Do we need luggage or economic development?

I just listened to a podcast discussing some of the many challenges associated with Jeffrey Sachs’ millennium villages projects in Africa.  If I had time, I would discuss this in greater detail but I did want to key in on one specific conclusion.  There is a small – but maybe growing – group of economists that believe there are some areas in the world that are not conducive to any kind of economic activity enough to sustain communities with an even moderate quality of life.  Their solution would be to pay the one time cost of migrating certain African populations to better environments.

This argument has been used in Atlantic Canada and I would argue continues to hold a prominent view among a lot of folks across Canada that think about regional development.  If you drive through Quebec to Labrador you will come across abandoned communities where there once was a mine and after it left, the whole community was razed and everyone moved on.  Joey Smallwood spent a pile of cash to close a number of tiny out-ports in Newfoundland for similar reasons.

The argument is pretty straight forward.  They say the Maritime Provinces have some forests, some fish, some minerals and a small number of tourism opportunities.   All equalization and economic development-related transfer payments should be cut and the region should re-equilibrate around these core industries and geographies.   In their view we would end up with a smaller but stronger economy and communities down here.   Following the argument of many prominent economists, government-led urban development should be left to the largest urban centres in Canada.

There was a federal government funded study a few years back that argued the feds should pay people to move from the Maritimes to the jobs out West.

They argue the best thing for this region would be more luggage and less economic development.

I never bought this argument.  This is not an inhospitable place to live.  It may not have the climate of San Diego but it is not a desert or Antarctica.  It may not have the urban amenities of Toronto or Chicago but not everyone prefers that lifestyle.

As for the scale argument that keeps getting thrown around, as I have pointed out many times, small and mid-sized urban centres have grown faster across North America in recent years than the largest urban centres.  You could equally make the argument that smaller urban centres hold more potential because they don’t face the kind of challenges that come with very high density and highly developed urban centres.

And, of course, we have the real world example of communities across New Brunswick that have shed population – and quite a bit – and they have not strengthened – they are much weaker.


3 thoughts on “Do we need luggage or economic development?

  1. I agree with you here. The climate in New Brunswick – and in the Maritimes generally – is not inhospitable. We receive significant rainfall, have some decent soil, have some minerals and other in-ground assets, and access to major markets in Europe and North America.

    We have, however, not made effective use of those assets. A lot of land currently reserved for forestry could be used for higher-value production. A lot of exports are primary products only. Infrastructure within the province is weak, and so we cannot leverage international connections. And our greatest asset – being a part of Canada with peace, health, safety and human rights – is significantly undersold.

    We are a province that looks within – we tend to look only to internal markets for value-added goods, only to internal expertise for trade and development, only to internal population (or expatriate former internal population) for labour development. We negotiate poorly with our few large employers for fear they may leave. We need to collectively lift our heads and look at the world around us for markets, ideas, population and competition for local industry.

  2. The Maritimes is not inhospitable, but in comparison with milder climes and/or more populated regions, the energy requirement per capita to simply stay alive is higher, which means we are disadvantaged. Unfortunately, we did not compensate for that via ingenuity or an unbeatable work ethic.
    Marginal even at the best of times, that’s what we are.

  3. I think you guys are missing the point, the economists didn’t say that the area was ‘inhospitable’, but only that the economists didn’t add up. New Brunswick is obviously no worse than any place in Canada, its not like Fort MacMurray is Cuba, but no economist in his right mind would say “lets abandon all the communities in Fort Mac because it is just inhospitable!”
    I agree with Mr. Downes. I suspect that if all the resources weren’t just handed over dirt cheap to a couple of large corporations that the population could be supported very well. I don’t think outmigration is nearly the heated issue its made out to be, particularly with the salaries that these ex pats get paid in Alberta.
    But it seems very clear with a little bit of research that the province’s main aim is to ‘educate’ workers to work for license holders. There is barely even an effort to train people in technology and entrepreneurship. And what is far more important than the economics is what kind of life the people living their lead.
    I have no doubt that lots of economists argue all kinds of crazy things-I’ve heard them! That is virtually the claim concerning ALL rural areas, because typically its known that resource extraction is far easier when there are no locals to muddy up the works. So economists in suits, who usually get paid by these same people, are always arguing that ‘unproductive’ people should get the heck out of the way of development.

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