Engage the universities

Shipley’s got a piece in the TJ this morning that quotes an expert saying that the intellectual heft at provincial universities should be engaged by the government and its self-sufficiency agenda.

But where others failed, Graham could succeed – if he taps into the hundreds of men and women at the province’s universities who are paid to be critical thinkers, said Kurt Peacock, the Crabtree visiting scholar at the University of New Brunswick. Peacock is a researcher working with UNB faculty and outside agencies on public policy in New Brunswick.

Too often the entire burden of turning political dreams into economic reality has fallen almost entirely on the civil service, said Peacock. “There isn’t that culture of sharing ideas between the academe and the civil service that you see in other parts of Canada.”

You will recall that I have been recommending that the government fund an external economic development research institute – loosely fashioned on the Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity in Ontario. I would like to see it provide an annual, objective economic report card on provincial economic progress (something that is not available anywhere now). This would be similar to Jeannot Volpe’s economic ‘report card’ only without the ridiculous politics attached.

I would also like it to publish 5-6 major research works each year – with direct, tangible and actionable research for New Brunswick. Topics such as “What works: A review of the benefits of attracting multinational investment – learnings for New Brunswick” or “Evolving from place-based economic development – application to Northern New Brunswick” or “Documenting the symbiotic relationship between large and small business in successful economies” or “Using language as an economic development driver: Best practices” or “Transforming peripheral economies: What can we learn from Wales?” or “Why do New Brunswick corporations contribute less tax to the provincial budget than all other provinces in Canada (except BC)?* – Is there a coorelation between low taxes paid and economic growth/decline?”

And that is my problem with another academic institute. They have no sense of time and little ability to draw a straight line between academic research and much needed policy guidance. Too much “chi squared” and not enough getting hands dirty. If an external economic development institute was funded, I would recommend that tight output requirements be established so that the Phds don’t wander through poppy fields for five years and publish one report with marginally interesting findings.

*This is true. If you look at corporate income and capital taxes paid in all 10 provinces, only British Columbia has a lower % of their total revenue from this source. However, in BC this is more than offset by natural resources revenue.