Little room for imagination

Based on all I have seen and heard about the economy, it seems to me that there is little room around for imagination. For creativity. And yes, may I say for a little ‘magic’.

I think most reasonable people can theoretically envision a globally prosperous New Brunswick. I think anyone who has been around knows that NBers have the potential to be innovative. To be hard working. To be great employees.

But yet, as I have said many times before, I can’t find a 10 year period in our history going back to Confederation where this province saw its population grow at least as fast as the national average – not lead the country, mind you, but generate ‘average’ population growth.

And now, after all this time, the problems with that lack of growth combined with the public’s insatiable appetite for more and more government spending is slowly coming to a head. More and more voices from Central and Western Canada are demanding ‘change’. Saying that the dependancy of Atlantic Canada is starting to threaten their economies.

But I ask this simple question. If most of us can conceptually envision global companies like Google, Microsoft, Cisco, etc. etc. etc. building development centres here, or back offices or manufacturing facilities (as they have in dozens of similar regions around the world), why isn’t one politician actually talking about it – yet alone actually trying to make it happen?

The Federal government, by my calculation, is spending less money today in the region on economic development than it did 20 years ago. The provincial government is definitely spending less that it did 10-15 years ago. And the meagre amounts being spent are continuing to be targeted at ‘small business’ or vague concepts like ‘innovation’.

Look it. If the Feds want to give money to the universities for R&D they should do so through the existing national granting organizations. If the provincial government wants innovation it should go out and find a few innovative companies and attract them here.

Part of the problem is timing – in the political sense. Governments now run on 4-5 year cycles and almost all policy is couched in these terms. If a government could have a 25 year plan for economic development with stable and consistent funding that crossed various political mandates – I think that would help.

Another part of the problem, as is my mantra, is us. We keep clamouring for more MRI units and filled potholes. And, as Alec Bruce pointed out recently, when the government does attract a large business to say Saint John, all the other communities complain. So, it is a win-lose situation.

And of course there is the perennial problem of the Federal government finding it easier to plow hundreds of millions into social programs than a few bucks into economic development. Imagine if more RIM-type projects start landing in Atlantic Canada. Imagine the outrage in the real population centres (i.e. the voting centres) if little old New Brunswick actually starting beating out Ontario for auto plants.

But eventually a political leader will come at the Federal level or most likely at the provincial level with the ability to imagine a successful New Brunswick. A province where there is strong in-migration – people moving here for jobs (as opposed to the current streak of 13 straight years of out-migration). This person will be able to imagine mothers and fathers in other regions of North America coming to New Brunswick to visit their kid who moved here.

This person, supported by the hundreds of community leaders who would love to see this change, will lead a revolution.

It may even be a little magical.

Or, maybe not.

But it is nice once and a while to step outside of ceteris paribus and live in Donald Savoie’s world or Alec Bruce’s or Frank McKenna’s. A world of possibilities.