By Samuel Kirsh
Understanding the Halifax of the coming decades also requires an understanding of provincial infrastructure and the industries that underpin the province. One of the biggest challenges facing Nova Scotia and the Maritimes provinces overall is the demographic shift that is occurring as an aging population slides the tax base out from under. Outmigration and stagnation limit the province’s ability to counteract this process, and tax rates that already outstrip other provinces mean the shortfall will have to be made up elsewhere. Two obvious routes, borrowing and renegotiating transfer payments, will not lead to long-term stability or growth in the province. What is needed is to reverse flows of outmigration and pursue equitable, province-wide growth. This can be “unlocked” in several ways, through a variety of methods. The two profitable directions I propose here are regulatory and investment based.
First, let’s deal with the regulatory aspect. Individually, the Maritime provinces are ranked only above the territories in terms of provincial GDP. But collectively, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland & Labrador, and Prince Edward Island represent over $115 billion of production, as well as over 2.3 million individuals. The waste and lost business due to Canada’s interprovincial trade barriers is a logical place to start; encouraging a regulatory framework that encourages trade in the Maritimes stands to boost business, free markets and net positive migration as firms grow in the region. The existing Atlantic Procurement Agreement could be renegotiated to increase its scope to include the private sector, however this would likely require an entirely new agreement. While the recently implemented Canadian Free Trade Agreement is a good start, it would likely yield greater benefit if the Maritimes negotiated collectively on regional regulations, given the difficulty of competing with much larger provinces such as Quebec or Ontario.
The next consideration is investment based. Historically, Nova Scotian industries have been based upon natural resource exploitation. Some examples include petroleum, natural gas, wood products, and seafood. Currently some of these industries are also Nova Scotia’s most lucrative exports. As the effort to reduce carbon emissions continues, several of these businesses will not be seen as favorably as they once were, despite their substantial economic contributions to the province and the nation as a whole. Given the changing political climate, perhaps this is an opportune moment to transform the Atlantic economy. This may be done by incentivizing alternative energy sources that harness the resource endowment of this region, thus stimulating infrastructure development and indirect demand from growth. Steps have been taken to increase the use of tidal power or wind power, but what is really needed is the impetus to jump start these cleaner initiatives. In maintaining the growth of Halifax into a major city, clean energy will act as a method of increasing employment into newly developed and continuously developing industries. A primary method of stimulating this investment could be reducing Nova Scotia’s tax burden and encouraging businesses to settle here. Over the near term this investment would lead to larger corporate and individual income tax revenues that could make up the temporary shortfall.
While technically these choices are not truly elements of urban planning, their implementation can positively influence the future urban landscape of Halifax and the Maritimes and consistent economic growth. Infrastructure and energy investment are two paths to secure both blue- and white-collar jobs and affirming the Atlantic provinces commitment to cooperation will enhance their governmental relationships and boost long-term effectiveness of policy. Further, these strategies will strengthen not only the metropolitan core of Halifax but also smaller communities throughout the province. Industries will situate themselves in geographically appropriate areas, thus distributing income in a geographic dimension as well as the social dimension.