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:

👷 Jobs, jobs, jobs

It’s the flip side of Atlantic Canada’s economic boom. A report from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) released last week said small and medium-sized businesses in Atlantic Canada lost $2.49 billion in business in 2022 because of lost sales or contracts they had to turn down due to labour shortages.

Just over $1 billion of that came in Nova Scotia, while New Brunswick had the highest percentage of businesses turning down contracts, at 26 percent. (Another 14 percent reported postponing existing contracts.)

With rising interest rates and inflation driving up the costs, companies can’t afford to be turning down business. “Inflation and labour challenges have been at the forefront of most business owners’ realities,” the CFIB’s Duncan Robertson told a Nova Scotia legislative committee. The labour crunch is worst in the construction sector, where shortages of skilled tradespeople and apprentices are acute.

Nova Scotia estimates it needs 11,000 new certified trade professionals by 2030, but is adding them at a rate of just 615 per year. It’s promising to spend $100-million over the next three years to speed that up, offering grants to employers, apprentices and the tradespeople who train them, waiving community college tuition for some trades and dropping a requirement that immigrant tradespeople need the equivalent of a high school diploma before they can work in the province.

The four Atlantic provinces have also been working to remove interprovincial barriers to labour mobility. The Atlantic Apprenticeship Harmonization Project has standardized the education and training requirements for apprentices in 23 trades across the region, everything from bricklayers and electricians to millwrights and sheet metal workers. And this past June, the provinces agreed to work toward harmonizing licencing and certification for a range of skilled trades in construction — from gas fitters to elevator mechanics — basically anyone required to install power, heat and electricity in a home or building.

🏠 Housing crunch

The labour crunch is, in turn, exacerbating the region’s housing shortage. A delegation of provincial officials and industry leaders from Nova Scotia recently returned from a recruiting trip to England where they spoke with some 300 tradespeople about opportunities in Nova Scotia. “This is a once-in-a-generation challenge,” said Duncan Williams, president and CEO of the Construction Association of Nova Scotia.

Nova Scotia faces the most acute housing shortage in the region. It’s not building fast enough to match the population surge, and the province expects to be 41,200 homes short of requirements in less than five years according to a recent study. The province has pledged $1 billion over that time frame to address the issue. Last week, it announced development approvals to build up to 2,600 new housing units in the Bedford West area north of Halifax.

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💨 Against the wind, and in favour as well

Just a week after public pressure led Nova Scotia to pause offshore wind development in provincial waters, more and uglier NIMBY opposition to wind farms emerged. The deputy mayor of Colchester County, where EverWind Fuels is planning to build two onshore wind farms to power green hydrogen production, revealed he’d received angry phone calls in the days before a council vote on the project. One suggested that if he voted to let it proceed “your life won’t be worth continuing.”

Geoff Stewart said he spoke to the RCMP but didn’t consider the call a death threat so much as intimidation in an effort to sway his vote. (He supported the project, which passed the council vote.) One of EverWind’s contractors experienced some vandalism — and the council building’s door was smashed as well — on the weekend after the vote.

Wind farms often face opposition based on land use conflict as well as aesthetic, environmental and even health concerns. But proponents are making their voices heard as well. A few hundred people showed up at a rally in Newfoundland last Saturday to support World Energy GH2’s green hydrogen project. Currently undergoing environmental assessment, the project would see 328 turbines installed in two onshore wind farms to power a facility in Stephenville.

Chief Peggy White of the Three Rivers Mi’kmaq band said the jobs it creates are crucial to the area. “If our children have to leave, we lose our culture. This project allows our children to get educated, get skills in trades and stay at home.”

🛢 Terra Nova returns

Meanwhile, there was good news in the legacy energy industry last week with Suncor Energy Inc. restarting production at the Terra Nova offshore oil field 350 km southeast of St. John’s. Its oil platform — a production, storage and off-loading vessel — spent the last few years undergoing repairs in Spain meant to extend its life to 2031. It will gradually ramp up production to 29,000 barrels of oil per day.

For the province, which invested $205 million in Suncor and forfeited $300 million in future royalties to keep the project alive, Terra Nova will mean 3,400 direct and indirect jobs and more than $620 million in tax and royalty revenue by the end of its lifespan, according to an industry report. Energy Minister Andrew Parsons said those revenues would help fund government programs and investments in renewable energy as well.

🦞 Lobster tensions

After a brutal spring season that saw catches down and prices drop, the all-important fall lobster season got off to a rocky start last week in southwestern Nova Scotia. Poor weather forced “dumping day” — when boats head out on the water to set their gear — to be delayed for a week in one of the two major fishing areas.

More troubling were rising tensions between commercial lobster fishermen and First Nations, who were granted the right to a “moderate livelihood” fishery by the Supreme Court more than 20 years ago. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) retains the right to regulate the lobster fishery.

After violence erupted in 2020 over out-of-season fishing by the Sipekne’katik First Nation, the DFO began negotiating “interim understandings” that give licences to First Nations members to set a certain number of “moderate livelihood” traps. These “treaty protected fisheries” are in addition to whatever communal commercial licences a First Nation might hold.

The commercial fishermen say DFO is allowing some First Nations to “stack” moderate livelihood traps on boats fishing under commercial licences, in some cases leased from the First Nations and operated by non-Indigenous fishermen. “It’s a clear breach of good faith between the fishing communities of southwest Nova Scotia and the federal government,” said industry spokesperson Colin Sproul.

The Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs posted a response saying, “These associations continue to perpetuate misinformation, increasing violence and tensions for our harvesters on the water.”

⛺️ Tackling homelessness

The Newfoundland and Labrador government is launching a task force to tackle homelessness. It will include municipal officials and community groups, and comes after complaints over the handling of a tent encampment outside St. John’s Colonial Building. The city shut down public washrooms in a nearby park last week, saying significant vandalism led to staff refusing to clean them and creating an unsafe environment. The city asked the province to provide porta-potties. The province declined.

Meanwhile, a novel program to help the homeless in Nova Scotia has hit a snag. Two hundred tiny emergency shelters ordered by the province in October have yet to be shipped from Pallet, the U.S. supplier, because necessary supports like water and toilets are not in place. The company demands certain “dignity standards” be met before it will ship the shelters, said Melissa MacKinnon, deputy minister of Community Services.

🔥 Solving a burning problem

Some actual good news about the rise of artificial intelligence: Researchers at the Université de Moncton are developing AI technology that can detect forest fires better than humans and predict where they will spread. “It’s very accurate. Some of the algorithms are able to get to more than 99 percent performance when we want to detect fires,” Moulay Akhloufi, a computer science professor and head of the Perception, Robotics and Intelligent Machines Laboratory, told the CBC. The algorithms draw data from satellite and drone images as well as sensors on the ground. “We use the data to train the algorithms, so they are able to detect these small pixels that show that there is some smoke or some fire starting,” explained Akhloufi.

More help is on the way too: In 2029 the Canadian Space Agency plans to launch WildFireSat, “to monitor all active wildfires in Canada from space on a daily basis.”

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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