The brain drain

The so-called ‘brain drain’ seems to be on everybody’s mind these days – most likely because there’s an election coming.

In 2003, the Tories promised to review the post-secondary education system in New Brunswick. That has not happened – although I believe it is set to start in early 2007.

In my opinion, we have been so obsessed with health care that everything else has been backburnered. Now, we have to play catch up and that is much harder.

Imagine waiting four years for something so simple as a review of the post-secondary education system.

But the same thing can be said for immigration. Many other provinces have had a plan in place for years. Not New Brunswick.

Somebody in the university system told me that it seems that things in New Brunswick are just grinding along. Nothing is a priority. There is no sense of urgency to much of anything these days.

New Brunswick is in the middle of a profound structural change – in its economy, in its workforce and in its population in general. The significant infusion of Federal cash has acted as a short term buffer – but you could argue that the lack of ‘urgency’ has just exacerbated the problems.

What is needed in 2006 and for the next 10-15 years is serious leadership. Leadership on the issue of the changing economy. We need to focus on a few key sectors that will lead the private sector economy over the next decade. We need the leadership required to invest in infrastructure, workforce development and industry attraction.

We need to tackle the workforce issue head on. The call of the West will only increase and the more we try and keep our kids here the higher the incentives will become to attract them out there. Alberta would prefer to attract Maritimers than international immigrants. This is a major structural challenge.

The irony here is that when McKenna was seen to be poaching ‘jobs’ in the 1990s, the BC Premier freaked out and threatened to take legal action.

When Alberta (and BC) spends public dollars to attract our people, there is almost no reaction.

But that’s the nature of the beast. We’ve all been going down the road so long it’s just second nature.

So, I would urge voters not to be taken in by all the election promises. The Tories and the Liberals are promising cash to virtually every special interest group in the province.

But which one can lead us in this time of serious economic and societal change?