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

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PPF: Atlantic Momentum Newsletter

PPF’s Atlantic Canada Momentum Index offers proof that the region is on the upswing, outpacing the rest of the country in several key economic indicators. Each week, this newsletter looks at factors either driving or impeding that momentum. Here’s everything you need to know:

J.D. Irving wind

It’s good news for New Brunswick when one of the province’s largest greenhouse gas emitters goes big into renewable energy. J.D. Irving, Limited announced last week it plans to build a wind farm near Juniper, N.B., 20 kilometres east of Hartland.

Phase One of Brighton Mountain Wind would have 34 turbines and cost some $550 million, with construction to start next year, provided its environmental impact assessment passes muster. Another 24 turbines could be added in a second phase, bringing total capacity to 350 megawatts, enough to power 100,000 homes.

For the province, which is looking to add 1,400 megawatts of wind power in the next decade, Brighton Mountain would reduce the grid’s reliance on fossil fuels from 33.5 percent to 23.1 percent. For Irving, it would help reduce its carbon footprint and safeguard its business.

“Securing clean energy sources to support traditional industries in New Brunswick, such as pulp and paper, will help to maintain the longevity and viability of current JDI operations,” the company said, adding that renewable energy supply chains are “becoming necessary to compete in today’s global economy” and insulate the company from “external energy market forces.”

Brighton Mountain would be the company’s first facility, but JDI points out it’s already in the wind business. Its equipment and construction subsidiaries have helped install 165 turbines in Atlantic Canada and Maine, and it’s leasing land in Maine to a massive 1,000-megawatt facility.

It’s fortunate the facility would be on land it already owns, and remote enough to mitigate at least some NIMBYism. Nova Scotia is finding out how entrenched such sentiments can be. Just a week after Premier Tim Houston hosted a town hall facing angry objections to the proposed Bear Head Energy wind farm, a senior official said they are developing a public education campaign to win people over.

“We have lots of wind, really great wind, both onshore and offshore,” said Karen Gatien, deputy minister of Natural Resources and Renewables. “That’s our big hydro-electric project,” she added, comparing the resource to Quebec’s many dams.

THIS WEEK ON WONK: ‘The fascinating economist’ Craig Wright, on the role of a big bank forecaster

Island attraction

P.E.I. is finding no easy fix to the immigration squeeze. In February, the province announced it will reduce the number of immigrants it nominates for permanent residency by 25 percent this year, bringing it down to the 2022 level. Population was growing faster than anticipated, Premier Dennis King said, and the province’s housing infrastructure and health-care services couldn’t keep up. The premier promised to focus on bringing in workers for those two sectors, and reduce those nominated for work in sales and services.

Which has upset the sales and services sector. The Summerside and Charlottetown chambers of commerce said in a news release last week workers are leaving because they don’t see a path to permanent residency. Employers are facing “a struggle keeping the workforce that they do have because employees are scared,” said Kaley O’Brien, CEO of the Summerside Chamber of Commerce. “They don’t see a future here in Prince Edward Island, and they’re leaving.” The plan also makes it harder to attract new temporary foreign workers, who are less likely to come if the pathway to permanent residency on P.E.I. is cut off.

The construction sector, meanwhile, is looking further afield to find workers. The leaders of P.E.I.’s construction and home builders associations, along with some business owners and immigrations officials, are heading to job fairs in England and Ireland to try to recruit tradespeople.

The province needs 1,000 skilled tradespeople to keep up with demand for housing, says Sam Sanderson, general manager with the Construction Association of P.E.I. The hope is that with similar building standards, no language barrier and an attractive lifestyle on offer, the province will be an attractive destination.

Green renos

With luck, construction workers moving to the province will have experience in “green building.” The Atlantic Economic Council reported last week that residential and commercial buildings are Atlantic Canada’s fourth largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, representing 11 percent of the total, and governments and businesses need to move faster on retrofits and new environmental construction standards.

The report, the latest in its series on meeting net-zero targets, notes that building emissions have dropped an impressive 29 percent since 2005, thanks mainly to the replacement of oil-based heating systems with electric heat pumps. But Prince Edward Island’s and Nova Scotia’s residential emissions per household were fourth and fifth largest, respectively, in Canada in 2020. And an estimated 41,000 residential units and 2 million square meters of commercial space in the region will have to be retrofitted annually until 2040 to meet the country’s net-zero targets, at a cost of $1.5 billion per year. New construction will have to meet higher standards, voluntarily or not, if the goal is to be met.

The council outlined three main challenges: adopting net-zero building codes in a timely matter, growing the construction workforce and ensuring retrofits and net-zero new builds are affordable. The federal Green Buildings Strategy, it notes, is a year behind schedule with no release date. Likewise, the next round of new building codes, which are a provincial jurisdiction, are expected in 2025 but only half the provinces, including Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador in Atlantic Canada, met the target to adopt the 2020 codes. The provinces need strict timelines, the council says, and perhaps a sense of urgency.

