Are we headed for a show down at the O.K. Corral over EI?

I see my comrade at arms, Kurt Peacock, is strongly supporting the Mowat EI reform proposal that I blogged about yesterday.   His justification is a straight forward economic one – remove the income support component of the EI program and people would be forced to move to the urban centres where the jobs are.  And he does make a good point that a poor person on EI in Saint John (with a low unemployment rate) is considerably disadvantaged compared to a poor person in rural NB (where there is high unemployment and the weeks required to work is much lower).

But I come back to the core of my argument – if you make the Mowat changes – even if you get by the social unrest it would cause (talk to Doug Young circa early 1990s), you would in fact end up with significantly more poverty and problems in rural NB.  You can’t remove $200 million or more/year out of rural NB economies without causing serious problems (that is a rough estimate of what the Mowat changes would cost rural NB).

I would much rather put much more emphasis on real economic development in rural NB – gas exploration, mining, forestry, etc. and then be very focused on removing any barriers the EI program is putting on economic growth in rural areas (as I discussed before).

But rural NB has to want economic development.  I think these calls for EI reform are only going to get stronger.  If rural NB pushes back against shale gas, against mining, even against forestry-based economic development – then we are headed for a show down at the O.K. Corral on this.  Eco-tourism won’t cut the mustard.

To be honest with you I am getting tired of making my argument.  When I make it, the urban development types argue the only hope for NB is to urbanize and dramatically reduce the cost and service levels in rural NB.  At the same time I get Tweets (more specifically people tweet and then cc me by putting @jupia in the Tweet) saying I think rural NBers are lazy and stupid.

When I have no constituency that supports my view why go on arguing for it?

Having said that I will fight on because the urbanites don’t seem to realize that nearly half of our population lives in rural areas – unlike every other province in Canada except PEI.   I don’t see how we can grow the province’s economy overall if we cut off rural NB.

The good news is – from research I did years ago – something like 96% of NBers live within an hour’s drive of an urban area (this includes small urbans like Bathurst and Edmundston).  If we strengthen our urban economies and have more integrated thinking between them and their surrounding rural communities I think we will be at the start of a better model.

Just ask Lise Ouellette if there is any appetite at the provincial government to move to a more integrated approach to municipal government.