I just listened to a podcast discussing some of the many challenges associated with Jeffrey Sachs’ millennium villages projects in Africa. If I had time, I would discuss this in greater detail but I did want to key in on one specific conclusion. There is a small – but maybe growing – group of economists that believe there are some areas in the world that are not conducive to any kind of economic activity enough to sustain communities with an even moderate quality of life. Their solution would be to pay the one time cost of migrating certain African populations to better environments.
This argument has been used in Atlantic Canada and I would argue continues to hold a prominent view among a lot of folks across Canada that think about regional development. If you drive through Quebec to Labrador you will come across abandoned communities where there once was a mine and after it left, the whole community was razed and everyone moved on. Joey Smallwood spent a pile of cash to close a number of tiny out-ports in Newfoundland for similar reasons.
The argument is pretty straight forward. They say the Maritime Provinces have some forests, some fish, some minerals and a small number of tourism opportunities. All equalization and economic development-related transfer payments should be cut and the region should re-equilibrate around these core industries and geographies. In their view we would end up with a smaller but stronger economy and communities down here. Following the argument of many prominent economists, government-led urban development should be left to the largest urban centres in Canada.
There was a federal government funded study a few years back that argued the feds should pay people to move from the Maritimes to the jobs out West.
They argue the best thing for this region would be more luggage and less economic development.
I never bought this argument. This is not an inhospitable place to live. It may not have the climate of San Diego but it is not a desert or Antarctica. It may not have the urban amenities of Toronto or Chicago but not everyone prefers that lifestyle.
As for the scale argument that keeps getting thrown around, as I have pointed out many times, small and mid-sized urban centres have grown faster across North America in recent years than the largest urban centres. You could equally make the argument that smaller urban centres hold more potential because they don’t face the kind of challenges that come with very high density and highly developed urban centres.
And, of course, we have the real world example of communities across New Brunswick that have shed population – and quite a bit – and they have not strengthened – they are much weaker.