It’s gonna take time

It’s kind of fascinating to watch.  The PM was in the Miramichi announcing funding for hockey arenas.  The picture shows him standing in front of a podium that reads “Improving Arenas”.

We have unemployment in Northern New Brunswick 15% or more.  We have employment rates up there of as low as 44%.  We have continued out-migration.  We spend over $350 million a year on EI payments in the North – every single year – the bulk to top up a lot of folks’ income needs during the year.  I don’t think there has been a more bleak time for Northern NB than right now. 

And we get investments in arenas.

As usual, I am obliged to say I don’t have a problem with investing in arenas per se.   I just think the PM would have been far more relevant to New Brunswick to stand in front of a podium in the Miramichi that read “A partner in New Brunswick’s economic development” and announcing a new fed/prov agreement.

I talked with someone involved with northern economic development and they told me “it will take time” – they have only had a couple of years (they being the current government).  Yeah, but the last guys said “it will take time” and the guys before and the guys before them. 

I still maintain there is a de facto policy of slowly emptying out the north in favour of ‘urbanization’.  New Brunswick was told at least a couple of decades ago by the experts that our lack of urbanness was the main impediment to growth.  But when you are 50/50 urban/rural you just can’t go around espousing the emptying out of rural NB.

I have never been hung up on the concept of ‘growth’ itself.  I always said that the Miramichi (for example) with 20,000 people, a few key large employers and a high employment rate and low seasonal unemployment would be a dynamic economy (as compared to 30k in the area with high unemployment). 

But I also don’t subscribe to this slowly bleed the north dry model either.  I think there should be potential to transform the region in to a manufacturing hub with Belledune as the key transit point for goods.  I have been told there are ‘union’ issues particularly in places like Bathurst and Miramichi.  I am not sure what that means but I suspect if good, well-known companies agree to set up in these communities and pay good wages with good benefits they have much problems in that area.

But eventually we need to rethink things.  This idea of setting up a ‘northern fund’ and doling out in dribs and drabs has been the centrepiece of northern economic development as long as I can remember and we still are losing population and faced with weakening local economies over there.

8 thoughts on “It’s gonna take time

  1. Well said, but there’s one type, you said ‘lack of ruralness’ is an impediment to growth. I’m not sure that’s what you mean.

    There is definitely a trend toward urbanization, that is actually a worldwide phenomenon, much more serious in the places we get our products from.

    We KNOW that’s true, in fact they call it ‘clustering’ and that was both a provincial and federal ‘strategy’. Unfortunately, NB missed out on a lot of federal initiatives because even its bigger cities didn’t have a ‘cluster’ (of course the word was used by politicians to mean ‘this is why we aren’t investing in you’).

    The Premier’s forestry announcement shows exactly WHY its the case. We had the discussion before, and like I said, the Irving’s are perfectly happy to empty out most of the province. It would be interesting to know how many ‘ex’ New Brunswickers subscribe to CanadaEast to ‘get a taste of home’. I suspect its a growing number which would mean even their media don’t depend on the province for income anymore (you may notice there seem to be lots of ads for national products and even other provinces).

    So we know that it happens, we know WHY it happens, the question then becomes how to stop it. And again we go back to policy. The north simply doesn’t have any representation, so its gets bubkus both federally AND provincially. But again, the argument can be made that technically they get MORE ‘per capita’ than most of canada.

    Just a quick aside is that the CAW is finally getting media attention for their ‘made in Canada’ policy. Canada is the ONLY G8 country with no policy for purchasing its own products by its government. The example was used of a military purchase worth hundreds of millions that went to texas, and they even mentioned shipbuilding.

    So there’s a plan to create more economic development IN the country. As for rural areas, again we go back to Donald Savoie. From his study we notice that the problem is not local OR federal, it is PROVINCIAL. They lead the ball game when it comes to federal initiatives, and when they muck it up, they muck it up good. In case readers didn’t notice, there is a HUGE movement in Canada to get cities and regions more power because they KNOW they are getting screwed. One might even call it a move to ‘self government’.

  2. Urbanization has been on-going every since the first priest set up his shrine. I don’t think any government has deliberately done much to accelerate the trend; they are simply not competent enough to do so. Whether its the private sector or the public sector, its more efficient to deliver services to urban areas than rural.

