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

Sponsored by: 

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:

Emergency bills

Last week, the Globe and Mail revealed how much for-profit health-care staffing cost the Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick governments during the surge of the COVID-19 Omicron variant. The Globe focused on Canadian Health Labs (CHL), a firm both provincial governments contracted to supply health-care workers to help with staffing shortages in early 2022. In some cases, the hourly rate for nurses came to over $300, “or roughly six times what a nurse on staff at a hospital in Atlantic Canada typically earns.”

In all, Newfoundland spent a reported $35.6 million on staffing agency nurses between April and August 2023. It spent just over $1 million annually prior to the pandemic. New Brunswick’s $93 million deal with CHL runs through 2026, where it charges the equivalent of $306.70 an hour per nurse. Public-sector nurses in the province earn between $37 and $45 per hour.

The Globe also uncovered other expenses charged to taxpayers in Newfoundland, including $1.6 million CHL reportedly invoiced the provincial government in meal allowances for nurses “even though the company’s contracts with nurses required them to pay for their own food,” and for which the Globe could find no evidence of it going to nurses. CHL wasn’t the only agency supplying nurses — but the Globe’s story notes, “it charged more and invoiced for more things.”  CHL provided the Globe with a lengthy response noting that “while contract rates for human health resources vary by region and specialty, the terms of CHL’s contracts with health-care professionals are fair and transparent.” (See the Globe story for more.)

Other provinces, including other Atlantic provinces, also saw their expenditures on agency nurses skyrocket during the pandemic, as well as more recently. Nova Scotia spent $43.9 million on them from April to September 2023, 10 times what it spent in all of 2018-19.  On the heels of the Globe’s story, Linda Silas, the head of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, said that she will write to every auditor general and health minister across the country to urge investigations into the costs and impacts of for-profit nursing. “I can only imagine how demoralized nurses who have been working in New Brunswick for years feel when they see this,” said New Brunswick Liberal leader Susan Holt.

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.

Green power potential

Wskijinu’k Mtmo’taqnuow Agency Ltd. (WMA), an economic partnership group owned by 13 Mi’kmaw communities, signed a deal with Nova Scotia Power last week to invest in electricity storage plants in the province. The two parties are tapping into as much as $138.2 million in support from the Canada Infrastructure Bank. Nova Scotia Power will receive a loan of up to $120.2 million, with the WMA getting up to $18 million.

The first phase of construction of the battery plants, which will be in White Rock, Bridgewater and Waverley, N.S., is set to start this year, wrapping up in 2026. But the first site should become operational in 2025. Overall, it’s expected that the facilities will help to reduce Nova Scotia Power’s greenhouse gas emissions by 98,000 tonnes annually.

Meanwhile, there are questions about another Nova Scotia green power project. EverWind, in partnership with power company RES and First Nations, plans to build three wind farms to power a green hydrogen and ammonia facility in Point Tupper. But only their excess generated power — about 20 percent — will be used domestically, the rest exported. “Not only are we sacrificing this landscape,” one local resident with concerns about the wind farms told the CBC, “but we don’t even have the satisfaction of knowing it’s going to go into our own grid.”

Newcomers staying

New data on immigrant retention rates from Statistics Canada shows that both New Brunswick and PEI had an increase in five-year retention rates for immigrants who were admitted in 2016. New Brunswick’s rate was its highest, at 56 percent for the period, and while PEI’s overall retention rate was only 30.9 percent (the lowest in Canada), that was still a notable 5.7 percent jump from the previous period.

The story of shorter-term retention rates was also generally good for the Atlantic provinces, particularly when it comes to skilled immigrants. Nova Scotia had the highest increase in its one-year retention rate of skilled immigrants, up from 21.5 percent for the 2016 cohort to 63.9 percent for the 2020 group. New Brunswick also saw a significant bump, with its one-year retention rate jumping from 50 percent to 65.8 percent for the same groups, respectively. The news was similar in PEI and Newfoundland. PEI’s one-year retention rate of skilled immigrants rose from 40 percent for the 2017 year to 70 percent for the 2020 year (there was no data for the 2016 cohort for the province). Newfoundland’s rate went from 31.3 percent for the 2016 cohort to 50 percent for those who arrived in 2020.

