Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Self-Sufficiency

I must admit that I have not yet read Part 1 of the Report of the Self-Sufficiency Task Force (PDF). I have printed a copy but just haven't got around to it, something I should have done by now.

However, I was interested in what I read in the Telegraph-Journal today as a result of an editorial board meeting with Francis McGuire yesterday.

Some selected quotes:

New Brunswick's near future includes a Miramichi that is little more than a commuter town and a north stripped of much of its population, according to Francis McGuire, co-chairman of the province's Task Force on Self Sufficiency.

"It is going to happen anyway," he said during an editorial board with the Telegraph-Journal Monday. "We could let it happen or we could accelerate it."

(...)

But, for many of New Brunswick's rural residents, perhaps more controversial is the report's focus on urban economic growth at the expense of rural.

Citing numbers that point to an irreversible trend - that 80 per cent of New Brunswick's population works in seven centres and 67 per cent work in the province's three big cities - McGuire stressed that by growing New Brunswick's cities one can grow the economy.

McGuire's vision sees a New Brunswick where rural residents travel to the major centres to work.

"You can make the Miramichi a commuter town with a good four-lane highway. And what's wrong with that?" he said. "As long as they are making the money and going to spend it at Wal-Mart."

(...)

"There are a heck of a lot of things that need to be done right now," he said. "Sure, we could build the infrastructure in 15 years. But you have to be like the Chinese and build it all now in five years."

Otherwise, he predicted, the province is going to "go into a spiral of decline," as workers age and leave the province - something McGuire said he would do if this worst case scenario comes to pass. "I'm getting the hell out of here if that's where we're going," he said.
I have a lot of thoughts on this...

With a proper highway, the drive from Miramichi to Moncton should be little more than an hour, a fraction of the commute that a lot of Ontarians make every day.

However, this model is a bit more questionable for (true) Northern New Brunswick, even if you made the most direct route from Campbellton to Moncton you would be looking at a three hour drive, if you follow the current routes - via Bathurst and Miramichi which makes more sense in any event - it is probably more than 4. That is not commutable - are the communities between Edmundston and Bathurst meant to die? Also, what does this mean for Saint John? Such a plan would mean huge growth opportunities for Fredericton and Moncton as they draw from the Upper St. John Valley and Eastern New Brunswick respectively, but what of Saint John? Does it get left in the dust?

This is certainly a radical plan and as a rural New Brunswicker, one I am somewhat wary of. On the other hand, I have always believed that in terms of rural economic growth "if you build it, they will come". I'll never forget the story I heard of a businessman flying into Fredericton to go to meetings somewhere up the valley in the early 90s. He got in the car with the gentleman sent to pick him up and as they drove up the windy undivided, unshouldered, TransCanada the businessman inquired "How much longer until we get onto the highway?" The driver responded that they were in fact on the main highway. As the story goes the businessman's knuckles turned white and he looked as though he was going to throw up as he watched the transport trucks fly by shaking the car.

The Fredericton-Moncton highway and the soon to be (finally) finished highway from Fredericton to the Quebec border go a long way to fix that. I agree with McGuire that we need to be more agressive in highway construction as we were with the Fredericton-Moncton project. Highways 1 and 7 have always been slated for upgrading to divided freeways, but to be truly competitive, I think we need to twin 8, 11 and 17 as well - it seems like this is the way that McGuire is going in his comments.

So I think I agree with McGuire's formula. We do need to focus to some degree on our urban centres, because there is a certain population threshold that you have to hit to be considered in league with the likes of Halifax, Hamilton and Winnipeg and, from there, hopefully be able to compete with Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. We agree that infrastrucutre, particularly highway infrastructure, is key to starting this process. However, I disagree with his analysis that this paints the end of rural New Brunswick.

