Calling Malcolm Gladwell: Walk amongst the elephants in the Atlantic Canada room

I listened recently to a podcast of a lecture given by Malcolm Gladwell where he mentioned that some people say he is the master of “dumb, obvious points”.  He then went on to discuss a dumb, obvious point about something.  I think we should have Gladwell come to Atlantic Canada to take a look and discuss our dumb, obvious points.  Maybe someone might listen.

For example, take a look at this graph.  Since 1991, the population aged 20-44 has dropped by 250,000 across Atlantic Canada – a substantial drop that is more pronounced as the boomers head into retirement.  The wave of younger Canadians that powered economic growth in the region for decades crested in 1991 – 25 years ago – and has been receding since.


Take a look at the same graph for Canada.  Around 1991 the population aged 20-44 crested – just like Atlantic Canada – but David Foot published his dumb, obvious point about booms, busts and echos and the country cranked up the importation of young talent from abroad.  This effort arrested the decline and led to strong growth in this age cohort in the last decade.   Interestingly some groups like the Conference Board say this is not enough – that Canada needs to dramatically increase its immigration in the coming years.



There are more dumb, obvious points.  Atlantic Canada’s economy is in the midst of substantial upheaval due to demographics, changing industries and increased global competition.  We need to be far more focused on internationalizing our economy.  Politicians gleefully talk about the level of exports generated from this economy but fail to mention that these exports are still primarily centered on natural resources.  If you back out lobster, oil, wood, etc. the region is not particularly good at exporting – with the someone maligned sector – contact centres/business services – as a more than $2 billion export sector for the region.

Here’s another dumb, obvious point – federal government support should align with the region’s needs.  In reality it tends to be the opposite.   Ontario, Alberta and BC – growing provinces will demand the feds provide cash for public transportation, new roads/bridges and post-secondary infrastructure to respond to rapid population growth.  The feds will say sure thing and develop a national program offering cash if you build new public transportation, roads/bridges and post-secondary infrastructure – and you have to put your own money on the table too. So a place like Atlantic Canada will get hundreds of millions of dollars to build new infrastructure even as the population that will use that infrastructure is stagnating or even decline.  Why wouldn’t the feds take a couple of hundred million out of that pie and put it where it is needed – to actually grow the population needed to use infrastructure? Because that is not the way things are done in Canada.  The feds – Libs and Tories alike- develop national programs based mostly on Ontario, Quebec, etc. requirements (think about the new bias towards large clusters such as AI) and then try to force them to fit in the Atlantic Canada context.

There are certainly many other dumb, obvious points – or elephants in the room – around local government reform, urbanization, new sources of entrepreneurship, how to use our smaller universities to drive R&D, etc.  But there isn’t much interest in doing anything substantial about it.

So why not bite the bullet and bring in Galdwell – he probably charges $100k just to show up – and maybe he can make the dumb, obvious points and maybe someone might listen.

1 thought on “Calling Malcolm Gladwell: Walk amongst the elephants in the Atlantic Canada room

  1. I know it’s not fashionable these days in Canada to mention natural resources. But they do provide jobs for a wide spectrum of skills. They engender support enterprises which increase the talent requirements. These draw the immigrants both foreign and domestic.
    Youth will gravitate to a dynamic and vibrant location where there is work they can and want to do. I know I did.
    The Maritime Provinces have stagnated. The largess that flowed, until recently, from Ontario and Alberta made life just too easy. There was (and is) no sign that provincial governments had or are likely to have the will to buck aboriginal and environmentalist protests against resource development.
    The population will not grow until there is a reason for it to grow. Under the aegis of twenty-first century liberalism, both federal and provincial, this is highly unlikely.
    I speak as a former Nova Scotian who left because there were no employment opportunities in my field there fifty years ago. I returned to live there in retirement for the better part of seven years.
    The attitudes had not much changed in the time I had been away. Nova Scotia just hangs around outside Ottawa’s side door and waits for its yearly handout. Occasionally it gets tossed a nice defence contract to sweeten things. But it is still ALL Alberta and Ontario money.
    I have left N.S. again. I will not be back. There are other places in the world, more picturesque, warmer in winter (and summer!), less expensive in which to live and with a greater sense of purpose.

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