Thursday, May 10, 2007

Hope restored

The motto of our fine province is "spem reduxit" which is Latin for "hope restored". I've always thought that Frank McKenna's greatest accomplishment was in living up to this motto. Regardless of the results, which I think were great, the strongest legacy of Frank McKenna was that he restored hope to New Brunswickers. While we had Bernard Lord laughing off the concept of New Brunswick becoming a "have" province as some kind of joke last summer, Frank McKenna had the very opposite MO. McKenna believed in the great potential that our province has and he made sure everyone knew it. Boosting the morale of our citizens boosts our productivity and ecomony, it fosters entrepreneurism and it is an all around good thing.

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...


Rob said...

Brand identity is a strange thing, NBP. We can call ourselves an "exciting and dynamic place to be", but this doesn't make it so. Regardless of what shiny phrases we put in brochures and on websites, governments cannot legislate reality. It works the same way with individuals. I can say that "I'm better looking that Brad Pitt", and I can put that on a website, but the ladies will ultimately decide who the better looking man is. Until New Brunswick becomes an exciting and dynamic place to be, we shouldn't call ourselves one. Otherwise people will be that much more disappointed when they come here for the first time.

Saying we are on the the road to prosperity doesn't cut it. Neither does appointing a deputy minister in charge of saying we are on the road. Shawn Graham and the Liberals are trying to brand themselves as the "Party of Self-Sufficiency". It's up to the voters to decide whether its an empty catchphrase on a website, or reality.

nbpolitico said...

Rob - I do believe New Brunswick does have a lot to offer. We just don't showcase it. New Brunswick's natural beauty rivals that of many other provinces, are taxes are high but not high if you contrast them to Quebec and the other Atlantic provinces, our health care waiting times and doctors per capita are among the best in the country. Our cost of living is low. These are all things that are facts, but they are not widely known. If they were we would be much more able to attract people to our wonderful province.

Anonymous said...

This discussion likely mirrors what needs to happen. It is no good to promote "exciting and dynamic" elsewhere, if people don't see it when they get here.

Exciting and dynamic must start at home... or at least coincide with what is being promoted elsewhere.

The current theme "less ordinary" needs a good shot of adreneline to make it exciting.. dynamic.. the place to be!

Paul said...

I admire you singing from the Liberal hymn book, nbp, but having been involved in the "economic development" community for several years, and watched the last two governments, I can't share your unbridled optimism.

Frank McKenna who cut back on classrooms and education, and gave it to telecom and call centre industry, and is part of the reason we lag behind the rest of the country. Shaun Graham is right to focus on education, but I am afraid he may lose sight of the ball.

Business avoids New Brunswick because we don't have an EDUCATED WORKFORCE. Not taxes, maybe transportation, but the number one reason is because our workers are not educated. That, in my opinion, is the McKenna legacy. He cut back on education, when he should have been investing. Less accessible education, more Corporate welfare.

As for Bernard Lord, he gets marks for doing nothing. He worked hard, but was to slow to make a decision. He did deal with the Public sector unions, which is no easy task, and he worked far harder up here in Northern New Brunswick than Mr. Graham is. Lord made some tough healthcare decisions, albeit slowly, and he made a medical school a possibilty. If McKenna did that, we would have a different healthcare outlook than we do today.

As for all this business loan crap, I hope they streamline the process, because going through bureaucratic nightmare is only woth it if you have time on your hands and is not really much help at all. In my opinion, most of what the Economic Development industry does is burn money.

I also get frustrated with the money they have been spending on Commissions. I am wondering why we elect politicians. I thought we elected them to make all these decisions. What are the policiticians doing why we pay all these other Liberal friendlies.

The real politics will be in the Local governance. Its a powder keg, and McKenna tried to deal with it, Lord edged it along, and now Graham, who has dreams of being Louis Robichaud, is taking a crack at it. Good luck to him, it ain't an easy one.

The task force was a lunchbag letdown, but I didn't expect much. Its worse than I thought.
Its a shame Shawn Graham doesn't have an ideas of vision of his own.

New Brunswick is an "exciting and dynamic place to be", DESPITE the politics and policiticians. They can't make it that way, only you and I can do that. Please keep the policiticians out of it, they just screw everything up.

Spinks said...

Paul is right. Education ia huge issue. We're pretty much always dead last. There are probably lots of reasons but I'll throw out one that no one dares to address. We have a preoccupation with teaching kids French. In and of itself it's a great idea but not at the cost of every other subject. There is a huge amount of energy placed on creating bilingual children. The problem is that many finish school lacking skills in both official languages and because they didn't understand the curriculum in other subjects strongly they lack there too. I really don't have a solution but I wish Kelly Lamrock would put as much effort into raising marks in subjects like English, Math and Science as he does with French. Is French important? Absolutely. Is it the be all and end all? Not at all costs.

Anonymous said...

