Atlantic Canada’s once-in-a-generation opportunity … let’s seize it

We, the watchers of the CrowsNest, were happy to see Donald Savoie back in the public eye this month. In a commentary published in The Chronicle Herald, the eminence grise of Atlantic Canada’s thinking classes argues (as do we) that the federal carbon tax has a disproportionate and unfair impact on this region, with its high proportion of rural residents, many of whom have neither access to public transportation systems, nor realistic alternatives to heating their homes with oil.

But Savoie, a Canada Research chair in public governance at the Université of Moncton, takes the argument further. Savoie says that ,‘Yes, Government, you can design and implement policies for Atlantic Canada that help the region.’ The Atlantic immigration program, which started out as a pilot project, is a case in point. It now attracts thousands of new Canadians to Atlantic Canada annually, helping reverse decades of population decline, enriching our culture, and strengthening the regional economy.

Of course, population growth generates its own challenges.  That’s the thing about public policy – one successful program (immigration) puts demands on another (housing), and another (health care), and another (transportation infrastructure). Canada, and the region, now need public policies and programs in these three areas which dovetail with population growth.

These issues demand a little more ‘Savoie-faire’ – that is, a collaborative response from all levels of government. Housing, health care, and transportation policies are surely more fundamental to Atlantic Canada’s success than cat bylaws and chicken coops. Indeed, the region’s leaders are staring in the face of a once-in-a-generation (or perhaps once-in-a-century) opportunity to reverse Atlantic Canada’s decline and engender its progress. This is a use it or lose it moment. Either we put policies in place to build a better future or watch the familiar patterns of out-migration and economic stagnation reassert themselves.