My recent selection as a Dobbin Scholar by the Ireland Canada University Foundation allowed me to conduct an academic visit to Maynooth University and the Republic of Ireland in June.
The purpose of my visit was to explore the lessons that the Celtic Tiger can teach New Brunswick. My principal objective was to list the economic governance initiatives that propelled Ireland into a period of remarkable economic growth and development.
I was able to analyze Ireland’s solutions to some of the hot-button issues facing New Brunswick’s economy. These issues included population growth, post-secondary education, immigration, economic development, Brexit and international trade.
In regard to population growth, Ireland and New Brunswick are significantly different. Ireland’s birth rate hovers around the population replacement level and is not a public policy concern. In contrast, New Brunswick’s birth rate has been declining in the last few years below the replacement level.
Furthermore, the exodus of New Brunswick’s young women and men in search of employment elsewhere creates a perfect demographic storm in the form of population decline and labour shortages.
New Brunswick has recognized that immigration is one of the tools for reversing our demographic deficit and filling labour shortages.
Immigration serves to fuel population growth and is the economic tide that raises all ships.
New Brunswick has not been very successful at enticing expatriates to return to their home province. The conventional wisdom is that New Brunswick’s high unemployment rate and lack of career opportunities serves as an impediment to attracting expatriates.
On the other hand, my conversations in Ireland revealed that Irish expatriates are primarily driven by social conditions and a desire to regain their social capital. In this regard, New Brunswick’s strategy to attract expatriates should be re-examined.
In regard to New Brunswick’s future economic development prospects, Ireland offers a potent testimony to the importance of small and medium-sized businesses (SMB). It’s noteworthy that 60 per cent of Ireland’s gross domestic product is attributed to the economic contributions of SMBs.
There’s no denying that despite the infatuation with large corporations, it’s SMBs that are the work horses of the economy, contributing the most significant portion of employment creation and economic growth.
This is an important lesson for New Brunswick. The province can increase its economic growth and employment creation by enhancing the economic role of SMBs, introducing tax-friendly initiatives for SMBs and in general fostering an economic environment that supports and nurtures the SMB landscape.
For Ireland, Brexit has resulted in an economic conundrum and a political quagmire. Nowhere is this more evident than in the political uncertainty and economic consequences of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
The Brexit debacle is symptomatic of a very few countries that are resisting the modern wave of economic globalization. The lesson of Brexit for New Brunswick is that our economic future is closely aligned to global outreach. We’ve always been a trading province within a trading nation.
As we chart an economic plan for a more prosperous future, we need to secure our trading relationship with the United States and simultaneously plan for a more diversified destination for our exports around the world. In a globalized world, New Brunswick should enhance and expand its global outreach in order to establish economic beachheads with a more diverse group of trading partners.
In the contemporary information age, human capital is our most important resource. Universities and community colleges are the creators of human capital by educating our young women and men, who will serve as the catalysts and contributors to the creation of economic wealth.
In Ireland, successive governments have positioned their post-secondary institutions to become global leaders in education. Irish universities have used their global reputation as a magnet for international students.
Our provincial universities can easily emulate that strategic outreach. Indeed, attracting a higher proportion of international students will alleviate the financial challenges and fill the local demographic void in capacity for our universities.
Clearly, New Brunswick can learn much from the Republic of Ireland.
Dr. Constantine Passaris is a professor of economics at the University of New Brunswick and a Dobbin Scholar.