Self-Sufficiency commission wants input

The self-sufficiency commission wants people to provide input according to a column written by Francis McGuire in today’s paper. I had heard they were going to have some form of forum or blog on the site but none yet. However, you can send them an email.

There are seven realities facing New Brunswick according to the commission They are, with my comments, in italics listed below:

1. We must increase our population and our labour force by increasing incomes.
Axiomatic ‘our’, nebulous ‘by’. There’s no evidence that you increase population/labour force by increasing incomes. It certainly makes sense as a theoretical construct but I have yet to hear an expert agree with this. I have read the revitalization stories of Ireland and others and income appreciation was an effect – not a cause – of population/labour force increase. We must increase our population by growing targeted industries and then aligning workforce development strategies (including attracting immigrants and in-migrants).

2. We must be prepared for sweeping changes of unprecedented magnitude.
Heady words. This province has gone through multiple recessions, one great depression and massive cuts of the early 1990s. If we are to see changes of ‘unprecedented magnitude’ we are about to witness heretofore never been seen politics in New Brunswick.

3. We must increase labour productivity by providing people with the right tools for the right jobs.

4. We must strengthen the connections between urban and rural New Brunswick through large scale investments in infrastructure.
Ahem. I have said on numerous occasions on these pages that a four lane highway to the Acadian Peninsula will do more for economic development up there than all the EI you can throw at that region.

5. Export growth must drive overall economic growth.
No smoke and mirrors here, please. Be specific. Export growth of high value added manufacturing and services. Another Irving Refinery will double exports (and the LNG plant will massively increase exports) but their impact is limited and local (important, but not far reaching). The last thing we need is another Refinery and then the Premier riding the ‘exports growth’ shtick for the next seven years.

6. We must move quickly and aggressively to expand our existing corporate base.
Yes. We are far too reliant on either micro-businesses or massive conglomerates. We need more export-oriented multinationals, high growth technology firms, selected large scale manufacturing, more R&D, etc.

7. Leaders at all levels of New Brunswick society must step forward.
Easy to say, hard to do. Vested interests prevail. Who has New Brunswick’s economic growth as its sole ‘vested interest’? Only the government. Local entrepreneurs look at the world through their lense. Unions through theirs. Educational institutions through theirs. Associations through theirs. Civic groups through theirs. The media through theirs. Bloggers through theirs.

Leaders in government must step forward first. Elected officials, bureaucrats, heads of crown corporations. Then, bring along the private sector as needed.

I don’t say this lightly. I have had senior bureaucrats say things like ‘why should we attract multinationals? We need to support local businesses’. I heard a senior NB Power executive once say they weren’t in the ‘economic development’ business. A former DM of the health department said in a meeting I was at that the health department wasn’t in the business of ‘economic development’ (apparently the $2B in health spending has no economic impact). I have heard town officials say they ‘don’t want growth’. They like their ‘small town feel’. I have heard regional planning commission staff make highly hostile comments towards economic development. I have chatted with education officials who don’t really care that their community college graduates are leaving the province. In fact, I have heard of NB schools organizing job fairs for firms outside New Brunswick.

You see. The government has little control over the ‘leaders’ outside its walls. But inside government at all levels, efforts should be made to inculcate a growth mindset and growth agenda.

I had a macabre moment a couple of years ago (in an economic development sense). On the same day I heard a long and winding speech from former Premier Lord about how much prosperity he was heaping on New Brunswick, I got a call from a friend in the post-secondary education realm. He told me on that day that education department officials were going around to the universities warning them that demographics were going to lead to deep declines in their student populations and that would be paralleled with government funding retrenchment.

Let me end by being really clear:
NB Dept. of Finance officials need to be about growth – not about managing decline.
NB Dept. of Education officials need to be about growing the student base – not about managing the decline in students.
NB Dept. of Health officials need about about leveraging their massive budgets to support a growth agenda – not about turning the province in to a virtual rest home.
NB Dept. of BNB officials need to be about growth – real growth – not smoke and mirrors. If they don’t have enough resources to get it done then say so but don’t hide behind weird statistics like ‘jobs maintained’. If you are ‘maintaining’ you aren’t growing.
NB Power needs to be an economic development agency. It’s that simple. New York Power company gave a massive power discount to HSBC to put a multi hundred million dollar data centre in the heart of rural New York. NB Power must be an economic development driver.