Why can’t Maritimers be motivated?

That’s the title of a Charles Moore commentary in the T&T today. I hope you can read it by clicking here but you might need a password.

Here’s the first paragraph of the column:

How excellent it would be if even a fraction of the energy and passion being expended on whinging and whining about the federal budget’s equalization reforms could be redirected toward support for initiatives with real potential to help Atlantic Canada’s economy grow and prosper, like the Atlantic Gateway, an “Atlantica” free trade zone, and tax/duty exempt “freeport” value-added, final assembly, and manufacturing enclaves.

Once again, the image being presented to the rest of Canada is that the only thing that gets Atlantic Canadians exercised and motivated is changes or perceived threats to their cherished federal subsidies.

“Why can’t Maritimers be motivated?” is a whopper of a question. I don’t want to argue the semantics of it or its derivation. Moore is obviously looking to provoke with the nature of his question and the tone of the column.

I wouldn’t be too hard on Maritimers if I were Moore. We have underperformed the national economy for employment and population growth since Confederation (I looked at this in 10 year increments).

My grandmother in 1945 told her kids if they wanted to be ‘successful’ they would have to move out of the Miramichi. My mother remembers as a child her mother telling this to the kids. That’s over 60 years ago, folks.

The amount of money the Feds have invested in the ‘Maritimes’ in the kind of growth oriented projects that Moore is espousing has been much lower than similar types of investment in central Canada – at least as long as I have been around. The Pacific Gateway is just another example of this. $600 million from the Feds (and Emmerson says this is just a ‘start’). $75 million for railway upgrades (when was the last time the Feds put $75 million into New Brunswick’s rail infrastructure – there are lots of us that think a rail-based ‘clipper’ service from the Port of Halifax to New England makes perfect sense but don’t expect $75 million for this anytime soon from the Feds). Hundreds of millions in to the Prince Rupert port. Port of Vancouver.

Let’s not mention the Auto Industry Partnership or the Aerospace industry partnership which both put hundreds of millions right into central Canada-based industries. And of course, don’t forget the hundreds of millions for biodiesel/biofuels which will disporportionately benefit where? Western Canada.

But the Feds have a pat answer for this. We give you pogey. Billions of Equalization. Use that for investing in your industrial growth.

But that’s not the way things happen. In fact, Equalization by definition is supposed to be used to provide health care, education and such. There is no mention in the Equalization about equalizing economic opportunity.

So, instead of complaining about Maritimer’s and their lack of motivation, I think someone should ask why the Feds aren’t motivated to support real economic development down here? The Atlantic Gateway – whatever that is – is a tailor made project for Fed funding support (because the the precedent in BC). If Shawn Graham has a plan to grow specific sectors of the NB economy but needs to make serious investments in infrastructure, training, marketing, etc. – that should be a tailor made project for Fed funding support. Imagine if there was an “Auto industry partnership” in New Brunswick – only substitute ‘Data Centres’ or ‘financial back offices’ or ‘nearshore manufacturing’.

But no, we get our pogey and we should just shut up.

Keep your pogey. In fact, give it to Ontario. We’ll take the Auto partnership funding or the Aerospace funding or the biofuels funding – put it on sectors that make sense for New Brunswick and try to grow our economy.

Equalization is a trap. It’s designed to reward failure. The more you need the more you get. Where’s the incentive to grow industries? This is, in my humble opinion, the source of the anger in NS and NL. They finally have that incentive, and they are getting their hands rapped.

So, I propose a slightly different focus. Harper can keep his Equalization top-up. But give Newfoundland $500 million for its own auto partnership. Give Nova Scotia $500 million to develop its financial services cluster. Just like they are doing everywhere but here.

I am not a psychologist but it seems to me that to be ‘motivated’ you need to have a source that ‘motivates’ you. 140 years of underperformance on the economy. Decades of our best and brightest ‘goin’ down the road’. More and more Equalization needed just to provide government services (that’s NB specific). That’s not much to inspire motivation.

You want to motivate Maritimers? Give them something to be motivated for.