While the overall trend line is positive, it’s not a straight line. Retention rates — whether five-year or one-year, have experienced higher peaks in some Atlantic provinces over the period. But when compared to other provinces, such as Saskatchewan and Manitoba, Atlantic Canada is doing a better job at keeping the newcomers it receives.

Were you forwarded this email by a friend or colleague? Join the thousands of subscribers who get the Atlantic Momentum newsletter every Wednesday morning.

The doctor is out

Nova Scotia is seeing more doctors leave than arriving, according to data from the Canadian Institute of Health Information, first reported by the CBC. The data suggests N.S. isn’t alone — more than half of the Canadian provinces are seeing the same trend, but N.S. stands alone as the only Atlantic province that experienced the net loss between 2018 and 2022.

Payment models might have something to do with it — at least when compared to other provinces, like British Columbia, which has added significantly more doctors than it has lost in recent years.

B.C.’s recent switch away from a fee-for-service payment model, which N.S. still uses (in part), has proved enticing for doctors. One doctor told CTV last week that the new payment model — the Longitudinal Family Physician billing system — pays doctors based on the time they spend with patients, rather than a flat fee no matter how much time is spent with patients. The new system also factors in the number of patient visits, how many patients are in a doctor’s practice, as well as their medical complexity. “A couple of years ago I was on the brink of closing my family practice,” Dr. Tahmeena Ali, President of B.C. Family Doctors, told CTV, but “we avoided the exodus of many family doctors leaving practice.”

Back in N.S., Rick Allwright, executive director of the Yarmouth and Area Chamber of Commerce — one of 28 organizations the province has recently funded to recruit and retain health-care workers, — sees the B.C. model as the future. He also suggests that Dalhousie University expand its medical school to prepare more doctors for the province. “At the end of the day…those are the physicians that are going to stay here long term,” he told the CBC.

Hear our beating hearts

St. John’s-based Sparrow Bioacoustics launched an app in the U.S. (not yet available in Canada) that can turn an iPhone into a stethoscope, reports Entrevestor. Earlier this year, the tech won approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. According to Sparrow co-founder Dr. Yaroslav Shpak, the app can capture “gallops, murmurs and arrhythmias indicative of numerous progressive cardiac diseases.” It was tested at Newfoundland’s Eastern Health Medical Centre, where a majority of users reported it offered better sound quality than traditional stethoscopes. The product was officially launched in the U.S. on Valentine’s Day, of course.

UPCOMING: Annual Testimonial Dinner Honour Roll 2024 Join more than 1,200 leaders and policy wonks as PPF pays 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

Islanders join the NHL

Prince Edward Island signed a tourism promo deal with the National Hockey League — to the tune of $2.5 million for the first year of a three-year deal — to boost visitors to the province. The deal will allow PEI to advertise in arenas and via the NHL’s social media, and use the NHL logo in advertising. The NHL also agreed to host a business meeting in PEI.

But some are wondering whether the deal is worth the cost, or if the money could have been better spent elsewhere. Opposition MLAs questioned how the government would measure the true return on investment and whether the investment could actually make an existing problem worse — that is, that PEI already has too many tourists. Green Party MLA Peter Bevan-Baker said that the Island’s tourism sector is “tapped out,” already struggling to keep up with demand. Why spend “unbudgeted funds,” he asked, when “the Island actually isn’t able to cater properly to the tourists that want to come here in the first place?”

On the horizon


  • March 27, Tourism indicators (fourth quarter 2023)


Interested in other PPF newsletters? Sign up for our new weekly email about health security in Canada and beyond. And check out WONK, our new podcast.

Do you have Atlantic Momentum news to share? Email us at media@ppforum.ca Not subscribed? Get on this list: PPF: Atlantic Momentum Newsletter

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