While federal politicians fight over how to make the Employment Insurance and Equalization programs more effective, David MacKinnon has been striving to bring a message to the Maritimes: Stop waiting for other provinces to bail you out.
Mr. MacKinnon calls Ontario home these days, but he hails from Prince Edward Island and spent five years as a director in Nova Scotia’s Department of Economic Development. He knows the history of this region intimately, along with its economic challenges, and he does not accept the conventional explanation that the Maritime economy has been deeply harmed by federal centralization. He sees a more recent culprit at work: EI, Equalization and other well-intentioned subsidies, which have had the net effect of stultifying the private-sector economy and undermining productivity and personal ambition.
We do not agree with all of Mr. MacKinnon’s conclusions – it is difficult to underestimate the impact that federal tariffs had on Maritime trade, and was federal investment that transformed Ontario into Canada’s industrial heartland at the expense of other provinces during the Second World War. But we believe he makes a cogent argument when he suggests that productivity, innovation and determination are more than capable of raising this region’s economic output today.
In an era of globalized trade and communications, there is nothing preventing Maritimers from succeeding, provided they realize that successful enterprises must deliver competitive value.
Prince Edward Island is doing so, in aerospace and renewable energy. Nova Scotia is doing so, in the field of financial services and shipbuilding. New Brunswick has compelling opportunities, too – but to make the most of them, New Brunswickers must raise the province’s productivity and global competitiveness.
It wouldn’t hurt to look beyond Ontario, to jurisdictions that are now industry leaders despite even more daunting histories.
Sixty years ago, South Korea was largely agrarian and riven by civil war. Today, it is a commercial juggernaut. So are the cities and nations of Europe, though their economies were devastated within living memory.
Past failures do not determine one’s present. Neither does past oppression.
Economic success in the Maritime provinces will not come from increasing federal subsidies or further decentralizing the federal public service. It will come from people working together to beat the competition, one business or business sector at a time, just as Maritimers did before Confederation, and just as our competitors in other nations are doing now.