Those of you who have been following me and my writings over the past 20 years (yes, it is nearly 20 years since David Jonah convinced me to set up the It’s the Economy, Stupid! blog which has morphed into this Substack) might remember a prediction I made on several occasions starting in the mid 2000s (around 2005).
I predicted that circa 2026, the federal government would establish a Royal Commission on the Future of Atlantic Canada (or the Maritimes) and put Frank McKenna in charge. McKenna would roam around the region for a year and then write a report concluding Maritime Union is the only path forward.
I made this prediction because population growth at the time all four Atlantic Provinces had basically ground to a halt, the region was aging much faster than the rest of the country (median age) and GDP growth had started to sputter. My prediction only intensified through the 2010s through 2015 because GDP growth (with the exception of PEI) also came to a virtual standstill.
That was one vision of the region’s future. An old, still heavily rural population with stagnant GDP, declining primary industries and creaking infrastructure. McKenna would intone the only way to ensure fiscal stability would be a substantial rationalization of public services, a dramatic reduction in the size of the regional public service, etc.
Now it is highly unlikely McKenna’s Royal Commission on the Future of the Maritimes will go ahead. The region has added tens of thousands to is population in recent years, the pandemic has positioned the region favourably and we are starting to attract ‘our share’ of immigrants. Even Newfoundland and Labrador has found religion and is now calling for far more immigrants to the Rock starting now and moving forward.
There are still those who will advocate for one big regional province. They will say the Maritimes combined has a population about the size of Mississauga (which is an exaggeration but throw in Brampton a couple other Toronto suburbs and you get there) but I don’t see the urgency now.
In my experience big, systemic change - jurisdictions, organizations and even individuals - requires a compelling case. That case has gotten a lot weaker since 2015-2016.
I believe there are many ways the region could collaborate for better outcomes. We share many of the same challenges and could benefit from the scale arising out of collaboration. Don Mills and I talked with Blair Hyslop, Kathryn Lockhart and Jeff Larsen this week about an interesting new initiative called the “Atlantic Investment Bubble” which would provide a regional angel investor tax credit to help expand the pool of investment capital in the region.
I think we could collaborate more on immigration, workforce development, etc and I think there is significant opportunity still to better harmonize regulations and rules across the region. Nova Scotia is still insisting New Brunswick bees can’t fly into that province without the proper permits.
It might not be a bad idea to have a Royal Commission on the Future of Atlantic Canada but, now, it would take a much different and more optimistic tone.
Shades of Ray Ivany :)