Failed solutions

Cape Breton Post - - Editorial -

We have growth in At­lantic Canada, but that’s not nec­es­sar­ily a good thing. Our pop­u­la­tion is grow­ing older, un­em­ploy­ment num­bers are trending up­wards and out-mi­gra­tion of young peo­ple is in­creas­ing yearly.

Eco­nomic fore­casts sug­gest most of At­lantic Canada will en­counter slower GDP growth than the rest of the coun­try over the next two years. Mar­itime num­bers are weak but things are worse in New­found­land and Labrador where a vo­latile oil and gas in­dus­try has left the prov­ince without its ma­jor source of rev­enue.

Disturbing 2016 cen­sus fig­ures re­veal a big prob­lem for At­lantic Canada. Pro­vin­cial tax rev­enues will de­crease and this will place pres­sure on gov­ern­ments to raise taxes, lower the level of ser­vices, or bor­row and in­crease the debt to pro­vide more ser­vices to fewer peo­ple.

So what is to be done? Ot­tawa says it’s re­mains firmly com­mit­ted to take bold ac­tion in At­lantic Canada within five eco­nomic pil­lars – skilled work­force and im­mi­gra­tion, trade and in­vest­ment, in­no­va­tion, clean growth and cli­mate change, and In­fra­struc­ture.

Boost­ing those five pil­lars is the thrust be­hind the At­lantic Growth Strat­egy (AGS). The AGS played a key role with an in­no­va­tive im­mi­gra­tion strat­egy un­veiled last sum­mer, de­signed to in­crease new­comer num­bers by more than 2,000 to the re­gion. It would fast-track cit­i­zen­ship for im­mi­grants to come, in­vest and stay in At­lantic Canada.

Pos­i­tive early pro­pos­als such as the im­mi­gra­tion strat­egy gen­er­ated high hopes for the AGS’s fi­nal re­port last week. So it was dis­ap­point­ing when the AGS in­no­va­tion sub­com­mit­tee failed to pro­vide a vi­sion or in­no­va­tive strat­egy to boost our re­gional economies.

In­stead, the AGS put its em­pha­sis on a pre­dictable, tired so­lu­tion of more money from Ot­tawa and lots of it. Yes, some fed­eral sup­port is wel­come and nec­es­sary but it can’t be the sole ba­sis of an At­lantic eco­nomic strat­egy.

The AGS calls on Ot­tawa to sharply ramp up fi­nan­cial sup­port in the re­gion even though the At­lantic prov­inces al­ready get more fed­eral fund­ing for eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment than Que­bec, On­tario, or Western Canada.

Eco­nomic hopes based on fed­eral in­fra­struc­ture spend­ing are now be­ing tem­pered with the grow­ing re­al­iza­tion that fed­eral cash isn’t be­ing di­rected at usual projects such as roads, bridges and ports. Most of the spend­ing is go­ing to green projects and so­cial in­fra­struc­ture.

The AGS ar­gues that so­cial en­ter­prises, and not just busi­nesses, should also be part of the fed­eral strat­egy. Sub­si­diz­ing day­care and re­duc­ing home­less­ness by tack­ling ad­dic­tion and men­tal ill­ness are im­por­tant but this is spend­ing on so­cial ser­vices - not in­fra­struc­ture. It doesn’t lay the ground­work for mov­ing goods and en­hanc­ing trade and lay­ing the foun­da­tion for jobs in At­lantic Canada.

The goal of the AGS is for the fed­eral gov­ern­ment and the At­lantic prov­inces to co-op­er­ate on shared pri­or­i­ties. In­stead, it looks like the vi­sion be­ing of­fered is for more fed­eral hand­outs.

We can’t se­ri­ously sug­gest that Ot­tawa should just throw more money at our prob­lems and some­how ex­pect there will be a dif­fer­ent out­come.

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