A few thoughts on enormity

I finally got a chance to briefly scan through the self-sufficiency taskforce reports and recommendations to date.

All I can say is that these guys are either looney or the greatest visionaries to come down the pike in a long while.

A few facts to chew on:

In order to achieve their goal of self sufficiency and population growth, New Brunswick will have to grow (economy and population) at a never before seen rate of growth. The taskforce says we will need 100,000 more population (we are declining right now). My calculations are more like 200,000 to eliminate the need for Equalization but why quibble over a few 100,000.

From this, I see that we have had 29 Premiers since Confederation and none have come close to achieving what Premier Graham is proposing.

The Premier just preceding Graham, the Honorable Bernard Lord was not able to keep population decline at bay and became the first Premier since the Great Depression to see a sustained population decline under his administration. Maybe that’s why he had the shortest tenure as an elected Premier since Allison A. Dysart left office in 1940 (66 years). But Graham not only wants to stop the decline, he wants Alberta/Ireland style growth.

In the past decade, Canada has undergone a period of record levels of economic growth and all New Brunswick has to show for it is an increase in Equalization by $700 million.

New Brunswick is technically the second most rural province in Canada with a 52/48 split (only PEI is more rural) but because 90% of PEI’s population lives within a one hour drive of Charlottetown (and under its urban influence), you can certainly make the case that New Brunswick is in reality the most rural. In fact, every other province in Canada has a dominant urban area of at least 25% of the provincial population. New Brunswick’s largest urban area only has about 15% of the provincial population. The growing provinces tend to have urban centre (s) of at least 30% of the provincial population. Why this matters is that in the past 25 years, the rural population of Canada (not just New Brunswick) has been in decline. Not only are we to buck a NB trend but a national trend as well.

Another astonishing fact is that the entire bureaucracy in the New Brunswick government has been in a managing decline mode for a number of years as I have point out elsewhere. Premier Graham will have to change the minds and attitudes of 20,000 bureaucrats and 50,000+ public servants (on the public payroll). That might be the toughest thing of all.

Finally, if you read Savoie and others, the very structure of Confederation itself is against New Brunswick and its Premier’s bid to become self-sufficient. For every economic step forward, Equalization will be clawed back. For every new manufacturing plant or IT shop that New Brunswick steals from the clutches of Ontario or Quebec, the cat calls will increase. If New Brunswick sets up foreign offices, the ‘have’ provinces will complain that NB is using their money to compete with them for investment. If New Brunswick ‘outbids’ Ontario for an aerospace plant, the cries will intensify. The former Premier of BC threatened to take McKenna to court over stealing a few UPS jobs in the 1990s. Imagine if we start winning auto plants or aerospace plants or Ubisoft animation studios. The shreaks from the think tanks and editorial boards of Ontario and Quebec will be deafening.

In a weird way, much of the rest of Canada likes Atlantic Canada just they way it is. Jean Cretien said in a speech in the early 1990s (that is emblazened on my mind) that “Atlantic Canada was the reason why Canada needs a strong federal government”. Translation: If Atlantic Canada was to be strong and self-sufficient, we wouldn’t need a strong federal government. Therefore, proponents of a strong federal government need a weak Atlantic Canada.

And as for the ‘have’ provinces, just imagine if New Brunswick had stolen all those auto plant investments from Ontario the way Alabama and Kentucky did from Michigan. Imagine if New Brunswick was the province offering 37.5% payroll subsidies to attract Ubisoft and other global animation firms. Imagine if New Brunswick was Hollywood North. That’s a cynical view but it’s one I hold. If Ontario, Alberta and BC really gave a rip about their poor cousins in Atlantic Canada they themselves would be calling for a real, tangible and measurable economic development strategy instead of just agreeing to up Equalization.

Give the poor cousin a little more allowance to shut him up.

Only the poor cousin (i.e Shawn Graham) doesn’t want another $100/month. He wants the 5,000 square foot house with the three car garage and the heated pool.

Good luck.