Some like their Currie hotter than others

Richard Currie gave a fairly painful speech this week at UNB.  His comments are summarized here.

He said New Brunswick is a “failing province,”  “The rest of Canada has been too indulgent towards it.” “And like all indulged people or institutions, it has grown dependent on the largesse or generosity of a proverbial rich uncle.”

He also complained about New Brunswick giving money to corporations – “Currie cited examples of bad New Brunswick business investments, including pulp and paper companies and the infamous Bricklin sports car.” 

And then he said “We took nothing,”.

I think we need tough talk in New Brunswick – I dole out my share of it – but I do worry that comments like his could end up in the Feds scaling back their spending in New Brunswick and/or New Brunswick turning its back on having an economic development agenda.

The truth is that Richard Currie has been associated with firms that have received piles of cash, loans and tax breaks from government.  He is on the board of CAE.  His George Weston bakeries have received government funds.  A number of other companies his in on the board of such as RJR Nabisco have received huge government gravy over the years.  There are very few corporate executives in North America that can claim they have not taken government gravy.

Of course he didn’t take government grants for his supermarket business.  No supermarkets in New Brunswick get government money either (that I know of).

I say this not to denegrate him in any way – he is a remarkable business success story and I admire him immensely but he’s serving up a fib here.

Second, we can’t afford the feds withdrawing from New Brunswick.   It’s a sensitive time right now as the feds look to cut a $58 billion deficit.  We are already slated to see a $100 million reduction in health transfers – in 2014 – anyway.  It is likely the feds will chop away at other programs leading to a big loss of revenue here. 

We have to be careful to be clear that we want the feds to support a positive new growth agenda for New Brunswick that should lead to a reduction in equalization over time but might also need more fed funding in other areas.  We are dead last in Canada for Fed R&D spending per capita and near the bottom for fed funding of culture and arts.  There are a wide variety of other economic development-focused federal spending areas that NB recieves almost no benefit – I have talked about these many times before.

We need the feds as a strong partner in a growth agenda.

Lastly, Currie is demanding more funding for education – even from municipal governments. 

As I have said many times before, education funding is not some kind of black hole that you shovel money in and hope it pays dividends.  Investing in education is good public policy – across the board – but it still has to be tied to broader economic and social objectives – with clear accountability.  

I continue to be uncomfortable with New Brunswick’s role as an incubator for the university educated workforce in Ontario, Alberta and BC.    There is a direct correlation between education and out-migration.  The more you have, the more likely you are to leave New Brunswick. 

That’s fine – we can’t restrict mobility through coercive measure but I am getting a little tired of New Brunswick being a place where you grow up through university and come back to retire.  The two times in life you are the most costly to the state (education in youth and health care in old age) you want to live in New Brunswick and when you are paying your top taxes you live in Calgary or Toronto. 

It’s a model that can’t work long term.

How’s that for a curried statement?

3 thoughts on “Some like their Currie hotter than others

  1. I agree with him as well, and to avoid ‘shooting the messenger’ I think its important to say that unless you have a link I’m pretty sure Westons hasn’t received any subsidies. It’s important to realize that LARGE companies are not the same as small ones in that they seldom need ‘direct’ investment. Once you hit a certain size the banks beg to give you money, and thats how most growth occurs. In grocery it was by buying up virtually all the competition. With BCE, the company had a near monopoly for years, and even as late as Mr. Currie’s involvement, it certainly had no real competition. In short, he was in businesses that didn’t need federal money, they just needed the feds to not enact any anti-competition measures on their monopoly, or at least oligopoly.

    But thats irrelevant if he can get the NB government to look at investing in people rather than industries. But really, talking about Bricklyn shows just how long he’s been away from NB and how little he knows about it. That was 35 years ago.

    What would be nice is a little more detail-as I said over at the Irving article, if wealthy corporations would contribute a little more than 3% of NB’s budget, then so much federal money would not be necessary.

  2. Senior Level Governments have to be more strategic with their investment dollars. Partnering – Stratgic investing to create growth as opposed to compentating for a lack of growth. Currie’s comments were rather simplistic, such comments would not have withstood scrunity in the Board rooms he marshalled.

  3. “if wealthy corporations would contribute a little more than 3% of NB’s budget”

    Well, that would not be a problem if we had more wealthy corporations.

    The reception Currie received is quite typical. We often see successful business persons treated as if they had solutions to economic problems and govt ‘inefficiency’ in particular. Most often however, they fail to recognize or admit that their success might have been due to things other than their business acumen. Often their expertise is in getting someone else (usually govts) to take the risk.

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