Now that Ottawa has given a year’s notice that it’s pulling funding from 50-odd regional development organizations, a great re-evaluation is in order.
There’s an alphabet soup of economic development subgroups getting annual operating grants from the federal Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) and/or from provincial and municipal governments.
The question is whether all this official busyness is ultimately successful in creating business opportunities that would not otherwise be created. There is reason to take stock. It’s not just market-oriented think tanks like the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies that want regional development authorities (RDAs) abolished. In a research paper last year, it argued that each RDA ends up in competition with its neighbour for more government largesse to entice industries or immigrants to stay or settle.
The effectiveness of this delivery model, and the cross-fertilization of job-generation bodies, was also recently challenged by a leading governance scholar, Donald Savoie. In his 2010 report for the Dexter government, he quoted a private-sector source as saying that “there are too many people running around this province saying that they have a mandate from government to do economic development.”
Mr. Savoie went on to say: “You know that a problem exists when a senior government official argues that the local business community ‘should spend less time navigating through government departments and programs and more time navigating world trade opportunities’ in the global economy. There is a need to clarify mandates between departments, agencies and Crown corporations.”
In Nova Scotia alone, there are 13 RDAs that receive one-third of their cash, respectively, from federal, provincial and municipal sources. The latter two funding partners should also reassess not just their funding, but their entire economic development strategies.
Are RDAs necessary? If so, aren’t there too many of them? Aren’t there too many other boards and acronym-bearing arms of government cluttering the scene? Wouldn’t it be better, as AIMS argues, to look to chambers of commerce to provide localized investment advice? The time has come to answer those questions.