Friday, November 23, 2007

Self-Sufficiency "Action"

(crossposted to CanadaEast)

Premier Shawn Graham released today the government "action plan" on making New Brunswick self-sufficient. The report is 35 pages long. There is also a summary of 15 pages, but if you are going to read that much, I'd suggest going for the real thing.

The issues that I think are key to attaining this goal - population growth, education and infrastructure - were well addressed, and while lacking specifics in some areas, I think we have a good plan.

I particularly like this line: "linking job opportunities here with the skills of those who are looking to move home". With very few exceptions, every New Brunswicker I know who lives away wants to come home. Many of them don't however; either because they don't think it is realistic to find work in NB, or because they are a couple, and finding work for two people at the same time is nearly impossible, thus making the move impossible by extension.

If I take that quote to mean what I think it does, then ex-NBers who want to come home will simply have to send in a resume and the province will do the heavy lifting to match them (and, as required, their partner) with jobs in New Brunswick. This is ingenious because I think that there are thousands of New Brunswickers - and probably other Maritimers - who would jump all over opportunities here if they knew they could find them easily.

With regard to education, there is a focus on some kind of pre-kindergarten learning (it is unclear whether or not this would be institutional), flowing into a stronger focus on "the three Rs" leading into grade 5, and a career-minded focus through high school, with the aim of enabling students to identify a career in which they will excel and enjoy by the time they graduate. In terms of post-secondary education, the language is quite vague. It's the same line we've heard since the L'Ecuyer-Miner report came out, so I guess we'll have to wait a while longer to see whether or not it will be implemented.

There is a lot of talk in the plan of "strategic" infrastructure. I was particularly interested in the reference to rail, something that has declined in the past 20 years in our province - and totally disappeared in Western NB. In France, they have had dramatic success in connecting cities and rural areas using high-speed rail lines. I think this is something NB should investigate as it could really make the province a lot more attractive for investments and company relocation.

I also really like the focus on the film industry, to which I think the geographic features of New Brunswick are ideally suited. Nova Scotia has done really well in this area and, I think, New Brunswick should learn from their example considering we have just as much to offer this industry. Saint John in an architectural sense works as well as (or perhaps better than) Halifax as a stand in for Boston or New York, and we have comparable coastal vistas. Add to that more geographic diversity and sheer number of forests, mountains, rivers and cliffs, offering a multitude of potential shooting locations, and I think New Brunswick could easily grow and sustain a booming film industry.

We still have to wait for quite a few specifics, some of which I assume will be in next week's throne speech, but it is great to see that this file is continuing to be pushed.


Rob said...

It did make for interesting reading, although the report came off as fairly vague. The one thing I don't like is how the Three Rs have been replace by Reading, Writing, and "Numeracy". It almost sounds like we'll be teaching our children about the hidden numerical codes within the Bible.

I agree that a big issue that must be addressed is finding work for couples looking to move back to NB. When my girlfriend and I moved back, I had to accept being unemployed for a month and a half. Of course, I didn't qualify for EI, so I was planning to move back to Alberta if a job didn't pan out.

Kit said...

Why is this discussion (and not only here) almost always mostly about the "prodigal children", New Brunswickers and maritimers returning home?

Most people I know (at least in this City) are originally from elsewhere and have chosen to move here because its a better quality of life.

Now mind you, most tend to be middle aged and relatively well off. A case in point being my old neighborhood that underwent almost 100% change over as the older folks moved out and younger couples moved in. In every case at least one parent was a Torontonian.

My point being... perhaps we should broaden the appeal... and maybe even target newcomers! This is a great place to live... if you have a job.

nbpolitico said...

It is a much broader appeal in the report, I just personally think that that is where the greatest opportunity lies.

Here is the excerpt from the report:

More people are required to meet the needs of a growing economy. It has been estimated that we must increase our population by 100,000 over current projections within the next two decades to ensure we have the workers that our growing economy needs, and the capacity to maintain our health and education systems and other valued public services. We must reverse the flow of people out of our province and make New Brunswick a destination for opportunity.

Achieving this goal requires that we take a comprehensive approach to increasing our population, employing a mix of strategies to make New Brunswick a place that will keep our young people here, encourage New Brunswickers living elsewhere to return and recruit and retain new immigrants. We will:

- Take aggressive action to recruit more immigrants to our province, as well as to retain them once they are here. We will increase our rate of immigration by marketing our province to the world, positioning ourselves as business-friendly and open to new ideas, promoting diversity and multiculturalism and assisting new Canadians in making an easier transition to life in New Brunswick. Settlement services and strong economic growth will increase our ability to retain these new immigrants.

