Time for Nova Scotia to face up to future challenges

Dave Mathieson
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Downward trends need to be reversed

This group was one of six groups that discussed ways to build a better future for Nova Scotia during a recent public meeting at NSCC in Amherst. The Nova Scotia Commission on Building Our New Economy hosted the event

AMHERST – Nova Scotians will find themselves in dire circumstances in 20 years if they don’t start dealing with demographic and economic challenges right now.

“Nova Scotia 20 years from now, if we don’t change the (downward) curve of the trajectory, will be less of a Nova Scotia,” said Ray Ivany during a public meeting recently held in Amherst. “Measure that on any variable you want, whether it’s services, quality of roads, quality of schools, quality of health care, it doesn’t matter.”

Ivany is the chair of The Nova Scotia Commission on Building Our New Economy and is one of five commissioners presently touring Nova Scotia. The others are Collingwood’s John Bragg, president and Co-CEO of Oxford Frozen Foods; Dan Christmas, senior advisor to the community of Membertou; Susanna Fuller, marine conservation coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre; and Irene d’Entremont, president of ITG Information Management, who was not at the Amherst meeting.

The commissioners are speaking to business groups, economic development groups and the public to discuss challenges facing Nova Scotia.

“We were named by government but we’re completely independent,” said Ivany. “We’re going to file a report at the end of this process that says ‘Here’s our honest take on what we’ve heard from Nova Scotians, and what we think can enhance the prosperity of our province.’”

Ivany was born in Cape Breton where his father was a coal miner.

He is a former president of the Nova Scotia Community College, and the current president of Acadia University.

“I’m going to be blunt with you because I think we have to stare this right in the eye,” said Ivany to the 40 people in attendance at the meeting. “As a commission, we want to find a way to improve Nova Scotia, but we’re never going to take our gaze from the reality that if we stay on the current trajectory, we’re talking huge macro-level forces of demography and economics, that we’ll have a lesser quality of life here in Nova Scotia.”

Ivany warned that there is no muddling through the challenges.

“There’s no way to say, ‘You know what, it’s always been tough in Nova Scotia and we’ll find a way to go along,’” he said. “No we won’t because the demography is acting on us in a way that was different than, certainly, my generation, and the economy is radically transforming the economic forces that we don’t control within small jurisdictions.”

Ivany then displayed charts showing ‘middle of the road’ population projections over the next 20 years.

“Our population goes down five per cent overall,” said Ivany. “Thirteen per cent in Cape Breton, six per cent in the Valley and six per cent in the southwest. The only place that grows is the Metro area.

“In the same period it’s not just that your population goes down by five per cent,” he added. “The labour market, the group that’s 18 to 64 years of age, goes down by about 10 per cent as well, so that about doubles the population decline.”

A smaller workforce means a decline in services.

“Anybody who’s involved in municipal politics, this is the thing that scares you because now you’re trying to square the circle of fewer people in the labour market, less economic activity, a smaller tax base, and more service requirements. You can’t square that circle.”

Ivany then displayed an economic growth chart measuring ‘real GDP’ from 1991 to 2010. Among all 10 Canadian provinces, Nova Scotia lagged at the bottom of the pack.

Despite the dire warnings, Ivany did direct attention to points of light on the horizon, such as shipbuilding.

“Relative to the challenges we put before you tonight, if all we do is build great ships and maximize employment and get more ship contracts, that’s great,” said Ivany. “But real economic wealth creation is done in layers and layers of other business, such as a software company that supplies the Irving shipbuilding contract, and then uses those skills to create other customers such as the aeronautics industry in Brazil.”

He points to the mining industry in Cape Breton as an industry that failed to diversify.

“I’m from Cape Breton. My dad was a miner,” said Ivany. “We mined but we didn’t build mining equipment. We didn’t maximize our opportunities.”

He said Nova Scotia does have a great way of life and suggested that entrepreneurs could maintain it.

“If you fiercely care about and love the part of the province you are in and love your way of life, then you’re probably going to come up with a creative solution to sustain yourself and your community,” he said.

The group in attendance was then put through group exercises where they answered questions about how to build the economy.

Ivey told those in attendance that they can be part of the solution and that he doesn’t want the commission’s report to gather dust.

“The commission’s approach from the outset was to produce a report that is actionable in a way that gets us to a better place than the current analysis says, a place we want for ourselves, our children or our grandchildren.”

The Amherst meeting was the sixth of 12. The last stop is April 9 in Church Point.


One chart displayed at the meeting showed the following statistics:

1990 to1997

Industries on the upswing

Up 5 per cent – Mining/Oil/Gass

Up 3 per cent – Manufacturing

Up 3 per cent – Private Services

Industries on the downswing

Down 5 per cent – Construction

Down 5 per cent – Agriculture/Forestry/Fishing

Down 1 per cent – Public Services

1997 to 2003

Industries on the upswing

Up 12 per cent – Mining/Oil/Gas

Up 5 per cent – Agriculture/Forestry/Fishing

Up 4 per cent – Construction

Up 3 per cent – Manufacturing

Up 2 per cent – Private Services

Up 1 per cent – Public Services

Industries on the downswing


2003 to 2009

Industries on the upswing

2 per cent – Private Services

2 per cent – Public Services

1 per cent – Construction

Industries on the downswing

Down 6 per cent – Mining/Oil/Gas

Down 3 per cent – Manufacturing

Down 3 per cent – Agriculture/Forestry/Fishing












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Recent comments

  • Dee
    March 25, 2013 - 20:14

    I think it's interesting that a non-governmental commission comes to ask us about our economy but our Finance Minister, who was making a tour of the province, didn't visit Cumberland Co.