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

Earlier this year, 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:

🌬 Ride the wind

The federal government agreed last week to give Newfoundland and Labrador sole regulatory authority over offshore wind farms in provincial waters, hoping the move will attract investment and speed development. The agreement means any offshore wind projects in 16 bays along the province’s coastline will be assessed and managed under existing regulations, as with onshore wind farms, and won’t need federal approval.

“[It] puts us in the driver’s seat and will allow us to reap the majority benefit from the endless possibilities of the new green economy,” said Premier Andrew Furey.

Not everyone was so optimistic. The commercial fishing industry is predictably worried about wind farms causing harm to fishing grounds. “Words like ‘expedite’ are cause for concern to fish harvesters,” said Greg Pretty, president of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union. Premier Furey promised to consult and collaborate with the industry. But then, so too did the province of Nova Scotia, and just two weeks ago it paused wind energy development in two areas it had green lit largely due to objections from the fishing industry.

Still, the agreement shows just how keen the federal government is to get turbines spinning. Last month, it announced a $125-million loan to EverWind Fuels for a proposed green hydrogen plant in Nova Scotia to be powered by three onshore wind farms. And last week, it trumpeted a joint decision with the province to veto an offshore oil and gas exploration licence issued by regulators for Sable Bank, southeast of Halifax. The licence was not in keeping with “our shared commitments to advance clean energy,” the joint announcement said, and to pursue the “projected $1-trillion global market opportunity for offshore wind.”

👩‍👦‍👦 The Belonging Advantage

Why did the multinational technology giant Thales Canada set up shop in New Brunswick? The company had been impressed by the economic vitality in Atlantic Canada overall, but there was more. “There is a unique quality to the warmth, the community pride you feel there. Every time we visited we could feel it. Even the security personnel at the airport were just so welcoming,” explained Cara Salci, Vice President, Strategy & Government Relations for Thales Canada. A new paper from PPF examines the increasingly important role that Atlantic Canada’s quality of life and hospitable environment is having on economic growth. Call it ‘the belonging advantage.’ It is “one of our most critical economic assets,” said Mike Davis, a consultant who advises governments on social policy. “We need to double down and triple down on it.”

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❄️ Cold comfort

With winter taking a firm grip in Atlantic Canada, helping homelessness might be expected to take precedence over political squabbling. That wasn’t the case in New Brunswick last week, however, when the town of St. Stephen declared a state of local emergency after a man was found in medical distress in a park and later died in hospital. The province has not provided the money needed to house and support its citizens, the declaration said, and the municipality hasn’t the jurisdiction or resources to “address the consequences of the Government of New Brunswick’s failure.” St. Stephen, a town of 4,510, has between 70 and 100 homeless people, with 30 or so rotating through a temporary shelter.

There followed two days of sniping. Public Safety Minister Kris Austin called the declaration “political posturing” and said the situation did not approach anything like a true state of emergency. The mayor of St. Stephen accused the province of “pettiness” and Housing minister Jill Green shot back that the mayor never called her for help, and that previous efforts to install warming trailers in New Brunswick towns and cities have been scuppered by NIMBYism.

The province then quashed the state of emergency declaration, with Mr. Austin taking a moment to blame the whole homeless mess on “Trudeau policies, leftist agendas that are degrading our society.” By Friday, cooler heads were prevailing. Green said a new “rent bank,”initially due to launch next year, will instead be operating by this week, allowing people at risk of eviction to access grants of up to $2,750. And a local non-profit opened a 24/7 drop-in centre to be manned by volunteers.

Meanwhile, volunteers in Halifax were taking a more pragmatic approach. They’ve been setting up bright-red, heavy-duty ice fishing shelters in Grand Parade, a site across from city hall that’s been earmarked as a homeless encampment. Good Samaritans have been donating money to buy the 36-square-foot Eskimo QuickFish units, which cost about $200 each.

📉 Start-ups and downs

Getting a business off the ground is never easy, especially in the hyper-competitive innovation economy. Entrevestor.com reported last week that 117 start-ups in Atlantic Canada have stopped operating so far in 2023, 15 percent more than the previous high in 2020, when COVID-19 ravaged the economy.

