Atlantic Canada holds a winning hand in 2024 – Can we play it?

Maybe lifestyle does matter (Great Runs)

With wars raging in Ukraine and the Middle East, we could use a little good news in our small corner of the planet in the New Year. And Canada’s Public Policy Forum (PPF) has provided some.

The PPF, a think tank dedicated to the notion that good public policy can improve the lives of Canadians, released its first ‘The Atlantic Canada Momentum Index’ last year. The report concluded the region is starting to showcase some competitive economic strength. Economic (real GDP) growth per capita in Atlantic Canada reached 0.6 per cent per year between 2015 to 2021, compared to a Canadian average of 0.2 per cent.

The region also showed comparative strengths in export growth, educational attainment levels, immigrant attraction and retention, and population growth. These are hard, traditional indices of economic progress, the sort of data the CrowsNest favours over soft measures of regional strength like our celebrated ‘lifestyle’.

But hold it – the PPF says lifestyle matters too.

Last month, it published a paper entitled ‘The Belonging Advantage – How quality of life is translating into big economic gains for Atlantic Canada’.

The report cites results from a survey of 2,815 people who immigrated to Nova Scotia between 2011 and 2018.  Almost three-quarters of that group were still here in 2019. Asked why they picked Nova Scotia as a place to settle, 29 per cent said they were attracted by employment opportunities, while 15 per cent identified quality of life.

In our view, you can’t have the latter without the former, which raises a crucial question – Now that Atlantic Canada holds a winning hand, how do we play it? How do we provide satisfying, rewarding careers for people who come here and want to stay?

The right public policies will be one key factor in finding the right answer to that query.

On the economic side, that means creating a taxation and incentive regime which makes it just as attractive to launch an IT business (for instance) in Moncton or Halifax as it does in Waterloo or Mississauga.

And if we can get housing and health care policies right – by matching supply to demand in both cases – Atlantic Canada would enjoy a competitive advantage which really would have people beating a path to our door.