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

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:

Snow days

The massive winter storm that hammered Nova Scotia and PEI last week provided another harsh lesson for Atlantic Canada on how to deal with extreme weather. The storm dumped up to a metre of wet snow in Nova Scotia and parts of PEI, and as much as 150 cm in Cape Breton. Not the worst storm ever in the region, but easily in the top five of the last 40 years. The snow was so deep and so heavy it busted in the windows of an apartment building in Sydney. A snow pack sliding off the roof of a seniors’ home in the city broke propane lines and caused an explosion that injured one and forced residents to evacuate.

The federal government jumped to send in Parks Canada snow removal equipment and Canadian Coast Guard helicopters to help. New Brunswick sent equipment as well. And of course, everyone pitched in to help their neighbours (see PPF’s The Belonging Advantage report on that instinct!) Teams of shovellers from minor hockey organizations and cadets from the Coast Guard college helped people dig out. At least one nurse snowmobiled in to elderly patients stuck at home; staff at the Cape Breton SPCA stayed on site for days to look after their animals.

There was some political angst over the question of whether the storm constituted a state of emergency. The Cape Breton Regional Municipality and the Eskasoni First Nation both declared a state of emergency. Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston questioned whether it was necessary, saying it wouldn’t get roads plowed any faster. He mused that it might be “just a PR [public relations] issue” and suggested it made a stressful time worse: “I think elected community leaders have a responsibility to do their best to calm fears and anxiety and not stoke it.” Outraged ensued. Cape Breton Regional Municipality Mayor Amanda McDougall-Merrill said she didn’t want to dwell on any negativity, but the comments “had an impact on the community and it hurt.” Houston apologized, saying he was just trying to emphasize that plenty of “important snow removal efforts” were underway.

Perhaps it was a lesson learned. There will no doubt be more. The Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union (NSNU) made the very sensible suggestion to re-examine the province’s extreme weather plan for health-care workers to assure they can get to their patients, and home again.

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.

Friendlier skies

Coming off a week when blizzards grounded virtually all air traffic in the region, it’s encouraging to look ahead to a promising summer. WestJet announced it will bring on a raft of additional flights for the upcoming tourist season. It will add 11 weekly direct flights from Charlottetown to Toronto, Calgary and Edmonton starting in May, and another 11 from Moncton to those three destinations as well. It’s also returning to western Newfoundland, with four direct flights every week from Deer Lake Regional Airport to Calgary and to Toronto. That makes three airlines, including Air Canada and Flair Airlines, that will be offering direct flights to Toronto this summer from Deer Lake, located about a 20-minute drive from Gros Morne National Park. “Our tourism product is world-class,” said Tammy Priddle, CEO of the Deer Lake Regional Airport Authority. “It was clear the demand was there.”

Airports in the region still aren’t back to pre-pandemic traffic levels, but things are beginning to improve. Halifax’s Stanfield International Airport put through almost 3.6 million passengers last year, about 15 percent below pre-pandemic levels but 15 percent higher than 2022. Moncton’s Romeo LeBlanc International Airport ran at 89 percent of 2019 traffic levels last year, though that too was a considerable improvement over 2022.

Mining reboot

The new owners of an idled fluorspar mine in St. Lawrence, Nfld. plan to spend $100-million over the next three years to restart and expand the mine, creating about 200 jobs and building a new port facility nearby.

Fluorspar is commonly used in steel-making, but can also be part of the production process for clean energy technologies such as lithium batteries and solar panels. St. Lawrence has one of North America’s biggest deposits, and the new owners, a Singapore-based private equity group, said recent work reveals it’s even richer than they thought.

The firm bought the operation out of insolvency thinking its lifespan was about six years; it now expects to operate for 20 to 30 years, and may re-open long shuttered underground shafts in addition to open pit operations. St. Lawrence Mayor Kevin Pittman says he’s keen to discuss opportunities for local workers and business: “The most important thing for me as a town right now is to get people back to work.”

A different kind of mining expansion is coming to New Brunswick. Hive Digital Technologies Inc. will spend nearly $20-million to upgrade its bitcoin mining operation in Grand Falls, replacing 6,000 older, inefficient bitcoin mining machines with 7,000 new ones. The New Brunswick facility is Hive’s most powerful — it has others in Quebec, Iceland and Sweden — with 1.83 exahash per second of computing power, or the ability to complete 1.83 quintillion calculations per second. (What exactly is an exahash, you ask? We’ve got you.)

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Bay du Nord barrels

The stalled Bay du Nord offshore oil project got bigger as well recently when the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB) released a reserve estimate for a 2020 discovery that makes up part of the oilfield. The Cambriol discovery is estimated to have 340 million barrels of recoverable oil, pushing the total for Bay du Nord over a billion barrels.

