Donald Savoie is a singular figure
I was happy to see that Donald Savoie was awarded the highest rank in the Order of Canada recently.
One of the most important New Brunswick story lines in the past 60-70 years has been the rise of a generation of highly successful Acadian entrepreneurs, politicians, bureaucrats, cultural icons and intellectuals. The LJR revolution of the 1970s was instrumental but in parallel with the rise of UdeM and other institutions.
Savoie was the ‘thinker' equivalent to the great entrepreneurs (e.g. Bernard Imbeault), great politicians (e.g. LJR) and cultural figures (e.g. Antonine Maillet).
In my lifetime, I have never seen anyone so prolific at writing - and not drivel - thoughtful, ground-breaking insight on big issues - mostly related to his first love, regional economic development and also government and politics. In recent years he has churned out highly readable and insightful biographies. On his Wikipedia page, it only lists 36 of his written works. I believe he told me once he has authored more than 60 books.
He could have accepted professorships or chairs at his pick of universities but he stuck with the Université de Moncton. He could have moved to just about any high profile position he would have liked (he was awarded a Doctor of Letters from Oxford University) but he chose his home province and always had time to think and write about the place he called home.
I have tried to read as many of his books as possible. Many are out of print but a surprising number can still be found either online through secondary sellers or at a library somewhere in New Brunswick. After first encountering Savoie in the late 1990s, I decided to read his stuff and found several of his early books in the Moncton Library.
If you are looking for recommendations, I would suggest a few. Governing from the Centre: The Concentration of Power in Canadian Politics is an oldie but a goodie. You will see a lot in that book in our politics today. Pulling Against Gravity: Economic Development in New Brunswick During the McKenna Years is a real treat particularly for those of us who came of age during that time. Visiting Grandchildren: Economic Development in the Maritimes is a must read for anyone interested in regional economic development in this part of the country. I have called for this to be required reading in Maritime high schools. Looking for Bootstraps: Economic Development in the Maritimes is a follow-on and well worth the read.
I'm From Bouctouche, Me, Savoie’s biography, is fantastic as it covers what motivates him - particularly interesting as it relates to his interest and role in the emergence of the post 1970s cohort of Acadian leaders in New Brunswick.
And, of course, his biographies of Harrison McCain and Arthur Irving were a real pleasure to read. As with all great biographies, you will learn as much about the times they lived as about the men.
There are lots of books about government, power, bureaucracy and other more academic topics. I trudged through Power: Where Is It? but came away learning a lot.
That first time I was exposed to Savoie he was presenting to a group at ACOA. I think it was the late 1990s. He got up in front of the room and said something like “economic development is about two things: people and money”. I looked around the room and everyone was furiously writing that down as if it was the Sermon on the Mount or something. He went on to elucidate the idea for an hour. The most powerful ideas are those that can be distilled down to an essence.
Politicians, bureaucrats and business leaders at the highest levels have been asking for his advice and guidance for more than three decades.
I read at any given time there are only 165 Companions of the Order of Canada.
Savoie amongst the 165 most important Canadians?
He was the foremost thinker and influencer on regional economic development (e.g. ‘Father of ACOA’). All four Atlantic Provinces have been playing catch up - and this really started in earnest in the early 1980s. The chart below is just one measure. In 1981, New Brunswick household income was 26 percentage points below the national level and by 2016 it had risen to only a 10 point gap. We can debate how much of that was private economic activity versus the increase in federal transfers (a worthy debate) but we can say for sure that Savoie was nudging up the line on this graph during this entire period.
The Maritimes are in another unprecedented period - record inflows of people, record levels of workforce retirements, a housing crisis, substantial upheaval in international trade and investment flows, a lack of entrepreneurial urgency (the bootstraps kind exhibited by the 1970s and 1980s Acadian entrepreneurs), urban/rural issues and this overarching need to be carbon neutral by 2050.
We could use a little more Donald Savoie these days.