- Strive to engage our youth and support opportunities that will retain our best and brightest. We will work to repatriate New Brunswickers who now live elsewhere by linking job opportunities here with the skills of those who are looking to move home.

- Implement and promote programs, policies and practices that will enhance New Brunswick’s status as an attractive place to settle and raise a family.

Kit said...

I am all for it. I would recruit in Toronto and the UK. Both places have plenty of people who would get out of those places for what NB offers.

It all sounds great, but there is a difference between having a good idea and then making a good idea work. Its all in the way it done.
But I am encouraged.

mikel said...

Congrats on being one of the only bloggers to talk about this. Without being too cynical, well, its hard not to be cynical and I think David Campbell covered most of the basics well.

This is clearly an 'emporer has no clothes' situation. For months the Premier said 'just wait' for all the details, then come the details that include 'just wait for all the details'.

Volpe gets slammed by the blogging community virtually everytime he opens his mouth-unless of course he actually makes sense, then he's ignored so that people can keep waiting for a gaffe to proclaim that the guy never criticizes relevantly. It may be satirical, but the tories reply of presenting an empty file with nothing written in it but the word 'hope' actually says it all.

The above mentioned 'idea' of now getting government to find people's jobs is outright laughable. People don't know how to use Irving had career beacon being handed around Calgary-what do you think the government will do? Send people door to door asking people to move back east?

This is the liberal government hoping to god that the resource handouts will pay off. Yet there are some pretty big caveats to 'gambling' the future. Giving away the potash in exchange for jobs begs the question that what happens if Sask's potash company finds a better deal elsewhere, or if the potash runs out. We already know how screwed the province would be without high zinc prices-is that being banked on for two decades from now?

This is as much about 'transforming' New Brunswick as Lord's plan was about 'Prosperity'. There is nothing even remotely transforming in the document, in fact in many of the key areas the government has already implemented policies that show that they are outright lying in the document.

I hate to be so brutal, as an expat New Brunswicker I'm always hoping for good news. New Brunswick is a 'nice' place to live, however, people really need to get out more if they think there is anything special or unique about it (except the lack of cultural diversity and the presence of Irving).

The one saving grace for the party is of course the lack of any real opposition. The tories were equally adept at making grand pronouncements about changing the status quo while embracing it. Since the last election campaign was so bereft of ideas (at least ones that would be followed through on) its clear that the tory decision to run out the clock as long as possible before picking a new leader means NB essentially has one party with two different factions.

mikel said...

PS: I read through the document and could find nothing on the film industry except the point about 'breathtaking beauty' (come on) . This is an area where real examples would be possible since Nova Scotia just made significant changes to their film credit policy. NB's reply has been....well, nothing. And filmakers go where they can save money, and there certainly isn't much in NB scenery that can't be found elsewhere. It'll be interesting to see a CBC production 'set' in New Brunswick but filmed in Nova Scotia.

Anonymous said...

I find the report sparked deja vu to the McKenna years. I am optimistic that one day i could return to NB and earn a decent living but the companies have alot of skilled and educated people at their mercy. So I think that wages are the most important thing to address. I simply think that big business should have been called out in the report to step up and compensate their employees properly and fairly, but they don't have anybody to encourage this. The call centers are certainly going to continue to falter to foreign markets and they will never recruit or retain solid talent. McKenna was wrong to think that this was going to help the economy. It is comparable to a cheap band-aid that is always being replaced until a permanent solution is found. Now Graham and the liberals are back at it, the report never adressed any real issues like a poorly diversified economy with competition. This is something that is needed to force Irving to have to compensate their workers better. I have a firm belief that New Brunswick will continue down the path of the western migration of the people who know their value!

nbpolitico said...

Mikel - I guess this is the difference between being an optimist and a pessimist. I'm the former and you're the latter.

For you and others who may not understand how the legislative process actually works, if Graham were to lay out the details of legislation he was going to bring forward before next week he could be found in contempt of the legislature. Yes we've been waiting for a year but in the grand scheme of things, a year is a pretty long time. The Throne speech is one Tuesday, if the legislation in the following weeks doesn't move on some of this stuff then I will join the criticism crew but right now I think that would be premature.

