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:

📈 Indigenous business boom

A $100-million inland shipping terminal announced this month in Nova Scotia in partnership with the Millbrook First Nation. The $1-billion deal to buy fisheries giant Clearwater Seafoods Inc. in 2020, led by a coalition of seven Mi’kmaq First Nations. These are just two examples of the size and dynamism of the Indigenous economy in Atlantic Canada.

The Atlantic Economic Council put some hard numbers to it last week, releasing an interim report showing the Indigenous economy accounted for five percent of the region’s GDP in 2020 and more than eight percent of its jobs. It’s twice the size of the aerospace and defence sector, and growing.

Overall, the Indigenous economy accounts for $5.6 billion of Atlantic Canada’s GDP and some 83,000 jobs. Self-employment is up 37 percent since 2016, a faster growth rate than for non-Indigenous population; the Council put the number of Indigenous entrepreneurs in the region at 7,000.

Challenges remain. The Indian Act prohibits those living on reserve to mortgage or own property, Fred Bergman, senior policy analyst with the Council, pointed out, closing off one means by which Indigenous entrepreneurs can build collateral and a credit history. And an education gap with the non-Indigenous population persists.

At a press event announcing the findings, Bob Gloade, chief of the Millbrook First Nation, pointed out another number worth noting. In Nova Scotia alone, Indigenous business was responsible for $400 million in direct tax revenues. “You hear in the public that Indigenous people do not pay taxes and they are a burden on society,” he said, “but that is totally incorrect.”

🔌 The nuclear future

New Brunswick last week unveiled a 12-year clean energy plan that will see nuclear power become the largest source of electricity in the province, followed by wind. Federal regulations demand all provinces have a net-zero grid in place by 2035, and with coal and fossil fuels still accounting for nearly 30 percent of its electricity generation, New Brunswick faces a formidable challenge. Its plan sees nuclear power generation roughly doubling by the target date thanks to the addition of small modular reactors.

The province currently has two SMR projects underway with private sector partners, with the first expected to be in service by 2030. The intent to boost nuclear in the new plan had critics complaining about the slow speed and high cost of bringing nuclear power online. Energy cost is certainly an issue for the province. New Brunswick Power asked the province’s utility board last week to approve rate increases of 9.8 percent in each of the next two years. Together with adjustments already in place for 2024, residential customers will see their rate jump 13.7 percent in 2024. The utility said the big hit was needed now so it could afford to refurbish the Mactaquac hydro dam and convert the Belledune coal-fired generating station to biomass — both part of the clean energy play — and still meet targets to reduce its $5.4-billion debt.

Still, the move puts New Brunswick firmly in line with a growing international consensus. At the COP28 climate conference in Dubai this month, 22 countries including Canada, the U.S., U.K. and Japan signed a declaration to work together to triple the amount of global nuclear power by 2050.

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🔋 The ins and outs of green hydrogen

Nova Scotia announced its Green Hydrogen Action Plan last week. Short on specific targets, it did outline seven goals and 23 action items, promising strategic investments, support for research and workforce development, and co-ordination with other levels of government and with Indigenous groups. Nova Scotia has already approved two projects, by EverWind Fuels and Bear Head Energy, both of whom plan to build onshore wind farms to produce the energy required. The province has also set a target to licence five gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030; the Action Plan anticipates most of that will go to produce green hydrogen.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, meanwhile, John Risley, chairman of World Energy GH2, has confirmed the company’s massive green hydrogen project there will have excess power in the winter months that it would happily sell into the electrical grid — possibly more than the Muskrat Falls hydro project produces. World Energy will need to draw power from the provincial grid in the summer, so the company is hoping for a “synergistic relationship,” said Risley, where “everybody saves money.”

Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro president Jennifer Williams said the province will need to double its grid capacity by 2050, and private providers with power to sell would very likely be part of that expansion.

The province could use some help now. Newfoundland Power, the province’s electricity distributor said there could be rotating power outages this winter because of continuing problems at two generating stations and lower-than-expected transmission from Muskrat Falls through the Labrador-Island link.

🌞 Bright days of winter

And though it is easy to be forgotten in the dark days of winter, solar power generation is growing. Halifax announced it will add rooftop solar installations to nine more community and municipal sites by the end of next year to power their operations and feed electricity into the grid. And in P.E.I., the Sunbank solar farm, powered by more than 48,000 solar panels, has begun service in Summerside. It’s expected to be fully operational by the end of December, and includes a battery installation that can store 10 megawatt hours of energy, enough to power 1,700 homes.

🩺 Check the ER

Is it a good sign if the people showing up at emergency rooms are a lot sicker than they used to be? Nova Scotia thinks it might be. Nova Scotia Health reports that the percentage of people at emergency departments with triage scores of one and two — the most serious — has steadily increased since 2016. At the same time, and more significantly, the percentage of patients with scores of four and five has declined notably, from a combined 48 percent in 2016 to 35 percent this year. The rise of the more serious percentage, then, could reflect the fact that fewer people with minor issues are clogging up the ERs. And that, says Dr. Matthew Clarke, an ER doctor and associate chief medical information officer at the Nova Scotia Health Authority, is likely because new initiatives are taking some of the pressure off.

Expanded virtual care, mobile primary care clinics that travel around the province, and a change to allow pharmacists to treat minor ailments and chronic conditions are all helping. “I think we’ve created capacity in other avenues,” Clarke said, though he acknowledged more people with multiple chronic conditions like pneumonia and COVID are partly responsible for the higher triage scores.

New Brunswick took steps last week to ease the pressure on the health-care system, announcing a new program to allow internationally trained doctors who don’t meet the province’s licencing requirements to work as clinical assistants. They’ll work under the supervision of licenced physicians and help out with surgeries, patient evaluation and care, and filling in on weekends and holidays. The program builds on previous efforts to attract international health care workers, including an assessment system announced in October to allow foreign-trained physicians to go through a 12-week clinical evaluation by a specially trained doctor in order to qualify to practice.

💪 Building strong mussels

Atlantic Aqua Farms, P.E.I.’s biggest shellfish grower, is teaming up with a biotechnology NGO to figure out how to build better mussels. The $3.4-million research program is Canada’s first-ever genomic selective breeding project to produce faster-growing mussels that can also stand up to heat stress. Global warming means rising water temperatures, said Genome Atlantic’s Ramón Filgueira, the project’s co-investigator, and that’s “potentially problematic in some areas of P.E.I. where water temperatures are already on the high side for mussel cultivation.” P.E.I. produces about half the mussels eaten in North America, generating more than $60 million per year.

🌅 On the horizon


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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The Atlantic Momentum newsletter will return on Jan. 10. Thanks for reading and happy holidays!