There big ideas and then there are big ideas

You can’t say that newspaper columnists are ones to back down.  This guy in the Halifax Herald still thinks that electric car manufacturing could go in Nova Scotia.  The fact that he never mentioned the federal government in either his first or this column indicates he hasn’t really though this through.  Stronach has already asked the Feds for hundreds of millions if not billions to help get electric car manufacturing in Canada and if the Feds come to the table what are the odds they would bypass the empty factories in southern Ontario to put one in Nova Scotia or Cape Breton?  Not to use the Rip Van Winkle thing again but that thinking shows a complete misunderstanding of, quite frankly, Canada.

So he has moved on to the idea that Nova Scotia politicans don’t think big enough.  That’s an idea that has some theoretical appeal but again the context is everything.  

I favour a deliberate and long term economic development strategy tied to long term economic objectives.  If Nova Scotia wants to see a moderate population growth and the elimination of Equalization over the next 25 years (and I don’t believe this is any party’s stated goal), then the province (like New Brunswick) will need considerably increased business investment and tax revenue generation.

Focusing on one big auto plant or some other huge project – may be part of the programme – but it should be tied to the broader ‘big idea’ – a Nova Scotia that is is control of its own economic destiny.

12 thoughts on “There big ideas and then there are big ideas

  1. Well, as recent events have shown, nobody is “in control” of their economic destiny.

    And again, as before, the broader big idea of economic development is not especially useful without specifics as to how it is to be done, and there we are lacking. We may agree that the electric car idea will not fly in Nova Scotia – or, at least, it may not get Federal funding – but it was at least an idea.

    The weakness of the idea is not that electric cars are a bad idea. It’s that it’s already being done. What Nova Scotia – and, for that matter, New Brunswick – needs to do is something other people aren’t doing. Something ahead of its time. That’s why the push for online businesses was such a good idea in the McKenna years.

    What could Nova Scotia do? What could New Brunswick do? I don’t know, but I know that it’s *not* wind power, electric cars, nanotechnology, health services, etc. Other provinces, other regions, are already well ahead of us. That’s why we have TransAlta building our windmills.

  2. The electric car is a well developed opportunity. Quebec has one emerging company:

    I think that while the idea initially sounds interesting, one has to ask how Atlantic Canada can create and sustain a competitive advantage with something like an electric car. Perhaps if the Feds assisted with trade and tax policy followed by billions in R&D support as they have with the auto sector in Ontario, but that simply is not going to happen in Atlantic Canada.

    We need to developed economic opportunities where there is a strong market opportunity and we have some sort of competitive advantage. Ocean technologies, including aquaculture would be one such idea. Maybe shipbuilding, perhaps with a specialization in ice vessels in anticipation of artic development. Maybe deep ocean oil exploration and production. Tidal power would seem to have some natural fit to an area with the highest tides in the world. Industry that does not have some natural connection/competitive advantage, such as yarn production, are generaally suspects for scooping up government incentives and you can expect they’ll disappear when the funding dries up.

  3. On the electric car, you are right that there could be an opportunity for a ‘Bricklin’ type niche player to be incentivized to come to Atl. Canada. But the columnist in question was talking about Magma/Opel electric car manufacturing and that will certainly be put into southern Ontario (if at all – there will be serious competition from the U.S.).

    As for your other mentioned sectors, ocean tech has been tossed around for a while and there is some success but as a transformational sector (say thousands of new jobs) it is unlikley. Shipbuilding should’ve been a wonderful opportunity but again that is a politicized industrial sector and there are heavies in Montreal and BC that have much more clout. But Halifax should see some growth in that area. Tidal power is a good one but not likely to provide serious new job creation and taxation. It is obviously a complicated issue but it can be done. I think it is possible that Halifax (post recession and apres financial sector reinvention) could emerge as a serious back office centre for financial services. I can see a pathway to thousands of good paying jobs in that sector if the labour market feeder system is in place and the community really makes the sector a priority.

  4. There are really two issues there, the usual problem of how to align provincial ED efforts with the feds, and specific initiatives that the province can take on its own.

    Just to be critical for a moment, Mr. Campbell is being somewhat schizophrenic here as his ‘usual’ theme is ‘why isn’t the province thinking big enough’, in fact, its usually even specific to the auto industry-in fact THAT is usually the cause celebre used as a symbol of the province’s inaction. So is this just griping that Nova Scotia is ‘thinking big’ and New Brunswick isn’t?

    The article doesn’t mention the feds because the feds DO NOT get involved in industrial development anymore until the proposals are well under way. They are usually LAST at the table, because they are always hoping that people will give up and go away. Obviously its a little different for voter heavy regions, but again, our local MP has taken to bragging about ‘his’ government investing $2 million locally to fix up a street that really doesn’t need fixing up. All while the government is axing good and essential CBC jobs.

