Academic journal article Canadian-American Public Policy

Sustainable Development in Small Jurisdictions: The Cases of New Brunswick and Vermont

Academic journal article Canadian-American Public Policy

Sustainable Development in Small Jurisdictions: The Cases of New Brunswick and Vermont

Article excerpt


Our world is in the midst of a crisis that is both economic and ecological. The 2008 collapse of the financial sector called into question many of the assumptions of neo-liberalism that had been dominant since the collapse of Keynesian economics in the 1970s. These assumptions included unlimited growth and unfettered markets. At the same time, the threat of global warming and resource depletion remains ever-present and questions the assumptions of unlimited growth. These two crises--the economic and the ecological--may potentially force policymakers to rethink traditional models of economic development that have focused on industrialization and unlimited growth. This is especially true for smaller jurisdictions in North America which are characterized by rural areas and small communities where this rethinking of development happened well before the 2008 economic crisis.

Such a jurisdiction is the Canadian province of Prince Edward Island (PEI), whose strategy for economic development has focused on non-manufacturing sectors such as tourism, biotech, and green energy sources such as windmills. Provincial leaders have sought to preserve Prince Edward Island's identity as a province of small communities and pristine natural sights. They have used this reputation to promote the Island as a tourist destination. This strategy has paid off not only in terms of preserving the province's natural beauty, but also economically. A Reuters story on March 30, 2009 noted that PEI was one of only four provinces that was projected by the Conference Board of Canada to grow over the course of 2009, despite the economic downturn.

Another jurisdiction notable in this regard is the American state of Vermont, which supplies one focus of analysis in this paper. Vermont is a small jurisdiction of well under one million people, characterized by small communities, rural areas, and forests. The state has established an economic niche for itself by building on its natural advantages and by seeking to preserve its rural areas and forests rather than embarking on large-scale industrialization. Vermont has a thriving tourism industry and has become an attractive home for people from New York City and Boston who seek to escape the urban life (Smart Growth Vermont). In these respects, as smaller jurisdictions which have built on natural advantages, Vermont and Prince Edward Island have much in common. While the latter can serve as a useful reference point for the former, Prince Edward Island is not a primary focus of this paper.

The Canadian province of New Brunswick, like Vermont, is a low-population jurisdiction characterized by picturesque natural sites, small communities, and rural areas. In the past, economic development schemes in New Brunswick (and in Atlantic Canada as a whole) have sought industrialization and urbanization as their goals in order to "catch up" with traditionally "have" provinces such as Canada's industrial heartland of Ontario. In particular, analysts such as Donald Savoie have cited New Brunswick's lack of large urban centers as a reason for its underdevelopment (2006, 32-35). However, we argue that policymakers should instead seek to capitalize and build on New Brunswick's unique advantages as a province of rural areas, small communities, and natural beauty, rather than try to emulate urban centers like Ontario. They should recognize that New Brunswick is not Ontario and gear economic development strategies with this in mind.

Vermont is located in Northern New England which, like Atlantic Canada, is traditionally considered an "underdeveloped" or "have-not" region. Geographically and demographically, Vermont resembles New Brunswick in many respects. However, while New Brunswick's population growth has been sluggish and the province's unemployment remains above the national average, Vermont has been able to maintain steady population growth and an unemployment rate that is consistently below the United States average (Ewan and Condon 2009, 4-6). …

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