ICYMI: Is it now or never for Nova Scotia?




From a recent TJ column:

The Economist magazine featured a cover story this week on the 100 year economic decline of Argentina.  At the turn of the 20th Century, Argentina was one of the strongest economies in the world and was attracting immigrants from far and wide.  The article details a series of missteps including chronic political dysfunction, weak public institutions, reliance on highly cyclical industries and a general disinterest in mass education.

In the same vein, the new report of The Nova Scotia Commission on Building Our New Economy talks about the long term disappointment of the Bluenoser economy over the decades. 

With little interruption, Nova Scotia has underperformed the country as a whole for economic and population growth since before Confederation. The only period when the province actually saw its population rise faster than the country as a whole was in the depression years in the 1930s.  Since then, Nova Scotia has featured a mostly mediocre economy (relative to the country as a whole) characterized by outward migration of young people, a lack of immigration and well below average annual business investment.

In 1891, 91 out of every 1,000 Canadians lived in Nova Scotia.  By 2011, that had dwindled to only 28 out of every 1,000.

The new report uses language we tend to avoid here in Atlantic Canada as it might offend our delicate sensibilities.  It’s title “Now or Never: An urgent call to action for Nova Scotians” succinctly states the tone used throughout.  I played a small part in the creation of this document having provided a submission to the Commission that ended up in the final report.

It is a thorough document spanning over 250 pages.  In a world that prefers 140-character tweetbites, I am concerned few will bother to read the whole document.  I hope most Nova Scotians take the time. 

The Commission toured the province through much of 2013 consulting with Nova Scotians from all walks of life.  They also brought in experts from a wide variety of disciplines within Nova Scotia and outside the province.  It was likely one of the most comprehensive consultation processes ever undertaken in Nova Scotia.

The Now or Never report sets some ambitious goals.  It seeks to increase immigration to the province’s proportionate share of the national total each year – approximately 7,000 new immigrants. 

As an aside, this is an example of just how low we have previously set the bar in Atlantic Canada.  A big time stretch goal for Nova Scotia is just to attract its share of national immigration. 

The report calls for the doubling of new business start-ups each year and a 50 per cent increase in the value of international exports.  It sets as a goal nearly doubling the amount of venture capital invested in the province each year.

On the labour market front, the report calls for Nova Scotia to bring the labour force participation rate to at least to the national level even as the province attempts to attract thousands of new migrants and immigrants each year. 

On the fiscal front, the report targets a big drop in the province’s net debt to GDP ratio by 2024 and calls for a thorough reform of municipal government and regional services.

Now or Never has grand ambitions but, as is always the case with reports like this, leaves specific tactics and implementation for another day.

The new Premier of Nova Scotia has embraced the report giving it high praise in the media.  This is a good omen.  As the Commission was started under the previous administration, its final report could have easily been scrapped.

I hope Nova Scotians embrace this not as a ‘government’ plan but, as it is called in the document, a ‘projet national’.

A government plan is something everyone else can sit back and criticize from the sidelines.  If it fails, it is the fault of politicians and bureaucrats.

A project national is a plan where everyone takes ownership.  If it fails, we all fail.

It may not be now or never for Nova Scotia.   The province always seems to find a way to muddle through.  But, at least for this Commission, muddle through is just not good enough anymore.


David Campbell
An economic development consultant based in Moncton.

2 thoughts on “ICYMI: Is it now or never for Nova Scotia?

  1. It’s a beast of a document, but in my opinion very well written. What is slightly terrifying is the “stretch goals”, where significant gains are required (in the region of 30% increase, 50% increase, even 100% increase) are merely so Nova Scotia achieves the Canadian average for that area. Eg. Immigration. For such ambitious goals needed just to be “average” it does lay out quite how serious some of the challenges faced are.

    Just as a note on some of the stats and comparisons made… Quebec jumped off the page to me as having the highest debt to GDP ratio, but also the highest venture capital per capita and a few other choice stats. It appears the Quebec economy doesn’t “respond” to some inputs the same as the other provinces – do you think this is the case? Thoughts?

  2. Very powerful assessment, David! Good work on the panel, too. BTW, i-CANADA and I-ATLANTIC are starting to work at a grass-roots level to change the game…a set of actions that starts in each community. Thanks for the article!

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