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:

Population highs and lows

Central to Atlantic Canada’s economic rise over the last few years has been population growth, mainly from immigration. And a big reason for continued optimism is that the region has also attracted smart and accomplished people from the rest of Canada. Last week’s quarterly population data from Statistics Canada had news on both fronts, not all of it good.

Headlines focused on the big national number. Canada’s population grew 3.2 percent last year, the highest rate since 1957, to reach 40,769,890 as of Jan. 1, 2024. Virtually all of that — 97.6 percent — was due to immigration, and 63 percent of that influx was temporary workers.

For Atlantic Canada, the growth was slower but still impressive, up 2.6 percent in 2023 to a population of 2,632,268 — just marginally ahead of 2022’s growth rate of 2.5 percent. P.E.I. saw the highest growth rate, at 3.7 percent, and Newfoundland and Labrador the lowest, at one percent. Immigration numbers were up as well last year in all four provinces. New Brunswick saw net international immigration jump a whopping 33 percent last year, to 22,544 people, with P.E.I. close behind at 27 percent.

On interprovincial migration, however, the story isn’t quite so rosy. Atlantic Canada’s growing economy, combined with the pandemic’s remote work revolution, had expats coming home and Canadians from out of province moving in for a cheaper and easier way of life. The latest numbers show interprovincial migration was still positive last year in Nova Scotia (up 6,169 people), New Brunswick (up 4,790) and Prince Edward Island (up 818). But those levels are lower — more than 40 percent lower in Nova Scotia and P.E.I., in fact — than in each of the past two years. P.E.I. lost people to the rest of Canada in both the third and fourth quarters, and Newfoundland and Labrador had a net loss for the year.

This week on WONK: Halifax Mayor Mike Savage on how a big city keeps up with growth.

Immigration retention

The key to making immigration a net economic benefit is in making sure they stick around. The Atlantic Economic Council released its own deep dive into immigration patterns in the region last month and, like the StatCan report, it was a bit of a mixed bag.

The good news? Immigration has been growing faster in Atlantic Canada than the nation as a whole. The region’s immigration in 2023 was four times the level of 2015, whereas it merely doubled in Canada over the same period. (The Council’s report looked at permanent residents only, not temporary foreign workers.) After years of attracting about two percent of Canada’s total immigration, while accounting for seven percent of the national population, the three maritime provinces are now bringing in numbers that match their share of the population, and Newfoundland and Labrador is approaching that level. Smaller centres are starting to see a meaningful influx as well: although most immigrants — 77 percent — settle in the region’s six major cities, the number going to smaller towns and communities grew at a much faster pace than any of the larger cities in the region between 2015 and 2023 (with Cape Breton, Summerside and Truro leading the way).

The bad news is that immigrant retention rates remain low compared to other provinces, and haven’t really improved over the past five years. The Atlantic region retained about 57 percent of immigrants it attracted in 2017 after five years, with the rate hovering between 50 and 60 percent over the last few years. (Ontario’s five-year retention rate is 94 percent for the 2017 admission year.) Access to affordable housing, health care, child care and quality education are crucial to lifting that retention rate, the report said.

Fortunately, the report noted, immigrant economic integration is improving. Unemployment and employment rates for immigrants have improved markedly and match or are better than non-immigrants. The unemployment rate for those who have been in the region between five and 10 years, for example, has fallen from 10.5 percent in 2015 to 5.5 percent today and in fact immigrants in Atlantic Canada are doing as well or better than Canada-born individuals on that measure. And although income levels for immigrants trail those of non-immigrants, that gap is shrinking and in 2021 was half that of Canada as a whole.

Fading wind

Nova Scotia’s plans to develop offshore wind power are moving more slowly than might be hoped. The province has said it wants to offer leases for 5 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030, with a first call for bids by next year. That seems optimistic, given that the independent committee it set up to assess wind power opportunities reported last week that it expects the first turbine to be turning sometime after 2030, and likely closer to 2035.

The committee’s interim report identified six development areas that warrant further evaluation. It said projects should be located at least 25 kilometres off the coast to minimize the impact on fisheries — particularly the inshore lobster fishery — and on migratory birds, bird colonies and shipping. It recommended a steering committee be set up to look into possible financial compensation for the fisheries industry. Nova Scotia’s Natural Resources Minister Tory Rushton conceded the timeline is longer than he’d envisioned but said he still hoped to put out the first call for development next year. “This is a new industry for Nova Scotia and we have to get it right on the first step or else who knows what could happen,” Rushton said.

Nova Scotia has committed to ending coal-fired electrical generation and be 80 percent renewables by 2030, and though the province says offshore wind is not crucial to that goal, the potential is undeniable. The waters off Nova Scotia offer some of the world’s best wind resources — just one possible development area, the Sable Island Bank, could produce 70,000 gigawatt hours (GWh) of clean, renewable electricity every year, almost twice the total electricity currently consumed in Atlantic Canada annually. Making use of that energy, as an export for instance, will require better transmission capacity.

