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

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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:

When the chips are down

The Covered Bridge Potato Chip Company is already in the midst of planning work for a new factory in Waterville, N.B, one that CEO and founder Ryan Albright hopes will be bigger and more efficient than the one that burned down March 1.

“We’re in full design mode,” Albright said, “trying to lay out building equipment, looking at timelines.” He’s also exploring options to have chips made in other factories so Covered Bridge can keep product in the stores. Albright did not say which companies they’re talking to, but Old Dutch Foods has a plant in nearby Hartland and Frito-Lay Canada has a plant in Kentville, N.S. Fortunately, the Covered Bridge’s two large shipping warehouses, as well as its raw materials warehouse and head office are located in Saint Thomas, about 10 km away, and are still functioning.

“The challenge is we do have a lot of unique items, so it’s making sure we get those items the way we have and the way our team has always made them,” Albright added. Indeed, the company’s “Storm Chips” — giant 284-gram bags meant to help people through stormy weather shutdowns, and that combine four flavours in one bag — are celebrated as an innovation in potato chip circles. They were flying off the shelves last week, and are currently sold out on the website, alas. Covered Bridge is a regional economic success story. Starting out as a family farm, which still supplies some of its dark russet potatoes, it began production in 2009 and was planning an expansion that would have doubled capacity before disaster struck. It employs about 185 people, 120 of whom worked at the factory. Albright hopes he can hang on to as many employees as possible as the company rebuilds.

The local community is helping out. An area car dealership is donating $100 from every vehicle sold in March and April to a fund for employees who have lost their jobs, and Woodstock Wesleyan church held a benefit breakfast on the weekend. Albright says he’s been bombarded by emails, calls and texts of support: “In moments of crisis, communities come together,” he said.

Listen to WONK: Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Beverley McLachlin on the Online Harms Act

Water woes

Another disaster to befall New Brunswick is proving a bit more contentious, and more political. A serious flood struck Sussex in late February when 96 millimetres of rain fell over two days and overflowed the banks of Trout Creek. It forced businesses to close and 27 households to evacuate. It was the fifth time in the last 10 years that flooding has forced people from their homes — 2014 was the worst, with 1,450 evacuations and 715 homes destroyed — and it had civic officials calling last week for federal help to put a flood mitigation plan in place. Climate change “is real, and unfortunately our residents are living it,” said Scott Hatcher, the town’s chief administrative officer. “Without a solution, a mitigation plan, we’re going to die a slow and painful death over the next couple of decades.”

The town has developed such plan. It would mean digging two diversion channels, upgrading stormwater infrastructure and the possible purchase of up to 60 homes on a floodplain that would need to be vacated. It would cost $38 million and the town thinks all three levels of government should chip in.

Talks with the province have “a renewed vigour,” Sussex Mayor Marc Thorne said last week, but matters seem stalled at the federal level. The town sought funding under Ottawa’s Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund last June, but when they tried to apply online, the “submit” button didn’t work. By the time the glitch was sorted out, the application window was closed. They applied again last year and have heard nothing except that it’s under review.

Meanwhile in Nova Scotia, climate mitigation has led to jurisdictional squabbles as well. Last month, the province scuttled the Coastal Protection Act, passed in 2019 but never proclaimed, in favour of a plan that makes property owners and municipalities decide how best to protect themselves. Where the Act would have prohibited new building in vulnerable areas, the plan includes a detailed coastal hazard map that shows the expected impact of sea level rise and storm surges out as far as the year 2100, as well as detailed information on how to assess risk and mitigate flooding hazards.

Environmentalists decried the plan as a dereliction of duty and the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities said it amounted to offloading responsibility on communities that haven’t the resources to handle it. Last week, Pictou County council expressed its disappointment, with one councillor asking “Could we send back a letter to them, saying ‘thank you, but no thanks’ or something? Because it’s not going to work out very good for us.” Premier Tim Houston said he was optimistic that people armed with good information will make responsible decisions. “When you start, as a government, dictating what people can do on their property and what they can’t, it’s very serious stuff and we treat it as such.”

Keeping cool

Lobster harvesters got some good news about global warming last week, if there is such a thing. A vulnerability study from Nova Scotia’s Centre for Applied Marine Research (CMAR) found that average water temperatures expected as far out as 2055 would still be within optimal range for lobster in most areas. The CMAR put the risk to the industry at low to moderate, though it said juvenile lobster in the Northumberland Strait could suffer from higher than optimal water temperatures.

Global warming does pose another risk to the fishery however — extreme weather. Lobster harvesters in southwestern Nova Scotia — where fishing mostly happens in winter and further from shore — have been losing about one-third of their fishing days over the last five to 10 years due to bad weather, and it’s expected to get worse.

“As we move forward in the future we have to start considering more things like vessel safety, emergency response, design around vessels, flexibility and fishing dates,” said CMAR Director Gregor Reid.

