Invited by outgoing Mayor Brian Murphy of Moncton to speak opposite Jack Layton, leader of the federal New Democratic Party, in a friendly debate about the future of Atlantic Canada, AIMS President Brian Lee Crowley presented an optimistic view of Atlantic Canada, avoiding the paternalistic and dismissive tone so prevalent in Ottawa and some other parts of the country. Crowley argues that it is wrong to view Atlantic Canadians as people with no jobs, no drive and no hope, prepared to be bribed with transfer payments. Crowley says, “There is nothing Atlantic Canadians cannot do, if only the rest of the country will stop doing us these favours. They mean well, but they don’t understand us, and they don’t understand how their interventions have made worse the problems that they sincerely wanted to contribute to solving. ”
There was a time prior to 1970 when there was a positive correlation between federal transfers and growth, when levels of transfers were more modest. This relationship only turned negative when these transfers were ramped up 1970s and 1980s. The new money was no boon; Atlantic Canada has a poor record of distinguishing good policy from bad and governments continue to do the same thing over and over, expecting different results.
There is, clearly, a key role for government in promoting economic growth: good quality training and education; top-flight infrastructure built for the right reasons; a light regulatory burden; and a competitive tax regime. This is the opposite of the expansion of the public sector and the deepening welfare trap for both provinces and individuals that equalization, EI and a host of other programs have trapped us in.