Policies: Organizations failing to improve the economies of target regions, Atlantic Institute for Market Studies says

New Brunswick should be focused on developing workforce skills rather than bringing companies and investments to the province, says the director of research at the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies.

And if that means workers wind up leaving the region for better jobs, so be it.

Regional development authorities should be eliminated since regional development strategies in Canada have failed to improve the economies of their target regions, said Don McIver, the author of a new report called Nova Scotians without Borders.

The main point of the report, that the focus should be on people rather than geography, applies to New Brunswick as well, McIver said in an interview Wednesday. Everything has to be judged on its own merit, but the objectives of an individual project that’s under consideration should be larger than just ‘will it create jobs in Neighbourhood X,'” McIver said.

“I would much prefer from an economic point of view, if governments would focus on making sure that people – no matter where they are – are given the maximum opportunity to enhance their economic worth through education, training and skills development,” McIver said.

“If at the conclusion of that, that means they have a better opportunity of finding work in that region, super. But if it turns out that, in fact, the skills they developed make them mobile to the degree that the opportunities they’re looking for are just not there – they’re somewhere else – those individuals are better served by that outcome.”

Everybody decries “brain drain” until their son or daughter gets a better job somewhere else, McIver said. The looming crisis – especially in Atlantic Canada – is one of labour shortage, not unemployment, McIver said in his report. Governments will have no need to create new jobs, he said, but there will be a need to make sure that the right people with the right skills are in the right place.

“What we should be concerned about is providing our citizens, whether they be in B.C., Nova Scotia or New Brunswick, with the maximum potential to get the most out of their lives,” McIver said.

However, national policies in Canada have historically favoured Ontario and Quebec, and Atlantic Canada needs regional development agencies such as the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency to help create opportunities here, said Donald Savoie, the Canada Research Chair in Public Administration and Governance at Université de Moncton.

“We have this tiny little voice called ACOA that speaks on behalf of Atlantic Canada, and we would want to kill it? I can’t agree with that,” Savoie said.

“ACOA is not without its problems, but compared with other federal agencies and departments, I give it a full mark.”

The argument that the province should be focusing on improving workforce skills rather than bringing jobs to the area is as old as regional economic development itself, Savoie said, and there’s no reason why one should exclude the other.

“If you want to talk about moving workers to jobs, look at national policies. That’s what it’s done for 140 years. It’s moved people to jobs in Ontario and Quebec,” Savoie said.

“I think (the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies) has been good for Atlantic Canada, but on this issue we part company in the most fundamental of ways.”