Meanwhile, Newfoundland and Labrador’s assessment committee for offshore wind released its interim report last week identifying the most promising areas for development. Most were off the west coast of the island, north of the Port au Port peninsula where large areas of shallow water are close to shore. Most plans for wind power in Newfoundland and Labrador so far have been for land-based wind farms meant to feed green hydrogen and ammonia production.

READ MORE: What is the Atlantic Loop, and how important is it?

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.

Fishy situation

The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans said last week the northern cod population has not increased much since 2016, placing the stock in the “cautious” zone in its latest assessment. “The growth of the stock appears to have stalled. And so that is a concern,” said Paul Regular, northern cod stock lead for DFO.

Because the population of capelin, the tiny fish cod feed on, never fully recovered since it collapsed in the early 1990s, there is a “moderately high risk” cod stocks could decline back into the critical zone in the next three years. And given such assessments are always a bit uncertain, Regular said, there’s about a 22 percent chance that the stock is actually in the critical zone.

Fish harvesters took issue with the assessment, saying the fact that the ministry completed surveys in some areas a month earlier than normal may have led them to underestimate the true health of the stock. “Harvesters report extremely high catch rates, very low net soak times, and big, healthy fish,” said Fish, Food & Allied Workers union president Greg Pretty. “This is all good news for the stock and our fishery.” Regular admitted early surveys could have introduced some variability, but not more than is usual in studies like these.

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Health care injection

Newfoundland and Labrador reached a deal with the federal government last week to receive an extra $256-million for health care over the next three years, becoming the latest province to sign a bilateral deal for funding from a 10-year $196-billion pot of money Ottawa announced last year.

The province will use the money to fund more family care teams, recruit staff and expand virtual care, among other things. Premier Andrew Furey made the announcement at the new Western Memorial Regional Hospital in Corner Brook, a prime example of the challenges the sector faces. It’s set to open in June, but has so far been unable to recruit oncologists for the radiation therapy facility.

New Brunswick announced two bilateral agreements with the federal government last week totalling $430 million. The first will send the province $313 million over three years to improve the collection of health information, streamline the recognition of foreign credentials for health care workers and provide incentives to recruit doctors to rural and underserved areas. The second will see the feds put aside about $117 million for New Brunswick’s five-year plan to support programs for long-term care facilities and for aging-at-home initiatives.

Not to be left out, P.E.I. announced details of a $29-million health care for seniors program, part of the $94 million federal-provincial agreement it signed last December. It includes increasing access to home care, including palliative care, increasing long-term care bed capacity, and providing occupational, physical and recreational therapists to private long-term care homes. (Nova Scotia signed its three-year deal with the federal government in January for $355 million.)

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. 

Totality awesome

It will be a celestial wonder and an economic boom all in one. Next week’s total eclipse of the sun is giving tourism operators the chance to bring in a little extra cash in the off-season. The eclipse’s path of totality runs through central New Brunswick and western P.E.I., hits the tip of Cape Breton and the middle of Newfoundland. Keeners will flood the zone to watch, and hotels are reporting reservations for April 7-8 are way up.

The Holiday Inn Express in Fredericton, normally quiet in April, has rented out 50 more rooms than usual, and has bumped up prices to take advantage. The Travelodge in Miramichi was two-thirds booked as of last week, some of that from people travelling from the U.S., and the Ramada in town is full. Five of the six Maple Ridge Cabins in Dingwall, on Cape Breton, are booked; Meat Cove, about half an hour away, is in the path of totality. “I would say the Cabot Trail will be very busy,” said George Burton, a retired lobsterman who is now the cabin keeper.

York County Cider in Fredericton is planning a watch party — $15 gets you a ticket, a pint and a pair of eclipse glasses — and more will no doubt be on offer. Johnson Geo Centre near Signal Hill, in St. John’s, is organizing a bus tour to Gander, into the path of totality.

Let’s hope there’ll be something to see. “April is not the best month for observing astronomical phenomena in Canada,” said David Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada. In part because the jet stream will be changing from its winter to its summer pattern (who knew?), “it is a time for more cloud cover and travelling weather systems passing through.” Based on the last 30 years of data, Phillips puts the chance of clear skies at 15 percent in Fredericton, 19 percent in Charlottetown and 10 percent in St. John’s.

On the horizon


  • April 10, Building permits (February)
  • April 12, Home Price Index (March)
  • April 15, Housing starts (March)
  • April 16, Federal Budget 2024 (released at 4 p.m.)
  • April 30, GDP (February)


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