Setting government targets? To paraphrase Meghan Trainor, its all about the base (line)

I received several calls and emails this week about Saskatchewan’s new 10-year growth plan.  In case you didn’t see it, as described by the CBC the growth plan “includes goals of increasing the population by 226,000 and creating 100,000 more jobs by 2030”. Oil output is going to rise, agriculture exports will boom, immigrants will flow in and young people stay home with mom and dad.

In case you were wondering that is a 16% growth in the population and a 15% growth in total employment (over 2018).

The inquiries to me were asking about New Brunswick’s plan.  New Brunswick has more modest growth ambition. In August, a population growth strategy and action plan was launched under which the province is hoping to attract up to 7,500 newcomers annually by 2024.  That is not exactly the same as a population growth strategy because population growth comes from more than just immigration (births less deaths, interprovincial migration).  At this immigration target level New Brunswick’s population will likely grow by 2024 – but it will be modest growth.

How can Saskatchewan have such audacity?  There were 162,000 people employed in the province over the age of 55 in 2018.  They will all need to be replaced in the next decade or so, 162,000 replacements and net growth of 100,000 – so over 300,000 net new workers required in 10 years.  In a province not that much larger than New Brunswick.

The audacity.

Back to Meghan Trainor. She tells us it’s all about the base and not the treble.

For the province, it is all about the base (line) (and a little about the treble).

Saskatchewan has been booming.

Between 1985 and 1997, the Saskatchewan workforce did not grow and the economy was relatively stagnant.  There were the same number active in the labour market in 1997 as back in 1985 – an amazing stretch of 12 years.  During that same period there was a massive increase in the number of young Saskatchewanians entering the labour market  – but thousands of them left every year and as the province was in a prolonged funk.

By contrast, New  Brunswick added a net 46,000 to its workforce between 1985 and 1997.

Since 1997 Saskatchewan’s workforce has surged by a net 114,000 people.  It’s economy has boomed from oil, agriculture and minerals (mostly).  Sure the last few years have been choppy but the new growth plan aims to right the ship and bring the province back to the halcyon days during the first 15 years of the of 21st century.

So, the baseline in Saskatchewan is high.  People are used to robust growth.  Their cities and towns are filling up with immigrants.  They want more.

So the Premier is giving them a plan.

And, importantly, Premier Moe is banking on a few key industries to drive growth.  It is not as clear what those industries might be in New Brunswick.

In New Brunswick, we have just got back to very modest population growth in the past couple of years and the provincial workforce is still shrinking.

The baseline is low.  Getting back to modest growth in population and arresting decline in the workforce would be better than we have seen in the past decade.

As for growth industries?  No one wants to dig holes.  There isn’t much additional wood to be harvested. People are getting more cranky about aquaculture. I’ve said before because we don’t have that one big game changer we may have to bootstrap it – more maple syrup, more agriculture, more business services, more IT, more professional services, more tourism, more manufacturing – a trickier economic development model than relying on a few big industries for growth.

And harder to predict.

So we get more pragmatism and less audacity.

But the books are balanced.  Folks are mostly comfortable these days.  Not much of a burning platform (or iceberg if you are so inclined).