Comparing Shawn Graham to Bernard Lord on this issue is laughable. Graham - whether he succeeds or fails - deserves credit for reaching high and trying to restore a sense of optimism for NB. Lord let our highways crumble for years while he begged Ottawa for a bigger hand out (an 80-20 share of highway money) which was ridiculous and unacheivable. Then when they talked about self-sufficiency Lord said it was about as likely as him becoming a pro golfer. That is a disgrace and it is nice to seee some signs of leadership in the premiers office for the first time in a decade. Hopefully the leadership will deliver results but until it does it is still refreshing.

As for the province helping people move home, I don't really understand how you can criticize this. Yes there are job sites but let's look at two scenarios:

1.) People are free to look for jobs, in addition to their stressful but stavle lives elsewhere they have to check and recheck these job sites essentiallyt daily and apply endlessly for jobs, they have their partner doing the same thing but usually have to decline offers when they come through because their partner hasn't found anything, this cycle continues with one finding the occassional job and the other not - best case scenario - maybe some day the stars align but don't count on it.

2.) The government assists people in finding work, you (and your partner as required) submit resumes and general introductory letters once to this agency. The province works with business to submit these into consideration for all applicable positions. They work to find placement for both at the same time. You sit back and live you life and only get a call when you've both made it through the preliminary screening for jobs that have similar start dates.

Which scenario gets more people home?

Pete said...

As a side note, the job websites such as monster and careerbeacon aren't used as extensively by employers in NB as in other places like Ontario and Alberta. Why? Mainly because networks are relatively small and interconnected, which causes employers to use word of mouth or local networking to find candidates rather than bothering with web postings. This has obvious downsides for both sides and is frustrating when you're used to monster/careerbeacon.

NB companies definitely need to use web postings more or at least other channels that target a broader base. A new assistance program could be interesting.

mikel said...

That's hardly pessimism, and optimism is sometimes just delusion if there's nothing to warrant it. IF there were actually some moves toward self sufficiency in the document then I would agree. It doesn't require legislation, the self sufficiency document could simply say what the legislation will be. Plus, it doesn't take any legislation to state that a tax credit of 50% or more will be used for the film tax credit like Nova Scotia has done. You'll notice that the liberals are taking credit for ponying up dough for FatKat, so obviously they have no problem touting plans-there was no 'FatKat legislation' that was debated and passed last spring.

And of course they've had all the time in the world. To Lord's credit he had a plan that he set out as soon as the election was over. Graham hmmed and hahhed for a full year by saying that they need to 'think things over', even though things like Lepreau 2 they were talking about ages ago back when they were in opposition.

As for Lord, you're off the mark, although it was far from 80-20 Lord is the one that added that 200 million to the debt along with federal money that could have gone to harbour cleanup but instead went into twinning the trans canada between woodstock and Grand Falls (and again, right at the spot where an american company is now looking into a highway bypassing that whole section of road altogether).

The only time Lord laughed at 'self sufficiency' was when the liberals brought it up, because of course thats what you do to opposition ideas. The 'prosperity plan' and 'five in five' plan were no different. When a Premier talks about making a province that for over a hundred years has been disenfranchised into a province that is 'self sufficient' -all the while refusing to define what the term even means, then thats hardly an 'optimism-pessimism' comparison.

As David Campbell has said, its enough to simply say "how about us not being WORST at this". There is simple optimism for you. If somebody picks up a violin and says they are going to play Beethoven's overture when they don't know how to play, you don't 'optimistically' say "yah,lets hear it". If they state that they will learn basic fingering in the first week, etc., then that is realistic- AND optimistic.

And again, the above argument wasn't about intentions, IF the government could be counted on to 'find you a job' (boy does that give new credence to the old 'government owes me a living' argument), then there would be some way to do it. Is the government going to go door to door? Are they going to advertise in national newspapers for NBers to send resume's? There is simply no way they can do a better job at reaching people than Irving has already tried. And knowing many New Brunswickers who still can't find jobs I find the whole thing quite spurious at best. Of course its 'nice' to do a resume and send it to a government which says "we'll take care of everything for you" that's a bit much. How much money are taxpayers going to be spending to hire people to find jobs? And of course what is it going to do-beg private companies to hire person X because their spouse is a good candidate for a govenrment position?

We already have evidence of this, just look at the minimum wage. The SS report says ten dollars, but this is the first increase, and there have been no signs as to when the next increases will be.

While its true that New Brunswick has one of the most secretive governments in the country and the public has almost no knowledge of what it is doing, that is hardly reason for optimism when it says 'we'll let you know how it goes'.