Developing strategies for growing and upskilling the construction labour force is critical, the council says, and it’s a challenge every province is facing. As to the cost, it’s considerable. Retrofits cost between $56,000-$96,000 for the average detached house in Canada, the council notes, and top-tier energy efficiency adds 6 to 11 percent to the price of a new build (though with saving to homeowners down the road in both cases).

The report lists more than 60 federal and provincial government programs in place that help subsidize the costs and suggests they be evaluated to see which work best and where any gaps might be. The Atlantic provinces all have multiple retrofit programs for businesses, it points out, but only Nova Scotia has one specifically for small businesses.

Artificial Intelligence momentum

Two companies in Atlantic Canada made strides last week in adopting Artificial Intelligence, everyone’s favourite revolutionary/apocalyptic technology. Verafin, the region’s great high-tech success story — bought by Nasdaq Inc. in 2021 for US$2.75 billion—announced it was adding a Generative AI “co-pilot” to its suite of financial crime-fighting software solutions.

Verafin helps 2,500 banks and other financial institutions look for fraud, money laundering, terrorist financing and other financial crimes. The new co-pilot will help cut the time it takes to comb through data, investigate anomalies, summarize findings and document information for customers and regulators. Its biggest benefit is a potential 90 percent time savings for “alert reviews” — a labour-intensive activity that involves manually piecing together information on “alerted entities and their counterparties.”

At the other end of the food chain, New Brunswick’s Chick Pick Solutions Inc., is developing a pilot project that will use machine learning to automate the sorting of male and female chicks. About 50 million chicks are sorted each year in Canada for the egg market alone, says co-founder Ryan Whitney, with the meat market much larger still. He and partner Frederik Ulric-Antoine Paré founded the company while they were engineering students at University of New Brunswick, and did a stint at the Energia Ventures startup accelerator last fall.

How either of these systems actually work is proprietary, and well beyond the comprehension of the Atlantic Momentum Newsletter in any case, but the breadth of the applications is certainly impressive.

Health-care help

Ongoing efforts to recruit health-care workers in the face of labour shortages included a provincial job fair held simultaneously in 11 municipalities across Nova Scotia last Friday, with the Sydney and Halifax events seeing long lineups outside before the doors even opened. Michelle Murphy, assistant manager of recruitment for Nova Scotia Health, said there are roughly 5,000 job vacancies across the province that need filling. “Health care is not just about stethoscopes and lab jackets, so we have opportunities within nutrition and food, corporate services, as well as IT and nursing and physicians,” she said.

And in New Brunswick, Vitalité Health Network is promising to issue an RFP for a partner to run a dedicated daycare centre for health-care workers in the Restigouche region in the hopes it will help recruitment. The pilot project, Vitalité’s first in the province, was originally to be open by last September. Jean-Guy Levesque, the mayor of Campbellton said “aggressive solutions” are needed and that a daycare is a “concrete solution that should already have been implemented.” In February, Campbellton secured $4.5 million from the federal government’s Housing Accelerator Fund and is planning to build at least 200 housing units, which Levesque said should help with recruitment as well.

Daycare is quickly becoming a priority for the health-care system, it would seem. Nova Scotia has a pilot project underway to serve health-care workers in Sydney in which the provincial government covers a quarter of the operating costs, subsidizes half the fees for parents and pays wages when extra staff are needed. Newfoundland and Labrador is planning to open four sites geared for health-care workers with irregular hours by the end of year. Horizon Health Network, New Brunswick’s other regional health-care authority, is also working on daycare centres and said it hopes to have something to announce later in the spring.

Vitalité’s president and CEO, Dr. France Desrosiers, said they need a partner and additional support to get going in Restigouche, adding the reminder that their mandate is providing health services, not running daycare centres. “We can’t do it on our own,” she said. “We need support.”

SaltWire tire kickers

SaltWire Network has attracted a number of offers to buy all or part of the media chain out of bankruptcy. Friday was the deadline for interested parties to submit non-binding letters of intent, and Bobby Kofman, president of bankruptcy monitor KSV Restructuring, said they received “several,” including deals that “if completed, would see the business continue on an ongoing basis.”

Their names were not released, but rumours have been swirling that debt-addled Postmedia and Torstar have kicked the tires, as has Winnipeg Free Press publisher FP Newspapers. A number of smaller regional players like Island Press in P.E.I. and even former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Danny Williams are said to have considered bids for parts of the business. KSV, SaltWire and a financial advisory firm will now work to pare down the bidders, and seek binding offers by May 24. Fiera Capital, SaltWire’s creditor, which is owed some $32.7 million, will have input into the process. KSV hopes to have it all sorted by July 31.

Save the date: PPF Frank McKenna Awards 2024 celebrates leaders making Canada and the Atlantic region richer through their ingenuity and initiative. This year’s event will take place on Oct. 10 at Pier 21 in Halifax. Register now — and stay tuned for announcements about our 2024 honourees. 

On the horizon


  • May 10, Employment report (April)

  • May 13, Building permits (March)

  • May 15, Housing starts and MLS home sales (April)

  • May 21, CPI (April)

  • May 31, GDP (Q1)


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This newsletter is produced by journalists at PPF Media. It maintains complete editorial independence.