Bay du Nord, located 500 kilometres northeast of St. John’s, would be the province’s first deep-water offshore oil field, and is considered critical to the industry’s future. Last May, the megaproject’s majority owner, Norwegian state-owned Equinor ASA, postponed it for three years, citing “changing market conditions and subsequent high-cost inflation.” It was careful not to get too excited over the new estimate for Cambriol, saying it certainly believes there are more than 500 million barrels to be recovered at Bay du Nord but that its evaluations are based on “volumes that are considered economically and technically recoverable, as opposed to potential or possible recoverable resources.” It said it continues to evaluate and assess the project’s economics.

Optimists have been looking for signs the project may be moving forward. Last month, Equinor said it had begun a search for a contractor to build the floating production, storage and offloading vessel needed for the project, instead of taking on the cost itself. “We are looking at everything we can to improve the project,” said Tore Løseth, Equinor’s top executive in Canada. It’s also hired a semi-submersible rig called Hercules to drill another exploration well this year in the area. Even the fact that the project’s manager, Asbjørn Haugsgjerd, has moved from Norway to live full-time in St. John’s is seen as a positive sign.

“Our members are very pleased to hear that there is movement,” said Charlene Johnson, CEO of Energy N.L., the industry’s lobby group. “It’s obvious to us that they absolutely want this project to succeed.”

Encampment closures

Halifax plans to shut down five of the 11 locations it designated for homeless encampments, including perhaps the region’s most visible tent city, in Grand Parade, across from city hall. The city will help people move into shelters and other “supportive housing options,” but residents will have to vacate the designated locations by Feb. 26.

They were always meant to be a temporary stopgap and enough indoor spaces are now available for the 100 or so people living in encampments, the city said, including a new shelter with 70 beds at the Halifax Forum and a converted DoubleTree hotel in Dartmouth. “We should never accept it as normal that people spend winter in tents in our community,” Mayor Mike Savage said. “We now have a variety of options in place.” (On Tuesday, Savage announced he will not run for re-election.)

Officials have the legal authority to remove people who won’t leave, but officials say they won’t involve the police unless it becomes necessary for public safety reasons. A local business group, Friends of Downtown Halifax, has sprung up and is circulating a petition to encourage the city to enforce the deadline. Crime and panhandling have increased in the area, said a spokesperson, who also expressed concern at the lack of mental health resources available.

Residents, however, are vowing to stay. “I’m not leaving,” said Ric Young, who’s been living at Grand Parade since last year. “On the 26th of February, I’m going to rally … every person in Halifax that wants to come down and support us and we all stand together.” The 25-30 people living at the Grand Parade site were recently given a tour of the Halifax Forum shelter and only one agreed to stay there. “I’ll get arrested if I have to,” said another resident. “I won’t go.”

Canada’s housing advocate agrees that cities should take such wishes into account. Marie-Josée Houle told an audience in St. John’s, where the city is transforming a Comfort Hotel into transitional housing, that such arrangements are not a solution. “The big thing is did (governments) properly, meaningfully engage with people in encampments?” she said. “Is this what they choose? That’s really what it boils down to.”

UPCOMING: Annual Testimonial Dinner Honour Roll 2024 Join more than 1,200 leaders and policy wonks as we gather to pay tribute to Canadians who have made outstanding contributions to public policy and good governance. This year’s dinner takes place on April 11 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre — in the biggest dining room you’ve ever seen! Be in the room where it happens.

Listen to PPF’s new podcast: WONK, hosted by Edward Greenspon

High marks for higher ed.

Weeks after a cap on foreign student visas was announced that could complicate recruitment of the best and brightest, some universities in the region got some good news. Three STEM programs at Atlantic Canadian universities ranked in the top 20 percent in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings. Dalhousie’s life sciences program, Memorial University’s engineering and technology programs and the University of New Brunswick’s computer science and engineering faculties all made the grade.

“Engineers and computer scientists offer the innovative ideas we need to solve complex problems and support economic growth,” UNB President Paul Mazerolle said. “UNB has put a lot of effort and resources into equipping our students with the tools they need to succeed after graduation, including housing more than 20 research institutes and centres and more than 65 research laboratories within the Atlantic Provinces.”

Vrbo insults Nfld.

Not all publicity is necessarily good publicity. Some Newfoundlanders were not too happy to hear one of their beloved folk songs “I’se the b’y” being used in a Super Bowl ad for the vacation rental company Vrbo. In the ad, the song plays over scenes of a disappointed family discovering they’d rented a property full of barnyard animals.

Following numerous complaints, Newfoundland and Labrador Minister of Tourism and Culture Steve Crocker asked the company to take the ad down. “As Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, we take strong exception to Vrbo using the song in this derogatory manner.”

Premier Andrew Furey also weighed in: “Your ad is not an accurate representation of our province, our culture, or our people,” he wrote. ”Be better!

On the horizon


  • Feb. 15, Housing starts (January)
  • Feb. 20, CPI (January)
  • Feb. 20, Teranet-National Bank House Price Index (January)
  • March 27, Tourism indicators (fourth quarter 2023)


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