If any of us needed reminding why some new energy has to be pumped into our sleepy paradise by the sea, then last week’s census was a wake-up call of the first order. Nova Scotia is growing more slowly than the rest of Canada, even slower than our equally-solipsistic neighbours in New Brunswick and P.E.I.
Not only that, but population and economic power is shifting inexorably westward. More Canadians now live west of Ontario than in the east. Soon, Alberta and British Columbia and to a lesser extent Ontario, will get new seats in the House of Commons. Nova Scotia’s voice in the country it helped to found will dim a bit more.
And the economic lure of the West is every bit as powerful now as it was when Ontario was the great generator of jobs, opportunity and moving plans for Maritimers. Now, the road for too many of our motivated and ambitious young workers leads west.
So at this time when the need to innovate and be creative is stronger than ever, is Nova Scotia really facing facts? What actual positive steps are being taken to not just stop the leakage of talent and commitment to other places, but to reverse that trend and get things moving again?
Too few, sad to say. In fact, a lot of the NDP government’s time is spent trying to prevent conditions becoming worse, especially outside of the Halifax metro area. The electoral breakthrough Darrell Dexter and his party made in the last election came in rural Nova Scotia. His government can’t ignore its needs.
But rural Nova Scotia’s challenges are vexing and will stay that way until some of the energy and creativity of the cities is applied in the rural context. Innovation has to spread outward and government can help foster that. But it can’t control it, no matter how pure its intentions.
The province can help by fighting to make sure that Nova Scotia’s innovators and creative producers get full access to federal programs aimed at encouraging economic development. And it can spend its own money more carefully, by vigorously supporting the potential economic winners and spending less time obsessing over the losers.
Municipalities, towns and communities can also play a role. They really must stop crying about Halifax’s influence and find positive ways to tap into the wealth being created here. Halifax can do its part by building that wealth, some of which will come with the federal shipbuilding enterprise over the next decade or two.
And we’ve got to find ways to bring our kids back. They’ll only come if there’s opportunity, optimism and a shared sense of purpose. Nova Scotia lacks that shared purpose and it’s going to have to find it, either through encouraging the current crop of leaders or by finding people who actually can get the job done.