Sparking Economic Development by Substituting Local Production for Imports

When we hear the old-time political parties arguing about the economy, it seems to have precious little to do with the economy in which we participate every day. Think of the locally-owned hardware store, pharmacy, child care centre, farmers’ market, grocery store, gym, barber, hairdresser, taxi service, brew pub, appliance repair service, restaurant, theatre, or art gallery.

All of these enterprises provide the means for us to prosper and for our communities to thrive, particularly when they are locally-owned. They provide goods and services we need. They offer people both meaningful employment and the opportunity to participate in the life of our society, and contribute to the vitality of the community. And they all tread lightly on the earth. While their proprietors or board members may not think of it this way, they are an essential part of a green economy, and contribute to our prosperity.

When the old political parties talk about economic development they are usually not referring to the economic activity on the main streets of our villages, towns and cities. Nor are they thinking about the economic activity brought about by the people and businesses who meet our basic needs for building and maintaining our housing, or producing and supplying our food. And they certainly aren’t thinking about expanding the local production of goods and services as a substitute for some of what we import.

Travelling the province in my capacity as the Green Party leader, I have met young New Brunswickers, and some not so young, starting enterprises and farms where their priorities reflect a desire to supply goods and services here at home, that create meaningful work, without degrading the environment.

Young people are taking up farming to produce food organically, which they are marketing locally. There are entrepreneurs who want to help improve the energy efficiency of people’s homes and businesses, and others who want to bring solar electricity to New Brunswick. And these types of enterprises include cooperative and social enterprises.

For years, economic development strategy in New Brunswick has been fixated on providing incentives to increase exports to bring new money into the province. We see it once again in this budget, with millions of dollars more in incentives to increase exports. However, we can bring money back into the province that is currently leaving our economy to pay for imported goods and services. This is called import replacement – replacing food we import with food we produce and process here at home, for example.

Greens believe that import replacement must become central to our economic development strategy. Government can strengthen our local and regional economies by creating the conditions to expand local production of some of the goods and services we currently import. This would keep money circulating in the province, contribute to the prosperity of New Brunswickers, and help sustain our communities.

Food and energy are two places to start.

We have an abundance of fallow farmland. More and more small groceries and restaurants are looking to source local food. There is now a local food distributor, the CANB cooperative, which has begun to supply local food to public schools.

We have abundant renewable energy resources, which if developed locally would support community development in municipalities and rural development on farms, in woodlots, and within coastal communities. The same goes for the strategies that will make our homes and businesses more energy efficient, cutting the cost of heating, freeing up money to be spent on other priorities. The potential here is to create thousands of new jobs spread over the entire province, while making us more self-sufficient in food and energy. Self-reliance, self-determination, and local prosperity would become important goals for us to flourish in thriving communities. It starts here, at home.

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