Liberal jobs plan is much ado about nothing

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An economic development agency by any other name would smell just as. . .what? Musty? Stale? Rank? Surely, the appropriate adjective is not “sweet”.

Our history with such creatures of bureaucratic imagining in New Brunswick is not stellar. At worst, these government units have functioned as rubber stamps for multi-million-dollar adventures in politically motivated corporate welfare. (Can you spell A-t-c-o-n)?

More often, too often, they’ve served as repositories of senior civil servants, grandfathering out of their jobs en route to comparatively fat pensions, picking up, during their final periods of service to the taxpayers who pay their salaries, handy tips for reinventing themselves as private-sector consultants. For them, perhaps, “entrepreneurship” never smelled sweeter.

So when Liberal Leader Brian Gallant insists that what the province needs now is more of the same, but, of course, completely different, one is inclined hold one’s nose before stooping to sniff that particular flower.

Still, he’s adamant. According to a report this week in the Telegraph-Journal, “Gallant said (his) proposed Opportunities NB differs from the current Invest NB because it would report to government through its board of private sector members rather than through the civil service. He added that the new Crown corporation will target ‘high-growth sectors’.”

In the interests of explication, he said, “right now, Invest NB has six vaguely defined sectors that they are trying to prioritize. We think we have to pick a few and become really good at it.”

Quick question: When are “six sectors” not “a few”?

Dunno, but the T-J reports that this political hopeful thinks that information and communication technology will be one of his priorities. Guess what? That’s also one of Premier David Alward’s cherished sectors, and has been since his election in 2010.

So, then, one is forced to ask, again, how does the proposed Opportunities NB differ substantially from the existing Invest NB, apart from the name?

Is it in the composition of the board, itself? Will its private-sector members enjoy carte blanche to pursue investment opportunities to their logical conclusion, without interference from government bureaucrats – as has, from time to time, the Greater Halifax Partnership?

Or will it more likely become another sounding board for official government policy (meaning courtly inaction) full of sound and fury, signifying nothing?

Stranger still, are Grit plans to take over job creation in the province. The second shoe that drops in Mr. Gallant’s grand scheme to reinvent New Brunswick’s labour market finds purchase in this excerpt from the T-J piece: “Under the proposed economic model, the Liberals would. . .decentralize the role of job creation to other departments. The Liberals would also create a board, headed by Liberal Leader Brian Gallant, to co-ordinate economic development initiatives across government.”

What’s more, the presumptive premier would then lord over the new jobs board like a latter-day Solomon issuing edicts to a body that “would be made up of all ministers and deputy ministers of the principal economic departments and chairpersons and CEOs of all economic Crown Corporations.”

Indeed, “the board would set government policy on jobs, establish targets for job creation, and hold government agencies and personnel accountable for meeting job creation objectives.”

So much for “decentralizing the role of job creation to other departments.” So much for an independent, private-sector board at the new Opportunities NB.

It all seems so gravely familiar, musty, stale and rank.

Mr. Gallant began his campaign to become the next premier of New Brunswick bravely and boldly, if a little naively, by emphasizing, in his platform, the primacy of education and sensibly administered health care. He rightly admonished the current Progressive Conservative government for failing on both accounts.

Now, he retreats behind the window-dressing of policies that will not, in fact, enhance economic capacity in this province, but only add public sector costs to the growing deficit and debt without any clear promise of return on investment.

He has, in effect, forgotten his Shakespeare.

In New Brunswick, the central conundrum is, as it was for the fictional Prince of Denmark, to be or not to be; that is the question.

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