I think that it would also create more jobs in the resource sector in the North if you had better infrastructure to move goods, it would be easier to sell the idea of doing value-added work close to the source of, for example, wood. With proper access to roads, businesses from outside of New Brunswick will take our rural areas more seriously. With an ability to properly transport our goods, I believe we can create more resource related jobs at higher rates of pay doing value-added work in our mill towns and mining towns.

We also need to think outside of the box. We should consider investing with Quebec in twinning Route 185 (the untwinned TransCanada from the NB-Quebec border to Riviere-du-Loup) and with Maine in twinning U.S. Route 1 from Fort Kent to Houlton giving our border communities in the Valley better access to the U.S. market and with Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Ontario, Nova Scotia, PEI and the two federal governments to investigate a direct Maritimes-to-Ontario highway running from St. Stephen across central Maine and through northern Vermont and New Hampshire to upstate New York and Ontario (Northern New Brunswick would have access to this route via U.S. Route 1 and the I-95 to wherever it would cross). Such a road would be costly and out of our jurisdiction but would create instant economic spinoffs as we became a new market to many areas. If this did indeed spur growth in rural New Brunswick as I believe it would, we should take it to the next level down the road.

The Port of Belledune could become competitive with Saint John and Halifax to transport goods from our new value-added facilities and from Quebec - and even Maine and northern New England - to Europe and Africa. In the 1970s there was talk of building one regional airport in Sussex for all of Southern New Brunswick, that was an opportunity missed, but now we could build one regional airport for Northern New Brunswick.

Let's make sure this Task Force a) moves forward with an aggressive plan but also that b) it doesn't leave rural NB behind!


An addendum, kudos to whoever came up with the clever bilingual URL for the Task Force - http://www.gnb.ca/2026 - I like it!

10 comments:

aggie said...

One of the recommendations in the report was to demand increased federal investment in NB. I`m not sure how likely that is, but as an ex-pat NB'er now working for the feds in agric. research I would like to comment on one way the feds could help. Right now the fed agriculture dept (AAFC) operates a dozen or more research centres across the country. They were originally set up to serve regional needs, but this is no longer the case. Its my belief that we should push Ottawa to re-organize agriculture and life sciences research along regional lines, similar to the way it is doen in the U.S. There the land grant college systems integrate federal,state, and university resources into a system that serves local needs while accelerating both R&D and innovation delivery to local industries. There are huge job creation potentials in food and agric biotechnology that could take advantage of the Maritimes natural resource base. I suggest integrating the 3 federal AAFC research centers in the Maritimes into a single regional organization that also encompasses selected Maritime universities. These universities, in turn, would have their mandate adjusted such that they would have much stronger outreach components, in association with relevant provincial government departments. Doing this would give the Maritimes a critical mass in innovation development and technology transfer.

Anonymous said...

This is frightening frightening stuff that NBers (home and away, since those away have elderly family who depend on those social services) should be more than wary of.

These two guys aren't just dangerous idiots, they are literally mouthpiecing the Atlantica ideas straight from Brian Crowley's mouth. Fed investment is fine, but so is NB investment, and why should that have to all go to city's? Fredericton is a pretty city, Moncton has some nice spots, Saint John is a polluted mess. If the pulp mills were gone from Miramichi then they could actually compete with Elliot Lake as a retirement destination and would be nicer than all three of the other cities.

However, the animation school is in Miramichi, and NB is in need of infrastructure. As mentioned in the media, there isn't even a school for pharmacists in the entire province. Just about every CITY in Ontario has that.

For agriculture, there was a time that Fredericton did tons of research, then Chretien (or was it Mulroney?) closed it all down.

If you want federal investment, you need something for them to invest IN. That's research and development and education, that's the only thing the feds are touching with a ten foot pole. If you aren't doing that then there's no ball game. 60% of exports come from the refinery, 20% from forests, then there's fisheries as well. That leaves a tiny miniscule in exported services, which is what most industrial economies are exporting.

