might also point out that once we set objectives, we then need to actually put strategies in place to achieve them. The last thing we need is more empty promises.