Dazed and confused

A couple of people called me yesterday looking for a quote on the latest labour market data published yesterday (see my previous blog). I just didn’t have the heart to do it.

I don’t blame the media. For them this is just another discrete story. Point, counterpoint, talk back, move on. Just like the story on record levels of out-migration. Just like the story about the pulp mill closure in the Miramichi. Just like the Self-Sufficiency plan. Point, counterpoint, talk back, move on. Another day. Another dollar.

But I just don’t understand the government. It defies logic. They get elected talking about something called ‘self-sufficiency’. They go through a whole process – reports, consultations, public surveys, etc. – then they concluded we need massive change. We need to make significant changes to how we do things in New Brunswick.

The taskforce nailed almost all the right issues: 14 years of net out-migration, population decline, lack of immigration, increasing dependence on Equalization and the problems that poses, the decline of key industries such as wood (and there are now calls to scale back the fishery once again).

And before the ink is dry on that report, the Minister of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour is talking about the “strong fundamentals driving the employment growth in our economy”.

So what changed? How did we go from the need for ‘massive’ change in the fundamentals to the ‘strong’ fundamentals in two months?

The pull of politics. The need to seduce people with good news. Seduce the media. Seduce themselves.

You want a quote? Here’s a direct quote. “I’m disappointed” Disappointed that the government would tease us with these indications of a whole new direction and the be back in the same old same old within weeks.

At least the Bernie/Volpe show was consistent. They never mentioned out-migration. And Equalization? You never heard them once talk about the Equalization trap. In fact, Lisa Merrithew said on CBC that Bernard Lord was in the best position to get more Equalization out of Ottawa. And all of our troubles? No problem, we had the prosperity plan, the education plan, the R&D plan. For everything a 10 year plan. Trouble is they were booted out within five.

I don’t want to be the go to guy for the counterpoints. Job growth this year has been strong over the first six month. I, frankly, don’t know why. Half the jobs – almost – were in health care and education – so direct government job creation remains strong. I suspect that the continued call centre growth has something to do with it.

But the fundamentals are not strong. They are anything but strong. Over 70% of our communities are losing population. Mining is making a small comeback – hallelujah – but the forestry is still problematic.

But even more worryingly, there have been no new sectors emerging – not since the call centre initiative was started in the late 1980s. There were half-hearted attempts to grow an e-learing sector. Attempts (or talking about) upselling the call centres to get their Web development. Attempts to grow a plastics manufacturing sector. There were a few Asian firms attracted into textiles in Northern New Brunswick.

But no new sector development. None. Nova Scotia has its ICT sector, its financial services sector, some aerospace, and now shipbuilding (congratulations Irving). PEI has been doing some interesting things. New Brunswick nothing.

Final point. Someone said yesterday that the press releases coming out of the Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour department are most likely written by a PR guy/gal who thinks its his/her job to write flowery stuff about the labour market and downplay any problems. The Minister, I was told, probably barely reads it before signing off.

But if this is true, then it becomes even more problematic. How can one hand of the government say X and the other Y? Cripes. We are not talking about a national government here. New Brunswick isn’t much bigger than Hamilton, Ontario. It shouldn’t be that hard to align the messaging across departments.

No, I am left thinking that politicians these days are all the same. They are in constant politicking mode. They are always running everything through the various political filters and they just can’t resist spinning good news.