No government is wholly good or wholly bad. McKenna did a lot of crappy things, but as mentioned, on the national stage he had the 'attitude', and in politics and busines attitude means a lot.

Take a look at Danny Williams, his approval rating is through the roof, and probably not just from policies because most people don't follow politics at all. In New Brunswick, most people probably couldn't name five pieces of legislation apart from the ATV bill.

But people aren't stupid. New Brunswick has the POTENTIAL to have lots to offer, but it isn't capitalized on, and people know it. Take Fredericton's beautiful woodlot. For a capital city Fredericton has an physical environment that has a lot to offer. However, poverty and development conditions are making it less so.

Cost of living is not nearly as cheap as people think...unless you move to the middle of nowhere. A house in Fredericton costs the same as in southern ontario, Moncton is more expensive than London.

Yet I'll raise this contentious issue again, many companies will avoid the province because its so clearly run by two families. I'm not saying every company will, but quite honestly, when you look at the fact that they own all the media and have many other interests, its just creepy because of course media is how companies get their message out.

People have to remember that when investors go down a checklist, just ONE standout can make them go elsewhere. And that, whether you like it or not, is a BIG one. In NB, there is nothing people can do about it, so the tendency is to simply 'leave that out of the equation'.

Saint John recently did a Youtube ad 'showcasing' Saint John. HOwever, many cities are doing that, nobody is going to see it on Youtube and say 'lets go live/make a company there'.

What was interesting is that the only feature of this video was that it talked to some people who said how much they liked it there. Of course people in EVERY city will talk like that. But obviously you can't show the environment, its too pollutted and once people hear another refinery is going there, well, would YOU want to move there? If you live there then obviously you have to try to think away from the fact you may have friends and family there and grew up there. I grew up in Oromocto, which is very pretty and has a lot to offer, but who knows WHAT is being sprayed nowadays!

One of those recommendations is already way off the mark. When a company is first setting up or expanding, they are looking at the bottom line, they aren't looking at grants and other things that have a political string attached. New Brunswick is a small place, and whenever 'grants' are talked about, all the usual people line up with their new ideas that are not designed to be marketable, but are designed to suck off the governments teat while they can. In other words, pork barrel.

However, emphasis on education is both right AND wrong. It's true, at least from studies, that 'certain' types of businesses (mid size ones that don't simply go around blackmailing governments for the highest payout) state that taxes are a low priority and the workforce high.

But as the late David Campbell would be quick to point out, NB has one of the highest per capita post secondary workforce in the country. However, with no jobs everyone leaves.

So it isn't just education. To take Davids claim here since he's incommunicado, look at what PEI does with aerospace.

To be contentious here, I don't think the government actually WANTS to make self sufficiency a priority or even wants to make any changes. Just ask those who fund the parties, namely the rich families and corporate investors. They have been saying for years just how happy they are. There are some holdouts though, and interestingly enough recommendations in this report will make them VERY happy.

So forestry is changed back away from the way the majority of New Brunswickers want in favour of the license holders, and further privatization of the energy sector is planned. People may hate Volpe, but here he's on the money, its taxpayers and the middle class that bears the brunt. The question for the government is only whether if they yell 'self sufficiency' loud enough, enough NBers will buy into the bad decisions. Thats where the media and now bloggers come in.

What NB's education system does lousy is science. And thats where all the investment goes nowadays. In ontario private 'think tanks' have gone up all over and get more funding than all equalization. As mentioned at the TBA blog, its interesting that the only industry recommendations in this report deal with the resource industry that got New Brunswick into its dependancy in the first place.

I think these recommendations, for the most part, are just plain BAD. And now we see exactly where the 'free service' pays off for the new Deputy Minister. Surprise surprise.

THAT is the kind of stuff about 'attitude' that people notice. People are about to find out that Lord left for a reason, this is a one party province, and that in itself is cause to make investors, immigrants, companies, retirees think very long and hard.

However, there is an option, when politicians refuse to have the attitude, then people can take that on. And they do. I used to think NBers were more meek and mild than other places, but once again thats just media. Hardly a week has gone by without a protest, and many protests are ongoing. The question is how to harness that power, before there is nothing left. And believe me, after four more years, its going to be that much tougher.

Anonymous said...

If Sean Graham is serious about making key decisions to improve the NB economy he should immediately rebuild the highway toll system in NB. New Brunswickers should not be paying the price for Nova Scotia transport trucks to ship goods to Quebec and Ontario!!! A special pass for local zones would be all the concessions needed to ensure that no community is adversely harmed. Let this be the first major fiscally prudent decision made by this new government!

scott said...

New Brunswickers should not be paying the price for Nova Scotia transport trucks to ship goods to Quebec and Ontario!!!

Gee, and I thought it would be best to liberalize provincial trade between the provinces (as there are stills regressive barriers and fees that exist which serve to inhibit trade). I guess the above is for taxing the flow of goods and services even more. Egad!

Anonymous said...

