Can shuffling a government body boost the economy? Probably not
It would be nice to think that all a provincial government has to do to elevate Manitoba’s economy beyond its perpetual state of mediocrity would be to reorganize a few key economic development offices.
Unfortunately, there is no such silver bullet, at least none that would make a substantive difference to Manitoba’s economic fortunes.
Premier Brian Pallister unveiled his government’s new “economic growth action plan” Thursday in front of a packed Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce luncheon crowd at the RBC Convention Centre. Like most government economic growth plans, it was heavy on vague platitudes about creating a new “common vision” among economic stakeholders, better aligning sectoral strategies and streamlining government efforts to better support potential capital investment.
But, not surprisingly, it was light on anything resembling specific action.
The growth plan was supposedly guided by the “findings” of a new report, also released Thursday and laced with equally fuzzy language, called Growing Manitoba’s Economy. The relatively brief 15-page report, penned by co-chairs Dave Angus and
Barb Gamey, mostly regurgitates common themes we’ve heard 100 times before. Manitoba is blessed with a diversified economy, an advantageous geographic location, low business costs, etc. But it’s challenged by a lack of access to capital, a skills shortage, annoying government regulatory interference, etc.
There were no real findings in the report and it offered very little in the way of a clear, specific path to transform Manitoba into a “have” from a “have not” province.
There’s a reason for that. There are no easy answers to take Manitoba’s economy to that next level. Government leaders pretend they have the answers, that if they just rub the magic lamp the right way some economic genie will emerge. But it doesn’t work that way.
Manitoba’s per capita GDP is below the Canadian average, and has been for decades (which is why it receives equalization payments from Ottawa). Its economy is slow and steady but doesn’t produce the kind of high-paying jobs that attract skilled workers from across the country (which is why it suffers inter-provincial migration losses every year). It’s not the economic basket case that New Brunswick is, but it doesn’t enjoy the gold-standard economic performance of a British Columbia. It’s stuck in the middle – decent, respectable, but reliant on the wealth of other parts of Canada to pay the bills. That has been the case for many decades.
There was nothing in Pallister’s state of the province address that signaled an obvious change to that. And beyond learning that he and his brother wore homemade clothes when they were young, which drew teasing from other kids - taunts that evidently didn’t bother him because he knew the clothes were made from “love” - there was nothing in the speech we hadn’t heard before.
State of the province addresses rarely, if ever, give the public a run-down of the state of affairs of the province. They’re usually propaganda sessions to extol the virtues of the sitting government and to lament the shortcomings of the previous regime. Some of it is true, much of it is hyperbolic, and a portion is wishful thinking.
Neither Pallister nor Growth, Enterprise and Trade Minister Blaine Pedersen was able to add much meat to the bones of this economic plan in scrums with media following the address. Pedersen’s department plans to shuffle its civil servants around, simplify its operations and sharpen its focus on the needs of entrepreneurs who want to make money in Manitoba.
It all sounds good in theory. But without any specifics about what those changes entail, it’s difficult to see how this master plan would have a material impact on the provincial economy.
Premier Brian Pallister new “economic growth action plan” was unveiled yesterday, but the plan was light of specifics.