Nova Scotia’s biggest challenge

Coming back from Cape Breton yesterday I was reminded of my belief that Nova Scotia’s biggest challenge over the medium to long term is the lack of urban nodes around the province.   I just don’t see how the province will be able to justify building and maintaining infrastructure – roads, police/fire, telecom, power, hospitals, schools, etc. to places like Parrsboro, Pugwash, Yarmouth and even Cape Breton if current trends continue.

There will be a continued political pull to continue to maintain services but it will be pulling against gravity.   The problem, as I see it, is that the constant urban/rural struggle could end up undermining Halifax’s development over the medium to long term.

I think the province needs an urban node strategy – Halifax, maybe Yarmouth, Amherst, Sydney – growing urban centres that justify building and maintaining infrastructure between them – like Toronto – Ottawa, Moncton-Saint John-Fredericton, Montreal-Quebec. 

I was at the Cape Breton Partnership AGM yesterday and Don Mills put forward the mistaken concept that Canada is only experiencing urban growth.  In fact, from 2001-2006 the rural population increased by a modest 1%.  More importantly the rural population in an urban influenced area increased by 4% or about the same rate as Canada as a whole.

This underscores the critical importance of urban development to rural development.   There is mounting evidence that rural areas and small towns (think Sackville and Bouctouche) can be successful in the long term if they are in the range of a growing urban core.  The more remote you go, the less likely for success over the medium to long term.

The only other option for all of Nova Scotia outside HRM is to settle for a new normal where the shrinking communities are populated with retirees and a few farmers/fisherman/forest workers that have minimal services and that need to be airlifted to Halifax for health care.  There will still likely need to be schools but – again in the medium to long term – that will end up looking either like home school or ‘one room’ schoolhouses for grades 1-12.  You already see this trend in the most remote parts of places like Manitoba and that is the fate of Nova Scotia, IMO, without an urban node strategy.

6 thoughts on “Nova Scotia’s biggest challenge

  1. The concern about rural population growth or decline confuses me. Why should we worry about this or try to artificially influence it? It seems to me that the only problem is that governments have been trying to provide urban services and convenience in rural areas. Once everyone realizes that we cannot afford this, won’t things reach a natural state?

    If people want to live near a cardiac care and brain trauma center, they’ll have to put up with the higher taxes, crime and traffic of an urban center. If they enjoy clear dark skies, no traffic and lower taxes they can live in a rural setting. Seems to me the only problems are when people try to have both.

  2. It’s not a concern per se about rural population growth. It’s about economic development in a democratic setting. In addition, I am in complete agreement with about the affordability issue. I differ with you in that I think in a large jurisdiction you need to have these urban nodes strategically located and not concentrated into a single urban centre.

    I will also say that the same arguments you make above are the same ones my colleagues in Ontario make for not supporting economic development in Atlantic Canada. They say you need to focus on your major urban centres such as Toronto and Montreal. In your words “if people want to live near a cardiac care and brain trauma center” – they will need to live near or be airlifted to Montreal. This would be a lot cheaper than keeping this infrastructure in Halifax.

  3. Seems to me that Nova Scotia got it right in focusing on one city and building it into a place where people actually want to live. Few infrastructure costs (ie one airport, etc) but more importantly the ability to market one place, not a divergent collection of smaller places who are all competing with each other.

    This is NB’s inherent problem (two many little cities) which cannot really be fixed very easily. Only way to fix it is to market SJ/Fred/Moncton as a triangle urban area of 300k people. It may then get more attention as a place to do business.

  4. I have been saying for a long time, we need to connect Truro, Bridgewater, and Kentville to Halifax through a series of high speed trains. There are many skilled people in these areas that are underemployed due to choosing to live in a rural area. If we could tap this talent and get it to Halifax within 45 minutes on a HS train, we could help alleviate the ongoing skills shortage in Haliax and export economic growth to these three hubs. Keeping these three hubs strong through residents bringing money home, should theoretically help maintain areas within 30 minutes of each of these hubs. It’s an idea worth pursuing.

  5. I’m looking for some feedback from someone who currently lives in Nova Scotia, Kentville area, as of Nov /09. I am currently living in Panama for the past 16 months, got broken into and crime is increasing, want to move my family back to Canada. Spent 19 years in Calgary, not sure I really want to go back there. Have a friend in Berwick for past 3 years and they love it! Concerned about the damp weather and no work. Understand housing is cheaper than Alberta. Have heard Nova Scotians are friendly, other sites say it was as bad as Alberta for trying to make new friends. Would really like to hear what people have to say. Thanks, Canadian in Panama.

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