David Suzuki the Capitalist

No, the famous Canadian environmentalist has not gone over to the dark side.

After hearing Suzuki give an empassioned speech on the need to take the environment seriously, I got to thinking what if David Suzuki was using the same level of passion, intensity and dedication to solve the economic problems plaguing Atlantic Canada?

In his presentation, Suzuki identified ‘poverty’ and ‘child poverty’ as environmental problems. He even went to far as to call a lack of love and community as environmental problems. Suzuki probably sees more clearly the economic issues than most people – although he may disagree on solutions.

Let’s consider New Brunswick for a moment. We have the 2nd lowest level of educational attainment (average years of schooling per person) in Canada. We have the lowest or 2nd lowest average test scores among high school students on global, standardized tests.

Is this a social or an economic problem? We must agree that this is both. A weak economy means that governments can’t make the investments necessary to raise educational outcomes. But even more importantly, large segments of our population do not believe they need to pursue education in order to raise their standard of living. The link between educational outcomes and economic performance is well-documented. We have very low levels of educational outcomes and we have poor economic performance.

But is it chicken or egg? A lot of folks – including the current government – talk a lot about improving educational performance and that will lead to better economic outcomes. I am not sure. Nova Scotia is an educational factory – with more university students per capita than any other province or state in North America. But it’s still among the poorest and underperforming economies in North America. Why? Mostly because a large chunk of the graduates leave and never come back.

I say put the chicken before the egg on this one. Be deliberate about growing the economy and then scramble (no pun intended) to find the supply of labour. This is the reality of both Ireland and Scotland. They grew their economies first, and now are scrambling to fill the backlog of needed skilled professionals by recruiting globally.

Also in New Brunswick we have among the worst health outcomes in Canada as measured by obesity, lack of exercise, cancer rates, etc. Is this a social or an economic problem? We must agree it is both. Like education, a weak economy means that government cannot make the investments needed to address these issues (both in prevention but also treatment) as we spend the second lowest per capita on health in Canada. But equally important, a weak economy leads to higher levels of lower paying jobs which leads to poverty and/or working poor which is a demographic highly correlated with poor health outcomes.

Look again at British Columbia. By far, very far, B.C. has the best health outcomes in Canada – both in prevention measures (exercise, healthy eating, etc.) and in spending on health treatment. The communities in B.C. that have the best health outcomes are the ones with the highest incomes.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating a Gattica-style world where everyone sips carrot juice, pops anti-oxidants and exercises 3 hours per day. I am just saying that we must admit the link between poverty and health outcomes.

I could go on and make the case that a weak economy has cultural impacts. A weak economy has social impacts. A weak economy has, bottom line, serious quality of life impacts.

So, what does this mean? Well, if your the current government, you spend all your new money on health and secondarily on education.

For me, this is trying to deal with the symptoms instead of the causes.

I am certainly not saying that a strong economy will cure all social ills and certainly not all health ones. But, all the data shows that stronger economies, over time lead to better health and education outcomes.

Bottom line. Go out and attract top employers to set up here and employ our people. Give them good jobs with good benefits. Give them dignity. This will force any local business owners that are underpaying people to raise their wages. This will lead to more immigration and migration from other parts of Canada (although, if we are lucky, we will have to promote New Brunswick as a place to live just like they do in Ireland and Scotland). Ultimately, this will provide a larger economic base from which to draw the taxes needed to pay for health care and education (don’t forget we need a generation of economic growth just to overcome Equalization first).

And, contrary to some thinking on this, it will stimulate much more entrepreneurship and local small businesses. There is nothing like a strong economy to spawn new small businesses.

We may not be able to get David Suzuki to redirect his passion and intensity into solving economic problems (and I am not sure we want to – somebody has to champion the environment) but we need the type to step up and hammer the economic issue until something shakes loose.

I’ll do my bit.