    Another issue is the idea that IF some other province happens to have some industry in a certain area then that means its ‘too late’ for New Brunswick. Energy is a separate case because is so unique, but if NBPower wanted wind turbines, they could buy them from any of a dozen different companies. The reality is that NBPower is getting out of ownership of energy creation into being a purchaser. That’s why the province went with an Alberta company (although I can think of several other reasons having to do with a Miramichi companies links in Alberta). But in any given industry there are dozens of industry players, that’s the problem with Irving having a monopoly-the province could have set up a bidding war with any of a dozen companies desperately trying to find an area willing to take an LNG terminal.

    Let’s be practical. You want electric cars? No problem, in fact I can start supplying electric cars today with minimal investment. All I have to do is buy some golf carts, put a roof and a seat belt in them, and a heater. Problem is, nobody will buy them because virtually every street in the country still has a ban on slow moving vehicles. Ontario is looking at changing that law, but some golf carts can get up to 40 km per hour, so on city streets its not a big deal.

    If you want to go further, there’s a company here in Kitchener that just makes chassis’s(es?). You could make a three wheeled vehicle with a small engine no problem, hell, they make them up to 50KM/H for BIKES.

    But again, since its illegal to drive them on the road, forget about it. If New Brunswick WANTED to be ‘ahead of the curve’-meaning New Brunswickers, because MLA’s already have well paying jobs, they don’t care whether new investment arrives. All NB has to do is be the first province to allow SMV on city streets. In fact, research shows this tends to slow down the traffic to safer levels as well.

    Anyway, that’s the kind of ‘forward thinking’ necessary to create new industries-its all in public policy. Even if the feds WERE involved why in heavens name would a manufacturer set up in the least populated area of the country? Particularly when they couldn’t even sell their product there? Many US states have cities where slow moving vehicles are allowed in traffic.

  5. Thought I should mention, as usual BC is ahead of the curve and allows municipalities to decide the issue. As a result there are about a dozen municipalities with electric vehicles on the roads, several towns have also switched their municipal vehicles to electric.

  6. “If Nova Scotia wants to see a moderate population growth and the elimination of Equalization over the next 25 years (and I don’t believe this is any party’s stated goal)…”

    Well, they aren’t, unless you count the usual boiler plate, you know, the “we need to keep our young people here” rhetoric. I think Dale Dexter was the only one emphasizing that thin malarkey.

  7. Speaking of empty election rhetoric:

    “Nova Scotia Premier Rodney MacDonald isn’t committing to a ban on political donations from unions and corporations, but he says he’d be willing to look at the idea.”


    Oooh, like we think you’re serious, Rodney. I mean, give me a break, he gives out cash to corporation in the form of corporate welfare, so why should we think he has the guts to even look at it “not” coming in the other way in the form of a political donation.

    I think this is one time the PCs are caught in their own web of non-conservative thinking. Let’s just say, if they had showed some restraint against subsidies for corporations in the first place, they may have been able to ride this misstep by the NDP back to power. Unfortunately, Nova Scotians don’t see it that way because Rodney hasn’t been fiscally conservative nor has he been true to his word.

  8. Charter for Change: “Our vision for this province is as straightforward as it is challenging. We want New Brunswick to join the ranks of the ‘have’ provinces and we want the province to accomplish this over the next 20 years.

    We’ll put our province on the road to self-sufficiency by turning New Brunswick into a leader in energy conservation and generation, by going from worst to first in education and by making job creation a priority again.

    Strengthening these pillars will allow us to invest in important initiatives like reducing health care wait times and providing seniors with the increased care they deserve.

    We want to know that, from day one of our mandate, we governed boldly, wisely and fairly. We will be open to new ideas and new solution.

    I guess luring an electric car plant to NB would be being open to “new ideas and new solutions.” Solutions that will surely propel our province into the Green collar era. Plus, it’s helping the environment a little more then just forcing ministers to drive hybrids while on the job.

    Not sure about that “worst to first” thing though.

  9. I like the idea of thinking big. However, we don’t always have to be thinking big with new ideas/businesses. What about encouraging existing businesses with a good track record to think bigger? We have a couple examples in the Irvings, McCains and Ganongs who pursued opportunities outside our region (sorry Mikel, I realize these are evil capitalists but they employ a hell of a lot of people and don’t pay minimum wage). Are there other New Brunswick companies that are currently ticking along that could get perhaps 5-10 times bigger with the right assistance?

  10. That’s a great idea. The question is how? If New Brunswick’s 10 largest employers (aggregating the guys that own many firms) added 20% to their employment it would add about 10,000 jobs.

  11. Well, one idea would be to encourage cooperation and communications amoung our businesses. We have companies selling into countries all over the world. Most of the truely successful ones stay away from the news media; but if we could identify them and encourage them to help others, new markets might open up. If I’m making windows in Bermuda and the guy down the street makes roofing, wouldn’t be great if the window guy helped the roofing guy open up the Bermuda market? Trouble is I’m too busy to have time to help out another business but what if there was a provincial government incentice for doing so? Wonder if that would help?

  12. Sorry David, the above should read “making windows in New Brunswick and selling them in Bermuda”.

    The point I was trying to make is there are NBers with established customers/markets that could broker an introduction of a non competing NB business. This might work if it was something more in it than just being a nice guy.

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