New Brunswick: Don’t be distracted by Trump

I had hoped the mania over Donald Trump would die down over time.  For more than a year after his election my Twitter and Facebook feeds (not so much LinkedIn) were so cluttered with fairly trivial Trump stories that I was forced for the first time to unfollow multiple people.

We need to understand how the U.S. president and his policies will impact Canada and New Brunswick, no question, but endless discussion and incredulity about his tweets and demeanor as well as White House intrigues are just distractions from the real issues we need to put in the window these days.

The Chief Economist at the EDC this week claims that New Brunswick is most ‘exposed!’ to Trump and NAFTA negotiations (his proxy is share of international merchandise exports) among the 10 provinces.  I take issue with this on a number of fronts.  Most of our merchandise exports to the U.S. are commodities such as motor vehicle gasoline, lobster and forest products.  These are certainly part of the NAFTA conversation but a thoughtful analysis, I think , would find that provinces with manufactured exports – and complex interconnected supply chains are far more at risk – such as the auto manufacturing sector in southern Ontario.  We certainly should be concerned about softwood lumber tariffs but the current high prices for wood mitigates this somewhat.

I am more worried about inter-provincial exports – and specifically services exports.  EDC doesn’t really care about this because they focus on international exports and the other complication is the lag in inter-provincial export statistics.

For export-intensive sectors we can look at real GDP trends to get a sense of performance.  New Brunswick’s ICT sector more than doubled its real GDP contribution between 1997 and 2011 – and has flatlined since (although the last two years have ticked up).  Our architectural and engineering services GDP more than doubled between 1997 and 2009 and has dropped since.  Our administrative services GDP increased by 174% between 1997 and 2009 and has dropped by 13% since.

The biggest threat to the New Brunswick economy may actually be helped by Trump.  We need to see a substantial increase in the number of young people moving here to bulk up the labour market, fill current gaps and provide the horsepower (people power?) for future economic growth.

I’m not suggesting Trump and Trumpism doesn’t matter.  I am suggesting we relegate most of it to the same part of our brain that likes dancing cats on YouTube or the latest Hollywood scandal – hopefully 2% of your time and Twitter feed.

Let’s spend most of our time – at least when it comes to economy matters – thinking about attracting talent, where the next round of ambitious entrepreneurs will come from, how we can boost our productivity as a province and other matters of importance.