What shall we measure?

wellbeing-index.pngIn a recent op-ed piece, Economic Development and Tourism Minister Chris Palmer rightly stated ‘If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it.’ I wholly accept this logic and thank him for opening the dialogue around this.

I, too, learned this while running my first business. I expect all business owners quickly learn the need to associate a value to things that go beyond the goods or services they have for sale. We learn to measure the cost of time, both time spent and time lost; the cost of mistakes; the value of relationships with our suppliers and the connection to our clients; the worth of a reputation. We quantify things that we’ll never need to report on our tax returns, but that we will use as filters to inform countless decisions we make all the time. After all, if we don’t measure it, we can’t manage it.

This is key in influencing the economic direction we take as a province, and allows for a fuller picture of how things are going.  What we choose to measure speaks volumes about our priorities. For example, businesses who measure customer satisfaction or employee quality of life tend to perform well in those areas, because they value it.  Mr. Palmer speaks of GDP, exports, job and population growth, and median age as standard things measured in Canada, and while that’s certainly accurate, I’m afraid it’s short-sighted and incomplete.

I imagine a province where the baseline we use to measure the overall success of the province is broader. Would we make our decisions differently if we were factoring in rates of poverty, access to affordable housing and quality of life? If you think those things aren’t related to the economy, think again. Once we decide that we as a province want to consider more than GDP and exports, we’ll look to our economy as a vehicle for achieving more than one goal. We may start considering the value of supporting social enterprises that blend financial and social returns on investment, and introduce a framework for supporting social enterprise such as Nova Scotia did last year.  

Communities and the economy go hand in hand for so many reasons, and fostering the sort of vibrant communities that Islanders want to live in requires us to take that broader view. Advancing this sector is smart policy because social enterprises create rewarding job opportunities and economic benefit while improving those communities socially, environmentally, and culturally.

I spoke previously of the various programs that are available across the province to support new businesses, but that the scope of what is eligible to receive supports can be limited. Social Enterprise is an excellent example of this. No one in the not-for-profit sector is eligible for supports or mentoring of any kind from the province, despite the fact that this sector is the third largest in the province and employs 6500 people. Put another way, it brings in considerable revenue, creates good paying, rewarding jobs, operates locally and creates meaningful impact towards social, environmental, health, cultural, economic, and other community goals. Social enterprises also reinvest a majority of their profits back into furthering their missions, which governments across the country are recognizing as having major benefit. I’ve said before that Economic Development is one portfolio that has a lot of room for us to dive deep, and see meaningful impacts in a number of areas, and this is just one example.

If we don’t measure it, we can’t manage it. So is it time for a conversation around what we as a province decide to measure?

Lynne Lund is the deputy leader of the Green Party of PEI, and the Shadow Critic for Economic Development