About half the failures were companies less than two years old. The technology site attributed the high number to the difficulties mid-term startups face in growing fast enough to attract new investment in more difficult economic times.

The news may be getting better, however. Atlantic Canadian startups raised $117 million in the third quarter of 2023, according to data from the Canadian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association, an improvement over the second quarter and more than half the $230 million it raised in all of 2022. A good deal of that came from just one company, Halifax-based CarbonCure, which raised US$80 million in July. CarbonCure’s pioneering technology injects captured carbon dioxide into concrete during mixing, converting it into a mineral that increases the concrete’s strength while permanently embedding the CO₂. The process is in use in 35 countries, and last week the company announced its first customer in Africa, ARISE IIP, which builds industrial infrastructure in Benin and Gabon. It’s the sixth continent the company has broken into.

🚃 Easing the pressure

Commuters in the Halifax region, where a population boom is stressing local infrastructure, may soon see some relief. The Millbrook First Nation is teaming up with a rail equipment company to build Atlantic Canada’s first inland terminal. The We’kopekitk Inland Shipping Terminal will feature a railyard, container terminal, warehouses and a distribution centre, all on the main rail line through the province and hard by the TransCanada Highway. The $100-million project is to begin construction next year and be fully operational in 2025.

The project will create 300 permanent jobs and mean “generational economic change for our community,” said Millbrook First Nation Chief Bob Gloade. Allowing trains to haul containers inland, rather than loading them on trucks at shipyards, will also relieve pressure on the Port Authority, lower greenhouse gas emissions and make for a more efficient supply chain. And it will also provide relief on city streets in Halifax; heavy trucks can make up more than 30 percent of afternoon traffic on Lower Water Street and commute times have been a growing concern for the city.

👩‍⚕️ Doctor! Doctor!

Nova Scotia has found a simple way to find people a family doctor — pay physicians extra money to take on more patients. This year the province offered doctors a $10,000 payment if they accepted 50 patients with higher-than-normal health needs off the Need a Family Practice Registry. Every patient accepted beyond that brought another $200. Health Minister Michelle Thompson said last week that 59 doctors had signed up, taking 4,700 patients and their families off the list. Nova Scotia still had 146,451 people on the registry as of Nov. 1, however, or roughly 14.8 percent of the province’s population.

Cape Breton, meanwhile, is taking a more home-spun approach to the doctor shortage. The Cape Breton regional municipality has started a non-profit called Island Ties to help attract and retain doctors. Volunteers will welcome new doctors, provide community orientation, offer information on schools and introductions to realtors, organize social events — even drive them to the airport or drop off a meal. “[It] just comes from us wanting to really showcase the community hospitality of [Cape Breton,]” said spokesperson Dr. Meaghan Keating.

The strained health-care system continues to be a challenge in the region. A new Fraser Institute survey shows Nova Scotia has the country’s longest median wait time between referral from a general practitioner and receipt of treatment, at 56.7 weeks — just more than double the national figure. P.E.I. and New Brunswick were next worst on the list, at 55.2 and 52.6 weeks respectively.

🌏 Prepared for launch

It’s purple, about the size of a bread box and is named after New Brunswick’s provincial flower. Violet, a mini-satellite built by students from the University of New Brunswick, will soon blast off into space aboard a Falcon 9 NASA rocket. The launch is scheduled for March and will see the satellite travel to the International Space Station, where an astronaut will deploy it into orbit.

Violet will circle the Earth once every 90 minutes, at 8 km/second, sending data back to help researchers study weather and the Earth’s upper atmosphere. More than 270 students have been involved in building Violet over the last five years; the final cohort are getting the ground station up and running to make sure it can communicate via Violet’s 17-foot antenna, currently installed on the roof of UNB’s Gillan Hall.

On the horizon

Reports and releases:

Friday, Dec. 15, Housing starts (October)


Halifax Chamber Business Awards, Jan. 25

Sea Farmers Conference, Jan. 25

Atlantic First Nations Health Conference, Feb. 13-15

Society of Canadian Aquatic Sciences Annual Conference, Feb. 21-24

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