Hell, set up a state of the art astronomical observatory. Sudbury had mines so they set up a nuclear particle accelerator that now gets scientists from all over the world...what, there's no mines in NB? Laurier sets up a peace studies program, while STU sets up journalism, a faculty with no jobs. They do have the human rights centre, but while peace studies are in demand, human rights isn't exactly top of the charts anymore. But these initiatives need to be done by cooperation, which never seems to be maritimers strong point. Sudbury has a new portal done by the guy who is right now giving a talk in Fredericton, it was done with the City of Sudbury, FedNor (ACOA's equavalent), the province and microsoft. When has that kind of co-operation been evident? Didn't Fredericton have to do the wireless all by themselves?



I think this 'committee' was set up all wrong. You don't pick two guys who basically dictate to everyone "hold on tight boys". That's because a good part of the solution is psychological. Are you going to have faith in this process? Not likely, hell, they had a legislative committee that had a dozen panelists and met for over a year but didn't amount to bubkus. So how much do you really think they are thinking about New Brunswickers?

The Atlantica concept is easily found at AIMS website. Not only was this one of their recommendations, but they want all that federal money to go to setting up Irving and trucking goods. Crowley even said that more jobs in trucking doesn't mean jobs-he even says that those jobs should come from mexican labour cuz its nice and cheap. He actually said that.

Bloggers and New Brunswickers better wake up because this is the first wave of Atlantica, and its not going to be pretty. I'd like to crow that I was predicting this back when they had the Atlantica conference, but it's just too sad to even think that way.

And keep in mind that the only ontarians who commute like that are ones who do that in Toronto, and even those numbers are highly overrated. While there are many who do that, simply because there are so many people that there are many people who do EVERYTHING. I live a five minute drive from work, in New Brunswick there isn't even decent bus service from Oromocto to Fredericton, and nobody is even allowed to set one up! I never in my life lived that close to work in NB. The traffic here in Waterloo is half as bad as Fredericton at rush hour, there is typically no traffic at all during off hours.

Nobody in their right mind will drive from Miramichi to Moncton with the winter weather NB gets. Moncton is precipitation central. And why would they, if they want to live by the ocean Shediac isn't far. And that's a dumb way to compete with ontario "hey, come home to New Brunswick, we've even got those hour long commutes you love so much" The idea is to compete with GOOD points.

If NB wants federal money then its very tricky. There's a federal election coming up, people better start banging on their local candidates doors. Stop asking about policies that have nothing to do with the maritimes and ask one simple question- what are you going to do for New Brunswick-and the maritimes.

Anonymous said...

I live in Miramichi. Even with a 4-lane highway, I couldn't imagine making a commute to Moncton daily.

And with the price of gasoline and the need to cut back on GHG, what are they thinking?

Eugene said...

Good point 12:19. The idea of moving our economy towards a scenario where urban sprawl is multiplied certainly flies in the face of the idea that this government gives a damn about the environment. Although that ship has sailed seeing how one of the first acts was to cut the gas tax. And we can't get a home heating rebate because it doesn't promote energy conservation? How does that line up with lower gas prices?

nbpolitico said...

Folks, take deep breaths. These were the mused comments of one half of a task force which will make recommendations for the premier to consider.

This is a long way from becoming policy.

Anonymous said...

Exactly, from ONE HALF the committee, that's a pretty big chunk, particularly when the other half doesn't say anything.

The time to make sure comments like that don't become policy is to yell loud when they are made. As mentioned, this is the policy that is being pushed by AIMS Atlantica, these guys are lobbying all the time, and one half of the committee is taking them at face value.

Essentially he is talking about 'urbanizing' New Brunswick. That's a big deal, however, it has been 'policy' for about the last ten years, so we shouldn't pretend its a new idea.

In fact, that is what makes it so different to argue with the feds. When you adopt the same policies then you have a tough time to convince them to invest differently. The prairies do that far better, they have strong rural bases and they are attempting to keep them that way, with limited effect of course, since this is a worldwide phenomenon.

