Time to stir the pot a bit

It’s funny how things go.

In the mid 1990s, the Dept. of Economic Dev. & Tourism brought in an economic development guru (I can’t remember his name) and he made a very good presentation on how governments can support effective and long term economic development.

During the Q&A, someone asked him about tourism.

He said bluntly – don’t focus on it. Let tourism associations and tourism operators that directly benefit from it do their own marketing and development work.

The person who posed the question said something about how important tourism was to New Brunswick.

He said “my point exactly”.

He said “name me a single tourism-dominated economy that is a strong economy”.

His comments didn’t matter. The Liberal government of the day made tourism a major priority. The Lord government did as well – or at least claimed as much. And now the Graham government has staked its claim announcing yesterday another 100 million for tourism development.

The T&T article today states:

Tourism in New Brunswick is a $1.2-billion industry, creating 33,000 jobs. It’s also seen as the sector with the most growth potential.

Why do we like tourism?

It’s low wage. Mostly seasonal work. It’s not particularly technology intensive. It’s not particularly Green (tourists mostly drive in their cars). If you did a dispassionate analysis of tourism, you would likely not support it but there is something about ‘tourism’ that gets people going.

Maybe they like the concept of people coming here to visit. Maybe it helps prop up our insecurities about our little province. Hey, if people want to visit here it must be a great place, right?

Maybe – more importantly – people think it is a better sector for regional development. Rural areas lend themselves to tourism. It’s natural, right?

But think this through for a minute.

Jeannot Volpe puffed out his chest after his last budget and proudly claimed that no New Brunswicker making under $15,000 per year will pay provincial income tax.

Now, we invest in an industry with an average annual wage of just about that. And a seasonal industry as well.

In the late 1990s, governments said they would stop funding ‘seasonal’ jobs because of the province’s dependence on them. So much for that.

I think there is a place for tourism and a role for government. It’s a great industry for students in the summer (though we have less and less of those these days). And I also like the idea of showcasing our province for foreigners.

Probably the best benefit from investing in tourism infrastructure is that we get to use it as well!

But the provincial goal is self-sufficiency. Which means raising massively more own-source tax revenue.

Tell me how more tourism jobs does that?

Even more worryingly (I blogged on this before), the folks in Miramichi have acknowledged that there will be less forestry jobs in the future and so they want to make up the shortfall with tourism jobs.

On average, tourism jobs pay less than half the wages as forestry industry jobs.

Tell me how this feeds self-sufficiency?

It’s a bit like being back in Lord’s bizzaro world. Cut economic funding, cut small biz taxes and cross your fingers.

Now we invest in politically-popular ribbon-cutting-oriented every-local-politician-loves-it tourism but I haven’t seen any new money to attract high wage, capital-investment intensive industries.

It’s ultimately about trade offs. $100 million for tourism could have been used to help built a video game/animation cluster in Miramichi. Or a language translation/localization industry in the Acadian Peninsula. Or high value added forestry products in Campbellton. Or a natural gas park in Sussex or a large scale data centre in St. Stephen. All of those sectors would have contributed significant new tax dollars to the coffers of the provincial government.

I am sure that at least half the people reading this post are pretty cranky right now.

Have at it.