The shifting definition of self-sufficiency

Premier Graham has a commentary in the three big English papers today discussing his first two years in office. In the spirit of this blog’s propensity for number crunching, we check some of the Premier’s numbers:

He says there are 15,700 more people working in the last two years. That is correct. From the Labour Force Survey -In August 2008, there were 366,500 people employed in New Brunswick. In August 2006, there were 350,200. The problem is 2007 was a jobs humdinger but 2008 is much more problematic.

In December 2007, there were 366,900 seasonally adjusted people working in New Brunswick (that filters out seasonal work) and in August 2008 there were 366,500. We are, I believe, the only province in Canada to register a jobs loss in 2008.

He also has some definitions regarding self-sufficiency:

“Self-sufficiency means that through our individual skills and through hard work, each of us has the opportunity to create the kind of life we want, right here in New Brunswick”.

But he does say:

“A self-sufficient New Brunswick will be a place where we shape our own destiny. For the province, that means lowering our dependence on equalization, creating more of our own revenues here at home and being a strong partner in the Canadian federation.”

That’s a far cry from eliminating equalization by 2026 – the statement that has been thrown around a lot but seems to be disintegrating a bit. In the past two budgets, Equalization funding has gone up and will likely go up for at least the next 203 years according to estimates.

Last point here. He says:

“There are capital projects underway and on the horizon that could create more than 30,000 new jobs, billions of dollars in provincial tax revenues and up to $44 billion in new investments in New Brunswick. Our government is making the necessary investments in infrastructure and in our workforce to ensure we can capitalize on this potential.”

This is what concerns me the most and has for months. Those 30,000 jobs are temporary – only about 3-4 thousand will stay around after the construction of those energy projects – by the government’s own reckoning.

Do you remember the boom after the original Lepreau/Refinery developments? How about the miniboom while the Confederation Bridge was being constructed? How about all those jobs from the twinning of the TransCanada highway?

Even if the energy projects go ahead – I would be far more interested to hear what is being done to grow other sectors of the economy in New Brunswick. The energy projects will be based on private sector business plans and will go ahead or not – with limited government effort.

What I am interested to see is where our government is planning to invest tax dollars to create economic development oportunity beyond the energy file. And we haven’t seen much of that yet.

You could have a situation whereby in 2026 you could have a new refinery and a new nuclear plant and less jobs than we have today across New Brunswick. If the call centre industry starts to drop in employment. If tourism remains tepid or declines. If the forestry sector remains the same or drops and if the 10s of millions of salaries generated from New Brunswick workers in Alberta dries up – you could literally see some serious economic problems by 2026.