I’ve got sympathy fatigue

You know, if I had the proverbial nickel for everytime some Ontario-based liberal elite expressed sympathy over the slow death of Atlantic Canada, I’d have enough money to address our economic problems with great gusto.

The lastest is the editor of Maclean’s magazine. Anthony Wilson-Smith (by the way I admire his penchant for tolerance and openmindedness). Mr. Wilson-Smith decided to dedicate his column this week (Jan 31) to the plight of rural Newfoundland. He states “we all have too much to learn and gain from our youngest, coolest province to allow it to wither away and die“.

Isn’t that sweet.

Isn’t it funny that there seems to be an inverse correlation between sympathy and political will to do anything about it. Case in point – New Brunswick. There has been a tremendous outpouring of sympathy for Northern New Brunswick – empassionate pleas to save our hospitals, save our mill, save our mine, save our souls, save just about anything – but you know the brass tacks of it? The government has cut ‘economic development’ related funding to Northern New Brunswick and all of New Brunswick for that matter. In addition, the population decline and stagnant provincial economy has led to inevitable cuts in government services such as health care and education.

So where does this all lead? Back to the start. Back to my central premise. These communities do not need any more handouts (like enriching EI) – they need hand ups. Everytime the government becomes the bank in rural communities – they create more dependency. Everytime the government enriches the welfare programs – they create more dependency. Everytime the government props up uneconomic industries and companies just because they are in rural areas – they create more dependency. And dependency is a cancer. And cancer if not treated leads to death. And death leads to more sentimental eulogies from Anthony Wilson-Smith. And we could all do without that.

So let’s take it back to the start. Economic development 101.

Government investment in economic development looks like this. It’s investments in infrastructure that support a positive economic climate. It’s four lane highways to Northern New Brunswick to open up trade and investment. It’s investments in education and research to give these communities a unique edge that no one else has. And yes, it’s investments in specific companies (a la Michelin in Nova Scotia) to partner by establishing economically viable, long term replacement industries for the ones that are withering away. The litmus test of every investment should be will this create more dependency or less.

  • The current Equalization system encourages dependency.
  • The current EI system encourages dependency.
  • The current ‘lender of last resort’ philosophy of regional development agencies encourages dependency.

…nuff said for today.

Tune in tomorrow.