It's called 'clustering' and the idea is that you have to be 'in a cluster' to benefit from economic growth. In an age of wireless access and high speed internet that is completely ridiculous and has no foundation in fact. Rural New Brunswick is a far more desirable location than the cities. Saint John has massive pollution with the likelihood of even more, Fredericton is essentially a town, and Moncton has terrible traffic.

This should be especially worrisome for acadians, because the only really French 'controlled' city is Edmunston.

Animation can be done anywhere, most exports now are in services, which can be done from anywhere. This is simply the Atlantica people defending what they want-get as many people into the cities to supply the cheap labour. That's especially true in Saint John. Irving will have a tough time in Calgary, while its expensive its a gorgeous city and nobody in their right mind would prefer Saint John over it.

As David Campbell says so eloquently, central canadians simply argue the same thing-the cities in the province are pretty much 'rural' by comparison, so they might as well come to Ontario.

nbpolitico said...

Anon - you are forgetting Dieppe.

Also, I would encourage you to read my other post which seems to show that all of this fuss was an over-reaction to something taken out of context.

Anonymous said...

I think anonymous (11:21) is making a mistake attacking the folks at AIMS in Halifax. These guys are great thinkers. I’m sure their plans for rearranging New Brunswick are well thought out and based on value for money. They’re a think tank, and that’s what they do; think. Let me give you an example that impressed me greatly. Bit of a digression, but it may prove my point.
Now that Prime Minister Harper is running things so well, I believe we have a chance to finally privatize some really important big ticket numbers which cost us billions annually in waste and inefficiency. And I don’t mean Medicare.
Take the armed forces for example. In Canada they’re completely run by the government unlike in the U.S. where huge private companies have control and use their business expertise to ensure the forces have the best stuff. But here, with the government in charge we only have old stuff that keeps breaking. The cost of having the government run all this old stuff is enormous. It’s so bad most of our soldiers are repairmen.
And worse, buzzing around in our over-taxed little heads is the knowledge that government can’t do stuff like the private sector without waste, waste, waste, not to mention scandals.
What are our options? After all, it is possible some people somewhere might want to attack us. It’s possible. There could be a Celine Dion flare-up in Vegas. Or Krispi Kreme might lobby to attack because of Tim Horton’s low prices, a sure sign of an unfair subsidy. Don’t laugh. The softwood lumber thingy started like that.
So what can we do to get government’s bungling hands off our armed forces and end horrendous government waste and inefficiency?
I was despondent until I read an interesting paper from the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, a think tank in Halifax. They talk about something they call Contestability, a sort of opening up the market for things which traditionally government has done using their own people, and of course which, because it’s the government doing it, usually ends up in a cock-up. They favour getting three quotes from outsiders and even better, coming up with ideas. Reminds me of the British Chancellor of the Exchequer shouting: “Gentlemen, we’re run out of money, now we’ll have to use our brains”. Fresh thinking there, I must say.
I think all those left brainers at AIMS are on to something. They think we should just get three quotes from people who can do the stuff we need to do. In other words, get government out of it.
Sounds great to me. We could just pay protection to violent countries and insurgent groups that want to hurt us. Evidently there are a lot of them around as Stephen tends to piss people off. So instead of worrying about Al-Qaida, I say get in touch with three of them (Jack Layton can help here) and pick the lowest bidder. We’ll pay him so much not to screw with us for a year, maybe two. Make a deal, be businesslike. Private industry does this every day. This could definitely be a win win. Or maybe even a tie tie with a shoot out. We‘d stay peaceful and the winning bidder offs anybody who wants to attack us, like the other two bidders, for instance. Better still, we can put it in the contract that they would also attack people we don’t like. A little value-added feature there and let’s face it that’s what business is all about; value-added stuff, and taking care of the bottom line while improving performance per dollar spent. That’s what AIMS calls high performance government and it’s high time we had some of our own. Also, paying protection means the building of relationships. Just ask a restaurateur in Montreal. Paying protection means no expensive army or navy with all those frigates with their scary hairball-coughing helicopters. Nothing except a cheque going out every week. It’s private enterprise at its best, for god’s sake, and it lets the government do what governments do best; cut stuff out and lower taxes.
If paying protection’s not for you (and let’s face it, some people may feel paying protection is sleazy) there are alternatives, particularly suited to the bigger kind of government which needs a physical armed forces presence. So instead of paying through the nose for an army of our own as we do now, let’s just get three quotes and then pick the lowest cost, which as business well knows is the best value. In these times of living with the residue from those horrid years of Liberal profligacy not to mention scandals, and excessive rights-giving, a more flexible armed forces needs to be able to go where there are wars as we don’t seem to have any here any more. We haven’t had an invasion of Canada since the early 1800’s except for those Fenian dudes, but hey they were Irish and just wanted to have nosebleeds. So why would we buy $3 billion worth of those Boeing C5A Galaxy transport planes just so we can get to wars conveniently? Whoa! That doesn’t make sense, does it? Not by AIMS thinking standards! Why not get three quotes and rent? As for all the rest of flying stuff around, it can be handled by the private sector right here. After all, we’ve got millions of poor people in this country who are as needy as anyone in Afganistan and you don’t need a 380-ton C5A Galaxy to reach them. A perfectly adequate Dash-8 or Cessna Caravan or deHavilland Beaver will do. I personally know where there’s a Noorduyn Norseman which would do the job. Throws a little oil, but runs pretty good. But I digress.
Summing up, let’s explore the ideas of those bright lads and lasses at AIMS and their Contestability premise. A more sensible answer would be to get three quotes from armies in the regions in which we want to fight and hire the cheapest proposal. Let’s say Sunnis, Shiites and those other dudes who backed Saddam. Presto, no need for C5A Galaxies. And don’t forget there are whole African armies we could get cheap. They all have neat uniforms (and camouflage which suits the foliage where we want to fight, another value-added feature!) Some of these armies are quite mean which is good if we really want to fight well somewhere far away, and be a leader on the world stage, which those waste mongering Liberal wuzzes kept us from becoming. Many thanks to the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies for showing how it all gets simple as soon as you get government out of the picture.

