Fixing the Economy, Starts Here at Home

In my last commentary, I wrote about the priority the Green Party places on increasing the local production of goods and services to replace imports, as a means to create work and lasting prosperity right here at home. This Monday, two important studies were released which illustrate the potential of import replacement as an effectives strategy for economic development.

New Brunswick philanthropists Jon and Leslie Manship commissioned a study by Pierre-Marcel Desjardins, an economist with the Université de Moncton, to look at the economic benefits of a 5% increase in demand for local products and services. Professor Desjardins found that between 5,000 and 9,000 jobs would be created and tens of millions of dollars in new tax revenue would be available to help pay for our public services. To encourage the 5% shift, they have engaged David Hawkins to spearhead a consumer education campaign called “For the Love of New Brunswick”. It will be led by a new business organization called Excellence New Brunswick.

On the same day, the Nova Scotia-based Centre for Local Prosperity released its report entitled, “Import Replacement: Local Prosperity for Rural Atlantic Canada.” It examined the impact of shifting 10 percent of spending away from imported goods and services toward local ones. In New Brunswick, this could create 14,500 jobs, $908 million in new labour income, and $85 million in new tax revenue. Their analysis concluded that $4.50 of every $10 spent in New Brunswick, now leaves our economy. In total we import $19 billion worth of goods and services, which is why the local economic benefits of replacing even 5 or 10 percent of these imports with local production are so spectacular.

The “For the Love of New Brunswick” campaign intends to focus on consumer education, labelling and branding to increase the purchase of local goods and services. The Local Prosperity Study proposed additional strategies to mobilize communities, and public policies for municipal and provincial governments to adopt.

Over the past three and a half years, I have tabled three private members bills designed to increase the purchase of local food, renewable energy, energy efficiency, and local transportation services to replace imported food, energy, and vehicles. The bills included measures to establish “buy local” targets for public institutions such as hospitals and schools, labelling for locally produced and processed food, and processes for engaging civil society in developing strategies for import replacement. Government used its majority to defeat every one of these bills.

Just like the Tories before them, the Liberals are obsessively stuck on the idea that the only way to develop our economy is to increase exports. You need look no further than the budget, which includes new spending intended to grow exports. With 5,000, 9,000 or 14,000 jobs at play, there is a clear role for public policy built around import replacement.

The Centre for Local Prosperity research discovered that the most significant barriers to expanding local production are government policies that are biased against small, locally-owned businesses. Government needs to act to eradicate these biases.

The “For the Love of New Brunswick” campaign encourages us all to participate in a common project. Fixing our economy starts here, at home. At the same time, we must be conscious of the goals of economic development: to provide us with the means for all to live well, in vibrant communities; to provide satisfying and secure livelihoods; to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels; and help us tread lightly on the Earth.

The nature of enterprise is important to this endeavor. Greens will encourage the development of enterprises that are rooted in our communities, such as small businesses, co-ops and social enterprises, and are committed to meeting both our material needs and improving the quality of life.

David Coon is the Leader of the Green Party of New Brunswick and the MLA for Fredericton South.