Harper and regional economic development

Just saw Stephen Harper giving a bilingual news conference somewhere in Ontario. He’s certainly come a long way from the squareheaded firebrand, policy wonk that wanted to build a firewall around Alberta. He is sounding Prime Ministerial. He is on point – every answer comes back to the three or four main points he wants to make and everything is tightly scripted.

In addition, he has certainly adopted centerist positions on many issues from EI increase (this is the second increase to the EI program from Harper since he took office) to big spending to Quebec. No more hard line Harper.

I am sure that you savvy Liberals can see right through that “onion-skin charade” but poor gullibles like me….

Actually, if Harper came out strongly in favour of regional economic development, he’d get a check mark from me. I don’t understand what he has to lose. I realize he doesn’t have much to gain either but..

If I was advising Stephen Harper for a day (or Dion or Layton, etc.), here is what I would advise should be the regional development focus.

1. Admit that each province is facing unique economic challenges and that the federal government should adapt to help with these challenges.

2. Play a more visible role in support of regional economic development in places like New Brunswick. Offer to accompany Shawn Graham on a trip to Germany to pitch that CEO on the merits of setting up in the province. I wouldn’t make this a full time job but a few times a year I think would add value.

3. Instruct senior bureaucrats to be supportive of New Brunswick’s efforts to attract large industry projects. Federal funding programs that are almost exclusively used in Ontario and Quebec should be available to little old NB too.

4. Instruct senior bureaucrats in the federal research establishment to work with NB on a plan to get R&D levels in the province up to at least the national average.

5. Forget anymore highway funding announcements. Come to New Brunswick to announce the opening of that 300 person manufacturing plant in Miramichi or that 150 person software development studio in Fredericton.

Five little things. Potentially big impact.