A must-read weekly review of the policy news, issues and events that are driving change in Atlantic Canada

Last March, 17 former Atlantic premiers and deputy premiers endorsed the PPF’s Atlantic Momentum Index. This landmark report put convincing data behind something that many Atlantic Canadians were already feeling: the region is on the upswing, outpacing the rest of Canada by some key measures. This weekly newsletter looks at news and events in the region through the lens of the Index: Where and how is Atlantic Canada growing? What policies are standing in the way of momentum? Where are the opportunities, the failures, the successes?

Here’s what we’re following this week:

A home for health

While our Atlantic Canada Momentum Index noted that the region has recently excelled in housing starts, beating the national average between 2015 and 2022, the new interest rate reality has hit the Atlantic just as it has the rest of Canada. At the same time, the Atlantic provinces have struggled recently to provide adequate access to family physicians – an indicator we found was trending downward, and an area that demands renewed focus. But a bit of good news: Nova Scotia has purchased a Lunenburg motel (the Wheelhouse – currently holding a “very good” rating on TripAdvisor) and will convert its 18 current rooms into up to 12 one-bedroom apartments and six townhouses, with health-care workers getting priority, followed by skilled trades professionals.  As the region (and nation) struggle to deal with housing shortages and ongoing health-care access challenges, it’s a small but creative step.

Meanwhile, in New Brunswick, the final batch of patients waiting to sign up for NB Health Link were finally able to do so earlier this month – a few months behind schedule. NB Health Link provides clinics in the province with a rotating staff of doctors who can see patients who don’t have a family physician.

In its 2023-24 budget, the province allocated $39.2 million “to support improved access to primary health care,” with another $29.7 million reportedly earmarked for recruitment and retention.

Rocketing rents

The average asking rent continues to soar across the country, according to the latest monthly report from Rentals.ca and Urbanation. Halifax ranked 20th on the list of cities with the average one-bedroom rent hitting $1,863 per month, up 3.2 percent from last month and 9.3 percent year-over-year.

The average monthly jump in rent nationwide was 1.8 percent.

While housing starts have trended in a positive direction in Atlantic Canada since 2015, they’re making up for ground lost in the previous seven years.

Energy up in the air

In the wake of post-tropical storm Lee, thousands of people are still without power in Atlantic Canada.

With energy grid resiliency top of mind, we note that Ottawa has announced it’s prepared to invest up to $25 million in the Weavers Mountain wind energy project near Antigonish, N.S., a project that will aim to generate 95 megawatts of zero-emission power annually and 230 jobs.

This announcement comes on the heels of the Newfoundland and Labrador government granting application permission to four companies for wind farms on provincial land – the first step in a planned decades-long project designed to generate thousands of jobs and boost GDP (not to mention power). This builds on the momentum our Index noted on green power generation.

But these projects aren’t always popular. The proposed project on the Port au Port Peninsula (site of an earlier federal announcement) has seen pushback from nearby residents.

And elsewhere in the Atlantic, wind power – or the lack of it – is creating financial issues. P.E.I. Energy Corporation posted a profit of $3.5 million in its recent annual report, less than half what it made in 2014-15, the first year the province’s Hermanville wind farm was operating.

The wind farm operated at a loss last year, with ongoing maintenance problems. The province has put the cost of repairing the turbines at $10 million.

Mental health supports

The Nova Scotia government, in partnership with Dalhousie University, opened the Dalhousie Centre for Psychological Health, which will increase access to mental health care for those who “face barriers to accessing mental health services,” according to the province. The pilot project will see Dalhousie clinical psychology PhD students (supervised by registered clinical psychologists) provide services at the centre.

The government has allocated $4.5 million for the centre over the next three years.

The announcement comes on the heels of recent calls for a comprehensive strategy to address the province’s high suicide rate. Recently updated government data revealed that suicide deaths per 100,000 people increased from 12.2 in 2013 to 15.6 in 2022.

Beating a new path

Overall, people in Atlantic Canada have a high sense of life satisfaction – our Index found that 92 percent of those over the age of 12 were either satisfied or very satisfied with their lives. This is coupled with a very high sense of belonging.

Access to the natural world might have something to do with it (it’s been linked to multiple health benefits). Newfoundland and Labrador is aiming to make its Northern Peninsula even more accessible, investing $7 million to develop the 850 km-long Great Coastal Trail, linking L’Anse aux Meadows and Gros Morne National Park.

More affordable child care

When Ottawa announced its deals with the provinces to help them reach $10-per day average child care costs, all four Atlantic provinces signed on with the goal of hitting the target beginning in 2026.

But now some parents in P.E.I. have said they’ve heard from child care providers that financial relief will come a lot sooner—that fees will actually be reduced as of Jan. 1, 2024.

While our Index didn’t track child care costs specifically, reducing them can go a long way in lowering the cost of living overall and, technically, leading to better access to quality care that may have been previously out of reach.

More affordable child care might also play a role in deciding whether to have kids at all – and while population growth in Atlantic Canada is gaining momentum now, Statistics Canada data gathered in 2017 showed declines in each province in the 0-14 age group over the previous decade. There’s catching up to do.

Atlantic (Ocean) Momentum!

A pod of 30 orcas was recently spotted off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador – one of the largest seen since recording began in the 1700s, during the whaling era.

A Department of Fisheries and Oceans researcher told the CBC that the whales were moving through quickly, not hanging around, possibly due to a growing scarcity of fish, or at least following the food to cooler water – something that, thanks to climate change, is getting harder to find.

Also on our radar

First Nations Progress in New Brunswick: The Centre for the Study of Living Standards, a non-for-profit economic research organization based in Ottawa, earlier this year released a comprehensive report called An Assessment of First Nations Economic and Social Performance in New Brunswick. The report, authored by Pascal Morimanno from Fredericton, provides a review of well-being indicators for First Nations people in New Brunswick. Overall, First Nations people experienced considerable progress on a number of indicators between 2016 and 2021, including population, average income and after-tax poverty rate.

Despite some improvements in economic fortunes, there remain large gaps between New Brunswick’s Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations on many indicators of economic and social well-being. Read the full report.

On the horizon

Reports and releases
Wednesday, Sept. 20: Teranet-National Bank House Price Index
Wednesday, Sept. 27: Statistics Canada: Oil and gas extraction, 2022
Friday, Sept. 29: July GDP

Atlantic Canada Climate Network Meeting, Sept. 21
2023 Atlantic Social Impact Exchange Summit, Sept. 25-27
2023 2nd Annual Atlantic Network Conference: Navigating Investment Opportunities in Atlantic Canada, Sept. 27-28
Atlantic Economic Council, Business Outlook Conference, Oct. 31 to Nov. 9
Halifax International Security Forum, Nov. 17-19

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