This is why I like Shawn Graham's general approach, he restores hope. On Monday, I was a little disappointed with the report of the Self-Sufficiency Task Force. I did not have a problem with their recommendations, but I was frustrated that they did not have a plan to implement some of the more ambiguous ones.
I said then that the best hope would be for the premier to move fast to appoint a standalone deputy minister for self-sufficiency who could develop a strategy and have broad ranging powers to ensure that all deputy ministers follow that lead and move towards the ambitious goal of being a "have" province by 2026. Today, the premier appointed such a deputy minister.
Additionally, Graham announced the immediate implementation of one of the most important recommendations (one that was also mirrored in the Liberal Charter for Change platform) which creates "start-up capital of up to $100,000 for new businesses, and up to $60,000 for business expansion". This should go a long way to undo the damage to business creation done by the recent small business tax increases and should create jobs.
I also am very pleased with this: changing the NB brand to position "the province as an exciting and dynamic place to be, with a competitive standard of living, affordable housing, and top quality education and health services"... this goes back to what I said about Frank McKenna. I think we've all seen the Saskatchewan commercials which are done in this vein and I think very useful. Many people in Ontario and points west view New Brunswick as a backwater. The Maritimes in general are not looked upon favourably, but everyone has a story and reference about PEI (potatoes and Anne of Green Gables), about Nova Scotia (Bluenose, Alexander Keith's, the Cabot Trail), about Newfoundland & Labrador (screech, cod, iceburgs, George Street). When you ask them about New Brunswick, many draw a blank. That is a shame but at the same time it is an opportunity. New Brunswick's canvass in the national imagination is blank, we can do a lot of good by marketing ourselves well.
Other announcements today in response to the Task Force report:
- appointing a commissioner to evaluate municipal strucutre
- Business NB to enter into a deal with ACOA and community development agencies to create one-stop shopping for grants rather than having to file three separate applications
- review of policies to make sure they are geared towards self-sufficiency
- a meeting has been requested with the PM to gauge the federal willingness to invest in New Brunswick now to save on equalization in the future
- arranging a summit with business and labour groups
- engaging Aboriginal groups as a part of the road to self-sufficiency
With any luck, this new dpeuty minister and the premier will continue to be proactive and some solid plans to implement the lofty ideas of the Task Force will come into being and we may indeed be on the road to prosperity.
My one hesitation is that the guy who wrote the report recommending the appointment of a deputy minister for self-sufficiency is being appointed to that role. This both seems like something of a conflict of interest and makes me wary as he did not have plans in place when he wrote the recommendations, however the recommendations were put together quickly so this man may be best positioned to understand the thinking behind them and develop broader implementation plans. I'll keep an eye on this...