The Manitoba government announced the creation of a new economic development board on Feb. 22.
The board will be aimed at “fostering strong economic growth, attracting investment, promoting trade and creating high-quality jobs for Manitobans.”
“We recognize the critical importance of economic development and business investment to expand employment opportunities for Manitobans and address the negative impacts to our economy as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Premier Heather Stefanson in a Manitoba government release.
“This is a top priority for our government and we are proud to move forward with this initiative and unveil this new team — which will work in partnership with the business community, our economic development partners and all Manitobans — to help address the current challenges and build a stronger economy.”
Fletcher Baragar, associate professor in the department of economics at the University of Manitoba, condoned the goals set by the economic development board.
He noted that while these objectives are not new, the board would help co-ordinate the flow of information as well as the mobilization of resources and support between the departments of a large number of cabinet ministers.
Baragar also pointed out the board’s approach is to work with entrepreneurs, investors and businesses in the private sector.
He argued there is little attention given to the creation and support for initiatives from other stakeholders such as First Nations, non-profits, co-operatives and public sector organizations, including governments.
“Perhaps in practice it will prove otherwise, but the blueprint seems to focus on the business [or] entrepreneurial class and private sector corporate investment rather than broadening it to include alternative forms of community economic development and a more engaged public sector,” Baragar said.
One of the priorities of the board is “modernizing government policies, regulations, programs and services to spur economic growth and speed up investment.”
Baragar said in practice, modernization could be a “code” for an effort to “roll back or weaken standards and regulations” and de-emphasize public hearings and community input.
While Premier Stefanson will serve as the chair of the economic development board, the board will also include Cliff Cullen, minister of economic development, investment and trade, as vice-chair.
Tracey Maconachie will move from her role as deputy minister of economic development, investment and trade to the role of associate secretary of the board.
The board will be supported by Michael Swistun, a chartered financial analyst.
Baragar expressed some concern with the appointment of Swistun, since his background and expertise is primarily in corporate mergers and acquisitions.
“Investments involving mergers and acquisitions are a significant part of activities in the corporate sector and can be very lucrative for some of the parties involved,” Baragar said.
“These activities, however, are distinct from investments involving new productive capacity, new technologies and the training and equipping of the workforce. Far too often, workers and local communities are the losers in the merger and acquisition process.”
Baragar said “it is an open question” whether Swistun’s experience will be directly relevant to identifying which policies and investments will create high-quality jobs for Manitobans.