‘Maritimization’ of the Ontario economy

Working my way through Savoie’s book: Visiting Grandchildren: Economic Development in the Maritimes. Usually, I would have read that thing over a weekend, but things have been fast and furious in this corner of cyberspace over the past few weeks. Anyway…

I always loved the term ‘balkanization‘ – the definition but more importantly the derivation of the word itself.

Balkanization is a geopolitical term originally used to describe the process of fragmentation or division of a region into smaller regions that are often hostile or non-cooperative with each other. The term has arisen from the conflicts in the 20th‐century Balkans.

Imagine that. A region so hostile and polarized that actually gets a Webster’s dictionary word developed – balkanization.

With that as a backdrop, consider this quote from Savoie’s book:

[the opponents to NAFTA] …argued that Canada exported too much of its natural resources as raw materials to the US and that free trade would make matters worse. Some observers feared the ‘Maritimization’ of the Ontario economy, arguing that US interests would purchase Canadian firms, including financial institutions, and move the head offices and plants from Toronto to New York or Chicago, much as Ontario firms had to done to firms from the Maritime provinces….

Don’t forget that is not a historical policy – consider BCE and Aliant. D’Aquino explain that you heartless SOB.

But I digress.

The Maritimization of the Ontario economy. I like the sound of that. It’s more, ……definitional, than the recent quote by Ontario’s intergovernmental affairs minister regarding the fiscal imbalance “we are not going to sit back and allow Ontario to become a have-not province”. It would have been more compact for her, in this day of nanosecond sound bites, to say “we are not going to sit back and allow for the Maritimization of Ontario”.

It could catch on internationally. When talking about intractible in-region disputes, we could talk of its ‘balkanization’. When talking about a first world, regional economy regressing while the national economy booms, we could say its ‘Maritimization’.

Catchy, n’est pas?

Moving right along….

I am officially half way through the book – I haven’t even got to Savoie’s prescriptions yet. But I can make a few observations:

1) John Manley can kiss my Baptist (deleted on good taste grounds). He deliberately blocked any attempts to move federal jobs out of Ottawa. He nurtured a multi-billion dollar incentive program to grow industries in Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal while ignoring Atl. Canada. He was most likely the biggest detractor to regional development throughout the 1990s. Well, Manley, your dream has come true. Atlantic Canada is now losing population at never before levels. In your lifetime, John, you will be happy to witness the dissolution of Atl. Canada as we know it – and you will be able to pat yourself on the back.

2) When it comes to Federal government support for regional development there is an inverse correlation between need and economic development support and a direct correlation between need and subsidization. Let me explain.

The amount spent by the Federal government to support regional development in 2006 is, by my loose calculation, about 20% of what it was in the 1970s as a percentage of the national budget (this includes R&D spending). This despite the fact that all four Atl. provinces were growing their populations. Now, when three of the four provinces are losing population and provincial government budgets are growing exponentially to pay for health care, dollars to support regional development down 80%. That’s the inverse correlation.

At the same time, in New Brunswick, Equalization is up $700 million (not cumulative the actual amount) since Lord came to power and total Federal gov transfers are up by well over $1.2 billion. That’s the direct correlation.

That’s the welfare mentality folks. Any funds that could be directed to make things better are cut 80% and funds that are used only to make up for economic shortfalls are up massively.

This is just another case that girds my new philosophy of “with our without you”. If we continue to wait for a White Knight from Ottawa, we will end up waiting forever. We have waited 140 years. The White Knight is not coming, folks. We need to get on with it. We need to take the lead. If the Feds want ‘in’, that’s fine but we must move ahead anyway.

I know you will throw the Ireland/European Union thing in my face. But I will respond that New Brunswick would have better luck with the EU than with Ottawa. And I am friggin’ serious about this. When the EU decided to spend billions to bring up Ireland to the EU average for GDP per capita, income, etc. (EU measures), they still had Portugal. Cripes. France has 25% unemployment in its rural areas and the subsidies continued to flow to Ireland. Imagine the same thing in Ontario. You can’t. I can’t. End of story.

Last point this AM and I will leave you in peace. I was talking to someone last week that was trying to get the NB Dept. of Health and Wellness to consider supporting a health care research project on the grounds that the NB government spends over $2 billion/year on health – a massive amount – and that the department would be wise to consider how it can best spend its funds to support the development of the economy. A senior health official apparently said “we are not into wealth creation” go talk to Business New Brunswick that’s their business.

That, my friends, is the heart of the matter.

Every department that spends money should look at it through the lense of economic development. How can we leverage our spending to achieve our primary objective but also support the province’s economic development strategies.

Economic development is not just about BNB. It’s about every government department. It’s about the local communities. It’s about you and me.

You know that quote from the Da Vinci Code movie trailer? “We have been watching history, we are in history now?”

Well folks, we are in ‘Maritimization’ now. And if we want a Wikipedia definition to emerge, we just need to keep on this path for one more generation.