I just heard Shawn Graham on CTV talking with Jane Tabor at the Liberal convention. He has the shtick down pretty good – in the short term more Equalization (10 province/resources revenue in standard) to lead to a weening off within 20 years. Taber expressed some doubt that NB could ever achieve self-sufficiency but Graham never wavered.
What’s curious to me is this. If Graham wants the $150 or $200 million more from the new Equalization formula to invest in growth that will reduce the province’s dependence on Equalization (all $1.4 billion of it – soon to be $1.6 billion in Graham gets his new formula) why fight for a new Equalization formula at all? Why not try and negotiate a new $150 million multi-year economic development agreement with the Feds?
One would presume that if the goal is to reduce the $1.4 billion in Equalization over 20 years, the province better get crackin’ and you don’t do that by taking in ever more amounts of Equalization for the next 5-6 years.
If NB just gets a sweeter Equalization deal, the temptation will always be there to rely on it – not only not reducing it the very nature of the formula means that as NB falls deeper into population decline and economic hardship (such as mill closures), we get more and more Equalization.
Whereas a dedicated joint Fed/Prov economic development agreement over 5 years, has to direct the funds to economic development projects. In addition, I don’t think that a change in government would matter. What government is going to cancel a program who’s very goal is to lead to ‘self-sufficiency’?
Quite frankly I fear that the more lucrative the Equalization program, the less impetus there will be for real change in New Brunswick.
As we learned with Bernard Lord, it’s a lot easier to rake in the Federal cash and spend it on health care than to try and seriously tackle the economic problems in New Brunswick which will actually cut Federal Equalization cash.
If Graham is serious about self sufficiency, he is going to have to make serious changes to how things are done in New Brunswick. Serious policy changes that will lead to 3-4 times as much private sector investment in the province. Serious investments in building an environment conducive to attract investment and stimulate real entrepreneurship.
A good first step would be publicly committing to serious new funding for economic development. Not just a few bucks more but a doubling or tripling of funding and a clear strategy with real targets and significant accountability. We don’t have time for seven years of more coasting.