    Its not so much the rural areas that are victims here, its the northern part of the province. Their urban centres are in decline as a consequence of industry shutdowns. The feds really have no interest in this sort of thing; its up to the province to take leadership. GNB clearly has no hope for recovery of these urban centres; it it happens it’ll be an ‘accident’ insofar as GNB is concerned. Likewise GNB’s ‘plan’, if there is one, to drain everything into the 3 urban centres (SJ Moncton Fton), then develop those 3, will succeed only by accident. That’s because GNB does not give any sign of really having a rational plan to develop urban centres. What we will end up with is 3 weak declining urban centres surrounded by an empty hinterland.

  3. Actually, they are VERY competent at it. As David can attest, during the second world war CD Howe essentially moved all the manufacturing industries to central ontario.

    It has to do with a very specific kind of ‘efficiency’, namely, maximization and centralization of profit. New Brunswick has VERY favourable agricultural policies aimed at farms getting larger and centralizing. That’s not necessarily ‘efficient’, except in monetary terms. For you to get your milk it makes no difference whether you’ve got local small producers, or one large producer.

    In fact it can be argued that is LESS efficient, as is now being exemplified by a global recession. Centralization of industry tends to create even larger crises which are more and more expensive to ‘bail out’. Parmalat essentially had to be kept afloat despite massive corruption and outright illegal practices simply because it controlled the dairy sector of so many regions-southern ontario included.

    In ‘old’ europe this is not so rampant, yet we see even more efficiency, just on a different scale. Again,when you relax regulations you are making a policy decision just as if you are making a new regulation. This is what happened in NB and McCain grew to such a point in that now New Brunswick agriculture, like forestry, has the fewest jobs per capita and per industry size in the country.

    Those are all VERY conscious decisions with predictable outcomes. When Bernard Lord went to the mat to bail out Nackawic, but then said of Bathurst “that’s the market, what can we do?” that reflects very solid policy planning, with a predictable result. Bathurst got lucky and metal prices skyrocketed thanks to China for a short time, but the policy planning is still identical.

  4. “Actually, they are VERY competent at it”

    You are again confusing outcomes with intent. Not to mention confusing private sector initiatives with public sector indifference.

  5. No, I just know we have different perspectives. You are assuming that the government is NOT happy with the economic state and is simply lying about it. I’ve said numerous times that the government serves a very specific constituency in New Brunswick (and Canada generally). And they are serious when they claim to be very happy. How could Irving NOT be happy to get the tax incentives and lax environmental regulations? How could Shawn Graham’s dad not be happy that AECL gets the retrofit and government interest in another nuclear plant. And on and on. Again, YOU guys simply are not organized, and in political terms that means you don’t exist. So the government IS very competent at what they are doing-Irving is probably making more money than ever.

    Again, the issues HERE are not being fulfilled, and that is the yardstick that is being applied to gauge public initiatives, what I’ve said before is that they simply have a different yardstick.

  6. “How could Shawn Graham’s dad not be happy that AECL gets the retrofit and government interest in another nuclear plant.”

    For all of Alan Graham’s fingers in all the pies around this province, AECL is not one of them. Graham the Elder is with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, not Atomic Energy of Canada.

  7. “government serves a very specific constituency”

    Governments tend to react to the balance of forces exerted upon them. They often hand out funds to industries in trouble or industries that threaten to leave. They do this because those companies employ voters and those voters spend money on services produced by other outfits that employ voters.

    Its not just the company owners who are being paid off; its the voters as well. The voters are the real constituency; in the long run NBers are being screwed, but in the short run some of them are rewarded. If NB’s economy was more diversified, with growth in sectors such as David has referred to, companies like the Irvings would have less leverage because the voters would have other employment options. Voters would then be more likely to exercise their opinions on the environment, etc, when voting.

    ‘Organization’ isn’t the problem. The problem is the lack of economic opportunities in NB. NB has had political leadership in the past that has defied various forces in order to change the province. That’s what is needed now. Graham does not seem to have it in him to do what must be done; to date, he seems to have backed down whenever he has been challenged by vested interests.

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