Scott more than any other should recognize that for what it is, which is the private market. Currently it is TAXES that pay it, when it should be the market, as was intended by McKenna. Scott is really ass backwards if he thinks privatizing highways is 'taxing' them. Free market lobbyists have been trying to privatize highways for ages. You pay for the use of it. Geez Scott, what the hell kind of free marketer are you anyway?

scott said...

Business avoids New Brunswick because we don't have an EDUCATED WORKFORCE.


You make some great points, however, it comes down to retention/opportunity and not poor education. If our education system was so poor in New Brunswick, then why are all the educated individuals (four or five generations now) so successful in their chosen field in other parts of Canada [and the world].

I don't think we should be so hard on ourselves when it comes to education as it's years of Liberal statism that has left our province intellectually and economically bankrupt.

As Spinks said above, we put too much emphasis on old failed policies in this province. I wholeheartedly agree, as the world is much more competitive globally than it used to be, and if we fail to realize this, we will ultimately perish as a culture and a region. In other words, continuing with this irresponsible insular approach will be the death of our region. Period.

scott said...

Nice try, anon. However, I am on record (behind my name) as saying that tax dollars should be allocated to purposes that offer the most societal benefit (or areas where voters have decided). This may include infrastructure such as highways, sewers, water control, more border guards, policing, immigration, Canadian Forces, etc.

However, as a "free market" advocate, I don't believe that government's should necessarily intervene where business can do the job. [i.e. the practice of corporate welfare, subsidy grants, forgivable loans, etc.]

Politically driven investments are motivated by political imperatives and the number one factor is always the obsession with regional preoccupations [i.e. how many jobs are created] intead of creating a more viable and sustainable industry. (Atlantic Yarns is a good exmaple of this)

Anonymous said...

For private highways business already is doing the job in numerous examples and the entire section of highway was designed with that in mind. It was Lord that botched it, and even members of his own government said that.

There is zero evidence that spending a fortune on transportation will result in a gain in net employment or even exports. Nobody has ever said they'd do more business in NB if only they could get more trucks there.

Thats why AIMS and friends have resorted to what other supposed free marketers claim, that taxpayer investments in industry is a 'benefit'. So here's a quick question, if the government can manage a health care industry, and police, and government procurement, what is the use of a private market at all?

Why doesn't the government simply expropriate the land from Irving and build its own terminal? The customers would still be there, if they buy from Saudi Arabia and Venezuela they will buy from anybody.

So those billions in the IRvings pocket would then belong to the government. Pretty sweet eh? Why pay for a highway system for trucking firms, why not run the trucking firms? Why not produce the products themselves?

scott said...

if the government can manage a health care industry.

Questionable...just ask Lindsay McCreith.

Anonymous said...

JUst ask 300 million americans. THe government can easily manage a health care system, it is currently in the process of botching it as much as possible so that canadians will accept it being privatized. Up to 1993 Canada's health care system was the envy of the world.

However, by that reasoning we should eliminate police forces because there is more than 'one' incidence of a police officer who didn't respect the rights of taxpayers.

Of course by that reasoning virtually every major corporation needs to be dismantled because they do not meet the needs of their clientele. Irving and the big five license holders had a virtually monopoly in exports to the US while every other lumber exporting province paid huge duties, yet they are still maintaining they make no money.

This also with massive subsidies from government, and government protections and virtually no environmental costs even when environment laws were broken. Therefore, they also cannot operate a lumber system. What's left?

The Cuban government runs one of the most effective health care systems even though its illegally been forced into poverty. Take a look at a telecom industry or your cable company, anybody out there want to talk about how much they 'excel' at customer service? Meanwhile, the vast majority of canadians in polls still speak highly of their medical treatments. That's far more than ever rave about how Irving is excelling at providing gas.

Paul said...


You miss my point Scott. It was not a comment on the education system.

Business avoids New Brunswick because we don't have an EDUCATED WORKFORCE.

It was not a comment on our education system, it was a an observation on our workforce. No question we educate, (some) and I would guess (and its just a guess) that the people who succeed and move on come from a better socioeconomic background. Those left behind are not getting adequate education, or are falling between the cracks.

It is also a comment on the workforce that's here now. If the stats are right, more than half are functionally illiterate.

I find it amusing that our last two Premiers don't work in New Brunswick. Not big enough I guess.


Anonymous said...

Fake Hope,
How long have the liberals run on the hopes of becoming self sufficient. It is impossible in the near future in New Brunswick. First of all when McKenna was giving millions to the call centers he forgot to demand of them a decent salary, they do nothing to give hope to the working people. McKenna Destroyed our education by underfunding it and then asked our teachers to teach for low salaries and have all the top credentials. Being a have not province is not all bad, beacause we get alot of help from the Federal Government. Right now New Brunswick is a great place for big Business i.e. Irving and the call centers because they dilute the job market with low pay and therefor others follow suit. The liberals are excellent at tricking the people into believing that they are improving the economy and they are for Industry and Corporate interest not the people.