Conversation on economic development

The cynical are saying that this is just another ploy to open up health care to the private sector. I am getting tired of cynics. I think that it makes great sense to have a ‘conversation’ with British Columbians around health care and the growing costs of health care.

But that’s not the point for this blog.

I think we need, in New Brunswick, to have a ‘conversation on economic development. The time to do it is when there is a new government and people are more open to new ideas. This should be a wide ranging 12 month process that would accomplish a few things and end up with a final report recommending the top economic sectors the government should focus on for the next 10 years or so. The process should generate these outcomes:

1. Educate (not scare) the public at large about the extent of the economic challenges in New Brunswick and the serious consequences of not acting. After seven years of having the wool pulled over our eyes, we need to have a serious conversation.

2. Find out what types of jobs would keep our young people here and equally important attract expats back. What sectors? What pay levels? What are the regional differences? This should be done by employing a novel technique – asking people.

3. Exploring the global economy for clues as to what sectors are growing and what opportunities are there for New Brunswick.

4. Assessing the existing economic basic and teasing out the nuggets of economic advantage that could be leveraged into much more.

5. Getting input from a wide group of stakeholders from local economic developers, business leaders, unions, environmental groups. These should be growth-oriented alternatives – not more whining about how bad things are (I include myself in this list).

6. Developing a list of key economic sectors that the province should focus on based on points 1-5 above. It should address the key gaps to the growth of those sectors It should assess the kind of product development required and it should clearly articulate the best economic development infrastructure to support the growth of those sectors.

Let’s have a conversation. Not 4-5 buddies at the Cool Camel. Not 10-12 people on a blog. Let’s open it up wide and have a serious chat. At the end of the day, moving this economy ahead will involve sacrifice. Instead of plowing all new money into health care (read: Jeannot Volpe) it may mean that 25% of new money goes into economic development. I don’t know.

Who knows? Maybe New Brunswickers will say stay the course. Maybe they will be happy with New Brunswick becoming one large old folks home paid for by Ontario and Alberta tax dollars. Maybe, but I doubt it.