I have been following elections in New Brunswick closely since the 1991 election and in my opinion economic development has always been a boilerplate issue but the parties have rarely proposed any bold new ideas – or even how they would actually foster job creation and economic growth beyond high level statements.
This election it seems will be no different. Premier Graham has teased us with specifics about his 20,000 jobs – talking about energy, and targeting sectors. So far the Tories have been very opaque about economic development. I searched the website and found very little. I did find this Bob Goguen commentary in the newspaper where he says:
Dave Alward’s plan for job creation involves supporting New Brunswick businesses that reinvest and create New Brunswick jobs.
He will do this by making sure that New Brunswick-based businesses have a fair chance to bid on taxpayer-funded contracts.
We can create sustainable jobs here in New Brunswick simply by ensuring that New Brunswickers benefit from provincial government spending.
….being more aggressive and innovative in how we approach potential investors; taking advantage of the strengths of our communities, as we work to help all regions in our province grow and prosper; and refocusing our efforts by pursuing lasting, meaningful economic development that will positively change our communities, rather than focusing on changing headlines.
These are all good but, again, very vague. New Brunswick companies already get the vast majority of government contracts. I am not sure how much more business is to be had there – and if it means sacrificing quality or price, is it worth it? Maybe – I honestly haven’t studied the issue. To be sure this is not going to drive economic growth in New Brunswick.
“Being more aggressive and innovative in how we approach potential investors” is an interesting phrase but I hope they will try and flesh that out a bit more.
Refocusing on “lasting, meaningful economic development” is even more vague but if they are suggesting a stop to propping up ‘troubled’ companies – I think they should just come out and say it. It’s a tough policy issue – probably the right one – to say you (as a government) won’t help a company that is going under when it is a good provider of jobs in a smaller community in New Brunswick (the PCs gave piles of cash to AV Nackawic, Atlantic Fine Yarns and many more when they were in power).
I don’t expect much detail on economic development. The voters prefer catchy phrases like “investing in New Brunswick companies” and “taking care of our own”. That typically will suffice. Any party stupid enough to talk about attracting multinational firms here would likely lose votes over it.
In the end, the public would be wise to think a tad more about this stuff. In Casablanca, Rick says “I just lost 20,000 Francs, I’d like to get it back” when making the bet with Captain Renault. I say we just lost $1.7 billion in non-refined oil exports, I’d like a strategy from government to get that back.
I continue to lament the fact the time to act on this stuff was 7-10 years ago. I remember talking with U.S. companies that just couldn’t find workers – for manufacturing, for IT, for just about anything. They were paying $11.50/hour to start for McDonalds employees in Vermont. I would argue that much of the work that was outsourced to India couldn’t have been done in the U.S. anyway.
Now we hear about U.S. companies looking for basic computer programmers and getting thousands of applications.
They are lining up around the block for a chance at $11/hour manufacturing jobs in Alabama.
But that doesn’t mean we give up. We have to focus tightly on the business case for investing in specific industries in New Brunswick and then chase the potential investors (here, across Canada and around the world). It will be more tough now but it doesn’t mean we don’t try.