Alward’s economic development dilemma

I met NS Premier Darrell Dexter this week for the first time.   He seems to be one of those politicians operating at a speed just a little faster than the rest of us – energetic and fully engaged.

In a way Dexter and his NB counterpart David Alward came into office at the wrong time for an ambitious politicians.

I have talked about this before but if you think back to 1999 when Bernard Lord took office, the call centre sector was adding about 1500-2000 new jobs per year, there were large infrastructure projects such as highway twinning, refinery expansions, etc.  As a cherry on top, Lord was able to start expanding the public service again at a rapid rate.  From a job creation and economic development perspective, Lord had to do very little.  He cut the small business tax to the bone and then made speeches in other parts of Canada about his economic genius.

In reality, 1999 was the ideal time to embark on a serious economic development agenda.  The U.S labour market was tightening, global firms were expanding, the IT industry was just starting to boom (despite the dip in the early 2000s).  There was all kinds of opportunity to attract investment – on top of all the government spending, call centre expansions and large infrastructure spending.

Even Shawn Graham benefitted from the stimulus spending which masked the core weakness in private sector investment and jobs.

Now Alward faces declining private sector job creation, no large infrastructure spending and the need to rein in public spending and public sector job creation.

No matter what happens, without a miracle, New Brunswick is looking at an extended period of employment weakness just at a time when we need it.

The best Alward can do is develop a serious economic development plan (such as we needed in 1999), land some early wins and start to chip away at it.  I still maintain we need 3,000 to 4,000 new private sector jobs – good paying jobs – each year just to ‘break even’ – whatever that really means.

I guess optimists say that good leaders step up when the going is rough.