Alberta academic takes UNB chair 'to try and bring some fresh ideas' for economy

FREDERICTON – The new chair in regional economics at the University of New Brunswick says the province needs to decide if it will continue to be the labour supplier for the west, or if there are opportunities to keep New Brunswickers working at home.

Herb Emery, an economist and public policy scholar who has worked in central and western Canada, left the University of Calgary for New Brunswick.

“The mandate is to really try and bring some fresh ideas and insight in perspective to help the government, stakeholders, industry and community figure out better ways to make the province’s goals be achieved,” Emery said Friday after his appointment was announced.

He said it has been a real eye-opener coming from a region of full employment based on the resource sector, to an area that has been relied on to provide labour for the west.

Emery said the Vaughan Chair in Regional Economics will give him the chance to understand long-term regional economic development and provide options for promoting growth and prosperity.

Emery said it will take a lot of little things to improve the New Brunswick economy and stem the outflow of young people, and there’s no “big bang” to fix it.

“If we’re in an efficient world where everyone’s aware of employment opportunities across Canada then the more people you train here you might be just doing education for export, or if you bring in more immigrants you’re just a gateway if you can’t come up with the labour demand to absorb them.”

New Brunswick has been looking to increased immigration as a way to address an aging population, but Emery said that may not be the best option.

“The main way that other economies around the globe have dealt with population aging — which is far more advanced than Canada’s — has really been through productivity gains in the labour market. So each worker who remains working, produces more per hour than the previous generation and that creates the surplus that you can redistribute to cover the retiring population,” he said.

Emery said there can be too much public dependence on governments to direct the economy, while businesses and the general public can have the key role.

“A lot of the discussion is stuck on what governments can actually control and what the public believes they can control, but when you’re a small open economy and increasingly exposed to global forces, you have to think about how do you set market conditions to take advantage of opportunities that arise as opposed to governments can come in and direct economic activity,” he said.

The Vaughan Chair in Regional Economics has been in place at UNB since the late 1980s with an endowment from the A. Murray Vaughan family. Born in Saint John, Vaughan was a philanthropist in the arts across Canada.

According to a statement from the university, the Vaughans supported recruiting someone who could enhance understanding of key economic issues in New Brunswick and the Maritimes, and develop policies to increase the overall prosperity of the region.