BATHURST – Business and municipal leaders in northern New Brunswick are hoping the new Progressive Conservative government builds on the region’s economic development plan introduced last year by the Graham Liberals.

The Liberal government’s three-year northern plan, unveiled last January in Bas-Caraquet, was developed in partnership with local stakeholders and received top marks from many when it was released.

Lise Ouellette, executive director of the Association francophone des municipalités du Nouveau-Brunswick, said she’d like to see the basic tenets of the plan carried over by the new government.

“We are open to modifying certain elements,” she said.

“What’s really important is that we have something clear and comprehensive. It’s clear that money is important, but the plan is even more important and the goal of working together.”

The Liberal plan aimed to create 2,700 new jobs in the employment-starved region over three years, and centred around three northern ports and their target sectors: Dalhousie for forestry-related products, Belledune for metal-related industries and modular fabrication, and Bas-Caraquet for ship building.

After only nine months, Ouellette said it’s difficult to determine whether the first round of investments has paid off.

Premier-elect David Alward pledged during the election campaign to create a new, $200-million fund to help spur job-growth in northern New Brunswick and promised the fund give communities greater control over policies.

Alward said he would reallocate funding set aside by the Liberal-created Northern Economic Development Fund and boost its total by nearly $50 million. He also said there will be a particular focus on research and development in the north, as well as tourism development.

“The work is going to be much more decentralized from what we have seen in the past,” Alward said.

“I believe leaders in those regions, whether they are community or business leaders working side by side with government, will find and build solutions.”

Valdo Grandmaison, president of the Conseil économique du Nouveau-Brunswick, which represents about 1,000 business owners across the province, said they were assured by the Conservatives in the spring that, if elected, they would continue with the plans put in place under the previous government.

“We can’t develop a new plan every two years,” Grandmaison said.
“You can’t sprinkle money around the region, it will have no effect whatsoever. One of the strong points of the plan is that at least there is some monitoring in place, there are measurable goals. A key word there is vision.”

Grandmaison said the conseil will be watching developments closely over the next few months.

“We have to wait to see what kind of results we are going to get,” he said.

“We’ve said to the new government, ‘Take your time to review.’ There is always room for improvements and adjustments, but keep the long-term plan.”

Charles Cirtwill
, president at the Halifax-based Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, has raised questions about whether such a plan, regardless of political stripe, will be effective.

“On what evidence are they suggesting this is going to work?” he said recently.
“If they are just building infrastructure for the sake of building infrastructure, and by that I mean the federal stimulus package writ large, that’s not exactly good use for your money – particularly given the debt facing the province.”

He said tax incentives, combined with targeted investments in infrastructure, are the best way to generate economic growth.