Anonymous said...

That's some bizarre thinking, and I think its stretching out what AIMS says. I haven't time to debate all that, but keep in mind that it falls on erroneous assumptions-which is 'getting government out of 'stuff'.

If that were what was desired, this committee wouldn't be taking place. People will 'naturally' gravitate to cities, who will 'naturally' gravitate to larger cities. As David Campbell says, many ontarians say 'why pay equalization-just empty them out'.

So the above thinking has no defense for that, it's just 'the market'. Its going to happen anyway, and as the committee guy himself says "I'm getting the hell out of here".

But for most people they dont' WANT government out, in fact a good many want government IN, in fact more canadians want that than support the ideas above, at least in virtually every poll I've ever seen.

As for military, there is a cheaper way-dont get involved in the first place. The Swedes aren't too worried about Al queda-and why would they be? Switzerland just had a referendum on completely getting rid of their military-if you aren't involved in wars, you won't need defense. If we werent IN Afghanistan we certainly wouldn't need to worry about them attacking, even the Taliban never said anything about Canada.

If anybody will attack us its Indonesians, Phillipino's, people from India, Chile, Columbia or places where canadian companies raise hell-these people don't differentiate, they just know a bunch of canadians came in. So stop acting like a jerk to the world and you won't need fear them. I have more fear of the US than any of them, and we couldn't afford their protection-it wasn't enough for Saddam.

nbpolitico said...

The funny thing is that the presidnet of AIMS is in the paper today talking about all of the potential for economic growth in Northern NB. I am sorry folks but I think you are a bit paranoid.