Madame Next NB – Stop Fear Mongering

The Telegraph-Journal’s Lisa Hrabluk fancies herself a bit of a thinker. Instead of piling on the drivel, some of the time her columns reflect that she has taken the time to think the issue through.

Not this time.

In her Saturday column Time has come for province to rethink RDC’s role, Hrabluk adds her name to the growing list of mostly journalists and political opportunists calling for a reduction in money spent on regional economic development. I, for the life of me, can’t understand this. We are right to question ‘how’ the money is spent but we should be calling for increasing regional development dollars – not reducing them.

I have studied economic development for over 15 years. I have reviewed the programs in every province and U.S. state. I have travelled to Ireland to study the Irish miracle. I have written dozens of studies and reports on the issue of regional economic development – and one conclusion I can make. The areas that take economic development seriously (i.e. spend the most dollars) – by in large – get the best results. Ireland is a great example. But also Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama – U.S. states that have gone from the bottom of the pack to somewhere north of that – in as recent as 10-15 years. And how about Ontario. Study after study has shown the huge amount of government money that has quietly flowed into the auto sector, the high tech sector (talk to John Manley) and others. And let’s not get started about Quebec and its aerospace and biotech sectors. We shouldn’t leave out Alberta – whose agriculture sector (by the way agriculture is an industry, Mr. Klein) has recieved far more government pogie than any industry in New Brunswick could have ever dreamed of.

Conversely, places like New Brunswick and Maine spend the least per capita on economic development and they get predictable results.

Madame Hrabluk is a particularly troubling example of getting this issue dead wrong. She is heading up this so-called Next NB initiative which is supposed to dream up the New Brunswick of the next generation. Unless we get serious about economic development, build up new industries and reverse the population decline, Mme. Hrabluk’s 21 Leaders for the 21st Century may have to be content leading each other around – because they may be all that’s left.