Congrats Rodney, now get busy

I have been following the Nova Scotia election fairly closely as I have several clients in that province and because I think a stronger economy in Nova Scotia is good for the whole region.

So, congratulations to Rodney MacDonald as it looks like he will form a minority government in that province. Before the ink is dry on the election results, I’ll give a few pointers from my perspective on what Rodney should do to strengthen the Nova Scotia economy and continue to lead the region in economic growth.

First recommendation, throw out the Plan for a Stronger Nova Scotia 0r at least the economic development section.

I fear we may be headed for another New Brunswick economic development program and that would be a huge strategic error for the province.

Consider the introductory paragraph in the ‘Sustaining Smart Growth’ segment of the plan (which is the economic development plan but it must be worded this way to woo NDP voters).

According to a recent public opinion survey by Corporate Research Associates, Nova Scotia is the only province in Atlantic Canada where more of its citizens feel the private sector – not government – has the most critical role in strengthening the economy. This reflects Nova Scotia’s traditional can-do entrepreneurial spirit coming to life.

Now to Conservatives everywhere, listen carefully, the private sector has no interest* in ‘strengthening the economy’ and most economists would say they shouldn’t. Private businesses have an interest in strengthening their own business and in some cases that might be to the detriment of the economy (like when the oppose attracting industry because it might drive up wages). The government, the community, the ‘collective us’, has the ‘most critical role’ in strengthening the economy. Of course, the business community is the most critical component but governments need to set up regulation and structures to allow business to grow and prosper but the entity in society that needs to lead the economic development of the province must be the Nova Scotia government. If Rodney’s plan it further withdraw the government from economic development, he will do so to the peril of Nova Scotia.

*Don’t freak out. I know that many businesspeople believe passionately about the economy and the success of their communities. But the prime mover on this stuff, the lead, has to be the government which, in theory at least, has the best interest of the community at large.

Now, here are the other parts of Rodney’s economic plan:

• Lower taxes for small business.
We saw how much this helped in New Brunswick – 7% decline in small businesses since 2000 – the worst performance in Canada. You want small business to grow? Ensure a good mix of large business investment which will stimulate the need for small businesses which are 95% based on local markets and local market conditions.

• Match the federal government’s tax credit to help workers offset the cost of work-related products, such as tools and uniforms.
Huh?

• End the large corporation tax for business by July 1, 2012.
Small step.

• Expand the Competitiveness and Compliance Initiative (CCI) to help businesses that deal with government succeed.
don’t know about this.

• Based on the success of the current Credit Union Loan Guarantee Program, help small businesses access financing not presently offered by looking at new complementary programs that would be offered by credit unions and/or other private sector financial institutions.
-Again, you won’t replace mill closures, manufacturing decline, etc. with more support for small business. We need to rebuilt the economic anchors that are closing in these rural communities. How about a few more Michelins?

• As part of Nova Scotia’s Route to Prosperity strategy, create the province’s largest single highway and road building program of the last 40 years, which will result in 2,000 new kilometres of twinned, paved or repaved highways over the next four years.
Must be that ‘smart’ growth thing.

• Use existing provincial agencies and resources, such as the Halifax-Dartmouth Bridge Commission, to develop a transportation strategy specific to the needs of the people of the Halifax Regional Municipality.
Must be that ‘smart’ growth thing.

• Pursue a comprehensive transportation infrastructure agreement – covering highways, air, rail and ports – with the federal government to establish Nova Scotia as Canada’s Atlantic Gateway.
Hallelujah, see my plan below.

• Build 21st century infrastructure by working with the private sector and other levels of government to guarantee that all Nova Scotians, regardless of where they live in the province, have access to high-speed Internet service by 2010, in concert with the introduction of free WiFi in the Halifax Region.
Good. See Saint John’s strategy for WiFi. Cheaper and probably better.

• Expand the Skills Nova Scotia Framework, working with the private sector and educators, to develop and implement a new 4Rs strategy (retain, retrain, repatriate, recruit) to address the looming skills shortage in the province and region.
If there is no plan to grow the economy, you could have 400 ‘Rs’ and no results.

• Provide additional funding to accelerate results of the Immigration Strategy.
Cool but you’d better have jobs for them or they will leave.

• Over the next four years, dedicate more marketing dollars to promote Nova Scotia as a tourist destination experience to visitors here and abroad.
Have I mentioned my dislike for tourism? Substitute destination for international investment in the place of tourist destination.

• Take all steps, in concert with the federal government, other provincial governments and the private sector, to counter the detrimental economic effects of new incoming United States travel rules.
Hey, can you tell this guy was minister of Tourism?

• Act on the recommendations of the Premier’s Council of Innovation, particularly as they relate to commercialization and research and development.
Fine

• Update Nova Scotia’s five-year old Energy Strategy to ensure it reflects the energy realities of today and tomorrow.
Needed

• Ensure Nova Scotia’s film tax credit continues to be competitive with other jurisdictions to maintain the province’s position as a leader in Canadian film production.
It’s not competitive now so how can you continue to be competitive? It’s better than NB though.

• Extend the eligibility criteria of the film tax credit to include digital entertainment.
Good.

Now, here’s my plan (talk about arrogance, eh?):
-Attract more RIMs to the urban areas (Halifax, Cape Breton)
-Attract more Michelins to the rural areas
-Make the Port of Halifax the top east coast port in the Post-Panamax world (hint that means investing serious dough)
-Build on the nascent digital media industry growing in both urban and rural Nova Scotia. Train hundreds to work in this sector and then go get companies to come on down.
-Do what you can to stimulate the offshore energy sector
-Attempt to create a financial services back office cluster in Halifax. Ireland did this successfully. Lure away from Toronto exNova Scotians that are working on Bay Street. There have been a few financial services firms set up in Halifax and my hunch is there is more where that came from.
-Don’t ignore Halifax. Embrace it. Halifax is a small city in North America but it’s all you got. Growth in Halifax will not come at the expense of the rural areas. It will over time help the rural areas. Forget that it is an NDP str
onghold and do what’s good for Nova Scotia.

Finally, go to Stephen Harper and say, here’s our proposal. Let’s freeze Equalization at current levels but give us $1 billion over five years and we will plough that directly into economic development and job creation. Forget AIMS and paying down debt. Note to Crowley, if the population continues to decline, who cares about the debt? We have got to get the economy moving forward. We need to grow the base of taxpaying companies and individuals – then worry about debt reduction.

Good luck, Rodney.