Lacking vi­sion

Northern Pen - - EDITORIAL -

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

Eco­nomic fore­casts sug­gest most of At­lantic Canada will en­counter slower growth in gross do­mes­tic prod­uct than the rest of the coun­try over the next two years. The num­bers are weak in the Mar­itimes and worse again in New­found­land and Labrador, where the 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, de­crease ser­vices, or bor­row and in­crease the debt to pro­vide more ser­vices to fewer peo­ple.

So what is to be done? Ot­tawa says it is com­mit­ted to tak­ing bold ac­tion in At­lantic Canada in five key ar­eas: skilled work­force and im­mi­gra­tion, trade and in­vest­ment, in­no­va­tion, clean growth and cli­mate change, and in­fras­truc­ture. That’s the thrust be­hind the At­lantic Growth Strat­egy, which in­cludes an in­no­va­tive im­mi­gra­tion plan un­veiled last sum­mer, de­signed to in­crease new­com­ers to the re­gion by more than 2,000. It would fast-track cit­i­zen­ship for im­mi­grants to come, in­vest and stay in At­lantic Canada.

Pos­i­tive early pro­pos­als such as the im­mi­gra­tion strat­egy prompted high hopes for the At­lantic Growth Strat­egy’s fi­nal re­port last week. So it was dis­ap­point­ing when its in­no­va­tion sub­com­mit­tee failed to pro­vide an in­spired strat­egy to boost our re­gional economies.

In­stead, the growth strat­egy em­pha­sizes a pre­dictable, tired so­lu­tion — more money from Ot­tawa and lots of it. Yes, fed­eral sup­port is wel­come and nec­es­sary, but it can’t be the sole ba­sis of an At­lantic eco­nomic strat­egy.

The At­lantic Growth Strat­egy calls on Ot­tawa to sharply ramp up fi­nan­cial sup­port 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 growth strat­egy ar­gues that so­cial en­ter­prises, and not just busi­nesses, should be part of the fed­eral plan. Sub­si­diz­ing day­care and re­duc­ing home­less­ness by tack­ling ad­dic­tion and men­tal ill­ness are im­por­tant, but it’s spend­ing on so­cial ser­vices — not in­fras­truc­ture. It doesn’t lay ground­work for mov­ing goods and en­hanc­ing trade and cre­at­ing jobs in At­lantic Canada. The goal of the At­lantic Growth Strat­egy is for the fed­eral govern­ment and the At­lantic prov­inces to co-op­er­ate on shared pri­or­i­ties. In­stead, it looks like a vi­sion of more fed­eral hand­outs. We can’t se­ri­ously sug­gest that Ot­tawa just throw more money at our prob­lems and some­how ex­pect a dif­fer­ent out­come.

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