Atlantic Progress – for whom?

Earlier today I was flipping through the March 2005 edition of Atlantic Progress magazine and I read an ‘expert’ whining again about Atlantic Canada’s dependency on government. He praised Premier Lord for not ‘throwing good money after bad’ and supporting the pulp mill in Nackawic.

I am getting tired of all these anti-government pinheads shaping government policy. These Atlantic Institute of Market Studies-type wonks can’t differentiate between government as perpetrator of the welfare state in Atlantic Canada and government as a potential partner in the development of a strong economic base for future generations. And believe me, their poisonous ideology is creeping in – governments in all three Maritime provinces have cut back their total spending on economic development in recent years. This is ironic as government in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta have cranked up their economic development spending.

Government, their ideology goes, shouldn’t be in the business of economic development. ‘Markets’ should decide where capital and labour flows. Government shouldn’t create unequal playing fields – and all the other cliches. If Atlantic Canada dies, it dies. Government always does more harm than good.

I wonder where these negativists were 150 years ago when government was spending what in today’s dollars would be billions subsidizing the development of western Canada. I know where they were – in Halifax – whining that government shouldn’t be in the business of subsidizing development. But government did it anyway. Canada as we know it was stimulated by massive government investments in railways, waterways, airports and straight foward incentivizing of key industries.

Don’t forget that Alberta was the only province in Canada to ever go bankrupt – and be bailed out by the R.O.C.

I am calling for governments to invest significantly more to rebuild the economy in Atlantic Canada in much the same fashion that was done in the 1800s and early 1900s in western Canada.

Don’t misunderstand me. I hate the welfare state as much as AIMS. I think it degrades our dignity. I think it squelches economic opportunities and provides incentives for us to settle for second best. Ultimately, I think the welfare state (EI, Equalization, dependency attitude, etc.) is accelerating Atlantic Canada’s decline.

But I am smart enough to understand the difference between the welfare state and the ’empowered’ state and the pivotal role that government must play, as the actor of the collective – of the community, in changing attitudes, building infrastructure and attracting the new industries that we will need to be a viable, self-sufficient economy in the future.