Natural resources are a win for rural communities – by Sean Speer (Toronto Sun – August 5, 2017)

Some 500 communities across Canada are dependent on mining, forestry and
energy for their livelihood. Public policies that delay or block the
development of these natural resources undermine these communities and
their citizens. It amounts to an anti-regional development policy.

Sean Speer is a Munk senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

Expanding economic opportunity in rural and remote communities has bedeviled Canadian governments for decades. Various schemes have been tried and failed. Many of the same challenges persist.

Regional development agencies such as the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and Western Economic Diversification are emblematic. Both are marking their 30-year anniversary this year. But it’s hard to find much to celebrate. A considerable body of research casts doubt on their basic usefulness.

Promoting regional economic development isn’t easy. Different regions and cities have pre-existing advantages. There are limits to what public policy can do to change this. It doesn’t mean that policymakers shouldn’t care about enabling economic opportunity in rural and less prosperous communities. It just means that they ought to be clear-eyed about their limitations.

Which is why it’s so important that governments don’t stand in the way of rural opportunity. Politicians talk so frequently about job losses stemming from free trade or technological innovation but rarely as a result of government policy. But far too often policy choices – deliberately or inadvertently – stand between workers and opportunity. Harvard economist Ed Glaeser calls it a “war on work.”

We recently witnessed an example of such “policy-induced dislocation” with the abandonment of the Pacific Northwest LNG project in British Columbia. The project would have brought $36 billion in capital investment (twice as much as Ottawa’s much-vaunted annual infrastructure spending) and thousands of jobs to rural parts of the province including Indigenous communities.

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