Ebb and Flow – right out of New Brunswick

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you will know that a central theme of mine is the need for the public to become more engaged in the process of economic development. To start taking this issue seriously. To expect that their governments will also take this seriously and boot them out of office if they don’t.

NextNB, an initiative undertaken by the University of New Brunswick and supported by the provincial government, Aliant, etc. is supposed to be such a forum. They want people to dialogue about the future of New Brunswick and what we need to do to put New Brunswick back on the road to economic success.

However, I now believe that this type of initiative will do more harm than good. NextNB recently released an articulately written reported called Ebb and Flow: The Rhythm of New Brunswick’s Economy. This report provides a background on the province’s economy, a generous summary of the government’s Prosperity Plan and then reflects on some things that have to happen to get the economy back on track.

In their section entitled “How do we get there”, they conclude that education and skills are the only way to improve New Brunswick. They call it the ‘bottom line. They call it ‘key’.

I call it hogwash.

British Columbia, which has been one of the most successful economies in Canada for the past 40 years has the lowest number of University students in Canada (probably in North America). B.C. has the most educated workforce and among the highest percentages of ‘knowledge workers’ in North America. How did B.C. get so smart? By importing graduates from those ‘smuck’ provinces downeast who are subsidizing all this training and then sending all the graduates out West – a ready made labour pool for British Columbia.

You would think that all those bright minds at NextNB (university professors, journalists, etc.) would ‘think’ a little more. If you take their advice and ramp up training, if there are no jobs here, people will just continue, in their words, “goin’ down the road”.

Their report is entitled Ebb and Flow. If we take their advice, there will be a lot less ebbing and a lot more flowing – right out of the province.

We cannot continue to be the labour market incubator for Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. That expense alone is breaking us.

Let me reiterate my strategy for revitalizing our economy. It’s a strategy that has worked in Ireland, in the southern U.S., in communities all over the world. All of the points made by NextNB are valid (my scorn aside). We need an educated workforce. We need to rethink things. We need to blah blah blah. But the foundation for any economic revitalization has to be capital and investment. The government of New Brunswick spends the least of any province in Canada to attract private sector investment. That’s it. Bar none.

The Government of Canada just gave $200 million to GM to expand in Ontario, $150 million to Ford. $115 million to Bell Helicopters in Montreal. And now we hear that Toyota is nosing around Ontario as well as U.S. sites. Guess where they are looking in the U.S? Not Michigan or New York. Not Illinois (read – not Ontario or Quebec in the U.S.). No, they are looking at Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee (read – the U.S. version of Atlantic Canada).

Why am I the only one who sees this? That Toyota plant should be put in Atlantic Canada. Don’t give me any crap about Just In Time inventories, integrated logistics or the cluster effect. When these big auto firms moved into the southern U.S., they set up in communities farther flung from the main auto industry in Michigan than New Brunswick. The reality? These plants are so big they will go anywhere. Suppliers will come. Partners will come. They are looking for the best site for their 2,000 plant – and yes, that includes financial incentives from government.

But we are putting the hundreds of millions of government investment into southern Ontario while boosting EI in Atlantic Canada.

Ebb and Flow. Ebb and Flow. I like the sound of that…..