We need a think tank

I was speaking with a colleague yesterday about my growing frustration with the vast majority of ‘right wing’ think tanks. Use that term ‘right wing’ lightly – I basically just mean the ones that don’t have Maude Barlow attached. You know them. Fraser. CD Howe. Ontario Centre for Competitiveness and Prosperity. AIMS. Maybe throw in the Conference Board.

I have read most of the publications put out by these organizations (the free ones anyway) for well over a decade. And I can’t remember one that offered up any tangible and concrete solutions to Atlantic Canada’s economic slide. In fact, the reports that mention Atl. Canada at all (except maybe AIMS) tend to view it in terms of a drag on the Canadian economy and tend to either ‘talk tough’ or warn ominously about how this region is ‘threatening’ Ontario’s competitiveness. Cheeky.

Some may choose to dismiss these think tanks as ideologically driven, non-main stream groups that don’t have much impact on public policy.

I beg to differ. It was these groups that called for deficit elimination at all costs. It was these groups that called for more and more tax cuts (and even more this week Fraser). It was these groups that, for the most part, continuously pounded the drum – business good – government bad to the point that now maybe most of us agree in some form of ingrained way.

And of course, they offered up their own version of hypocrisy. Fraser demanding less handouts for Atl. Canada while begging for tax breaks for oil sands development. The Ontario Centre for C & P demanding the government cut taxes and invest more in Ontario R&D. AIMS applauding the Nova Scotia government for putting all the money from Paul Martin’s side deal on the public debt. Reduce debt at all cost. Never mind there will be no one left to pay the remainder of the debt.

But, I ask, who is looking out for New Brunswick? Who is serving up credible, media absorbable statistics, stories and recommendations for us?

AIMS? Not a chance. APEC? Maybe a bit – on a regional level but their stuff tends to be overarching and not monotonous chanting of a specific ideological view (like Fraser, CD, OCCP, etc.). We need monotous chanting. Credible monotonous chanting. Coming from New Brunswick with national media exposure.

We need our own think tank. The New Brunswick Centre for Competitiveness and Prosperity. The McKenna Institute. The Conference Board of New Brunswick.

We need an institute that will serve up multiple reports per year on the themes of economic self-sufficiency, countering depopulation, building sustainable communities in a post-natural resources driven economy.

We need an institute that will serve up insightful and razer sharp commentary to local media. Not the usual pablum of the province’s academia.

If we want to turn this province around. We will have to awake from a deep sleep. The most impassioned rhetoric I have ever heard about the need for change in New Brunswick was Frank McKenna in the late 1980s – before the Internet. Before the technology boom. Before the onset of chronic out-migration.

Fast forward 20 years and most of what was predicted back then has come true (we didn’t adapt, we didn’t do the bootstrap thing, we didn’t become more self-sufficient and we didn’t take advantage of new industries to offset declines in the old).

And there is disinterest at the level of the public.

John Ibbitson said this week that ‘the environment’ was the ‘new health care’ in Canada.

How do we go from 70% of people in polls saying health care is the #1 issue to 59% of people saying the enviroment is the #1 issue?

By relentlessly getting it out in the public square. By Al Gore. By the Green Party. By everyone (except Al Hogan) becoming a virtual environmentalist.

How do we get every NBer and as many Canadians as possible to become interested in reviving this region’s economy?

We need an Al Gore. A Green Party. We need to get the discourse into the public square. On public TV. Around poker tables. In church basements.

A think tank might be a good place to start.