Toronto Star writer David Crane recently issued a call for a refreshing, new approach to regional development, one which emphasizes local self-help projects.
Crane pointed out that the billions of federal tax dollars spent on regional development in Canada since the start of the 1960s have done very little to build the economies of those regions. The make-work approach used until now has provided only short-term employment and continuous UIC unemployment coverage. Needed is a new strategy to reverse decades of decline and a growing dependency on tax dollars.
He compared the Canadian failures in regional development to the success of economic revitalization efforts undertaken by the state of Massachusetts. By pooling the resources of the local leadership, Massachusetts succeeded in transforming the state’s economy from one based on textiles and shoes to a new-style economy in which the production of high tech goods and information-age services play a major role.
Crane acknowledged that there is no single solution to the problems faced by the regions of Canada and that the federal government will have to continue to play a role. He nonetheless insisted that the time has come to put more responsibility on the shoulders of provincial governments as well as on the local business, labour and educational leadership, in order to devise economic strategies based on local strengths. Citing an American report detailing successful state efforts in such areas as venture capital, small business incubation, educational reform, infrastructure improvement, job training and placement, technological research development and export promotion, Crane suggested that Canadian provincial governments have similar capabilities. According to this report:
The focus should be long-term. It should aim at building world-competitive businesses and at “creating an environment that facilitates change and is conducive to development and entrepreneurship within the state” rather than at enticing industries away from other regions or countries through costly subsidies.
Provincial governments, by drawing on the strengths of local people instead of increasing their dependence on federal bureaucrats, should be developing innovative strategies for their future instead of seeking their “fair share” of dollars from the federal porkbarrel.
While the federal government has a vital role in ensuring that appropriate fiscal, monetary and trade policies are in place, it should play a reduced direct role in regional development shifting the responsibility for strategies to the regions themselves. (Toronto Star, October 11, 1986)
At a time when there is an increasing tendency to look to the state and political action to solve every imaginable problem, it is noteworthy that a Toronto columnist should make a plea for less dependency on the state and more reliance on the use of local initiative and resources. His suggestion that business, labour, and educational leaders should cooperate in devising workable strategies deserves careful consideration.