From Yarmouth to the Miramichi politicians are running around trying to reassure communities that the government is committed to help them. Then comes the train of solutions – new cash, small business support, bailing out questionable companies, building infrastructure – all in the name of helping these regions.
Yet, when the dust settles many of the same issues exist and when government is asked why? – the answer is “but we spent lots of money”.
The fundamental issue in the Miramichi or Yarmouth or Cape Breton – indeed in the Maritimes as a whole – is a lack of business/private sector investment which is the foundation for jobs and economic activity. Instead of jumping right to the small business card, economic developers and governments would be wise to step back and ask a different question.
Quite frankly, the modelling is pretty simple. You could figure out on the back of a napkin what level of investment would be needed to turn things around in Yarmouth (where that investment comes from would take a pile of napkins). But once that is figured out, then you get to looking at solutions.
In the Yarmouth case, they are convinced that the ferry to the U.S. is critical – that may be so I haven’t studied it in detail. If so, maybe government should take a more serious look.
Government is funny. They will spend $50 million/year on seasonal EI in that area without even blinking but $3 million to subsidize a ferry – gosh, no!
Or we will spend close to $400 million a year on seasonal EI payments in Northern New Brunswick every single year but a few hundred million to put natural gas infrastructure in Northern NB – gosh, no!
I’m not necessarily advocating for either – I’m just pointing out that government is far more comfortable cutting cheques to people than investing in big ideas. The former is politically much more easier (how many times have you read about someone being outraged about EI payments? Now think about the outrage if the government paid for natural gas pipes to ‘nowhere’).
These aren’t easy issues – if they were they would be solved by now. You know my view on Nova Scotia. I think the province needs an urban node strategy. You can’t have roads to nowhere and that is the current model in Nova Scotia. A hugely successful urban core with 42% of the provincial population and directly influencing over half the population – and everywhere else things are peetering out.
I’d have a 50 year vision for NS that included an urban node somewhere in the Yarmouth/Digby area, one in Amherst and one in Cape Breton (maybe one in Pictou). I’d make sure there was four lane highways/longer term trains, natural gas pipelines and other infrastructure connecting the urban nodes to the hub.
That doesn’t mean ignoring everywhere else – I think the rest of the province would infill over time and it would be a far better model.
Now, highway infrastructure starts in Halifax and literally peeters out as you get a certain distance away – except towards Moncton because there is a connecting urban node.
Governments should have the longer term vision and should create the conditions where private industry can invest and flourish. I know that sounds trivial but sometimes we need to come back to the highest level on this stuff.