Lobster accounts for nearly two-thirds of Nova Scotia’s $1.65 billion in seafood exports, and catches have been down this year, sending prices at the wharf up. They were about $18-per-pound last week. “It’s been a bit trickier season,” said Tommy Amirault, president of the Coldwater Lobster Association. “The water was colder at the bottom when we started and that in turn makes the lobsters a little bit harder to catch.”

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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.

Economic reconciliation continues

Business ownership by First Nations is becoming a more prominent part of the economic landscape across the country. The Macdonald Laurier Institute reported late last year that First Nations and Métis communities have acquired or negotiated options for almost $10 billion in equity in energy and resource projects since 2012. It’s certainly been the trend in Atlantic Canada, where a Mi’kmaq coalition in Nova Scotia bought 50 percent of Clearwater Seafoods in 2021, and a group of seven First Nations in New Brunswick struck equity agreements with two companies developing Small Modular Reactors. It’s true for the small and medium-sized business sector as well.

Last week, the Wagmatcook First Nation partnered with Breton Air, which runs helicopters serving companies and government agencies across the region, to create a new company called Kiptu Aviation. Kiptu, which means “eagle” in the Mi’kmaq language, will run ground services for the Sydney airport. Chief Norman Bernard of Wagmatcook First Nation said the venture “marks a significant step towards fostering economic growth and cultivating meaningful relationships between our communities and businesses.”

The federal government, meanwhile, announced another small step in the right direction last week in Membertou, on Cape Breton. It will put another $2.5 million into programs for Indigenous women entrepreneurs, and start a new program for youth entrepreneurs. Working with the National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association, the women’s program is expected to help up to 2,400 Indigenous women entrepreneurs.

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. 

Another kind of equity needed

Something else that could help both economic development and women in business? A bit less sexism in the workplace.

YWCA Halifax released a survey last week of women working in skilled trades that showed 90 percent of them had experienced sexual or gender-based harassment — 82 percent reported experiencing it multiple times. The sample size was admittedly small, just 101 women and gender-diverse tradespeople. But perhaps that’s because the number of women in the trades is small — just 7.8 percent of the skilled trades workforce are women, a number that drops to just four percent in construction. Women represent 8.7 percent of skilled trades apprentices in Nova Scotia, a number that’s creeping up.

In the YWCA survey, 68 percent of respondents said they’d been the target of sexually suggestive comments or jokes, and 40 percent had suffered unwelcome touching, hugging or kissing. Only about a quarter of those harassed reported it to their boss — many feared being labelled a troublemaker or damaging their careers — and half of those weren’t satisfied with the way their complaint was handled.

Stephanie Gill, who co-ordinated the study, said the problem not only keeps women out of high-paying jobs, it prevents the province from addressing the skilled trades shortage that hampers economic and housing development. Nova Scotia is projecting a shortfall of 11,000 tradespeople by 2030.

Back to the salt mines

St. John’s-based Atlas Salt is beginning environmental assessment work for its Great Atlantic Salt Project near St. George’s, on the west coast of Newfoundland. It would be the province’s first salt mine, and the company claims it would bring hundreds of millions of dollars in economic development to the area. The area’s high-grade salt deposit could produce at least 2.5-million tonnes of de-icing salt every year for 34 years, and Atlas is hoping to begin construction by the second quarter of next year.

Experts say Newfoundland and Labrador is really the only Atlantic province that takes mining development seriously, and it has, as a result, by far the biggest industry. Efforts to reopen the Donkin Mine in Cape Breton did take a step forward last week when its owners submitted an engineer’s report to the province on safety measures planned for the underground coal mine. It’s been shut down since last July, when two roof collapses led the province to put a stop-work order on the site. It lifted the order in December, saying the owners could operate during the winter months when humidity is lower and underground infrastructure more stable. But the mine remains idle and owners Kameron Coal have not said whether they have firm plans to re-open.

The news is bad

Saltwire Network, which owns news outlets including the St. John’s Telegram, the Chronicle Herald in Halifax and the Guardian in Charlottetown, applied for creditor protection this week. The company, according to court records, has $94 million in debt and $32 million in assets. (Saltwire says its debts are closer to $64 million.)

One of its major lenders, Fiera Private Debt Fund, says the company owes it $37.2 million.

Saltwire was formed in 2017 when it purchased Transcontinental’s regional newspaper chain. On top of struggling with the debt load from that deal, it has suffered from the ad revenue declines that have haunted much of the news industry.

Saltwire says it will continue operating as it works to restructure its finances.

For insight into the fate of local news, check out Edward Greenspon’s conversation with news entrepreneurs Jeff Elgie, in this episode of WONK, and Paul Wells, in this episode.

On the horizon


  • March 15, Housing starts (February 2024)

  • March 18, MLS House Price Index (February 2024)

  • March 19, Consumer Price Index (February 2024)

  • March 27, Tourism indicators (fourth quarter 2023)


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