PULLING TOGETHER: THE ONE NOVA SCOTIA COALITION
The ONE Nova Scotia Coalition came together in 2014 at the request of the Government of Nova Scotia with a mandate to develop a 10-year plan to help achieve the ambitious goals set out in the report of the Commission on Building Our New Economy – commonly known as the Ivany Report.
The Ivany Report found Nova Scotia is staring into an abyss that will lead to extended decline if it is not reversed. Particular challenges that have been identified include: poor economic performance; an aging workforce; high dependence on government support; youth outmigration, particularly from rural communities and limited business investment in innovation and productivity.
Nova Scotia’s economic growth—percentage increase in gross domestic product (GDP)—has been last among Canadian provinces, on average, for the past two decades. This measure of the economy correlates closely with employment opportunities and personal incomes, as well as the ability of the public sector to generate revenue to provide public services.
Our weak economic performance exacerbates our population outlook. Nova Scotia’s outlook has worsened since the Ivany Report; the provincial Department of Finance projects our population will drop from about 943,000 last year to approximately 878,000 by 2040.
Nova Scotia needs more immigrants, more inter-provincial migration, and to improve youth retention. Our population is aging, a trend that is amplified by our outmigration of youth, especially as employment opportunities have declined in rural communities. The Ivany Report emphasizes the need for more vibrant private sector growth to strengthen rural communities. It is important also to recognize the essential role of the public sector in providing good quality and widely available health, education, and other public services, so that depopulation of our rural areas can be stabilized.
The Ivany Report was blunt: It found Nova Scotia was being held back by “parochial competition over shares of a shrinking pie, rather than increased collaboration and concerted effort to grow the pie.” We have traditionally been divided along lines of rural and urban, young and old, Cape Breton and the mainland, one community against the next. In a world of global trade and rapid innovation, these attitudes are holding us back. For many Nova Scotians, the promise of change receives a resounding cheer, until it lands with a thud on our own doorsteps. This is where strong leadership comes in. We need leaders of business, communities, organizations and government to lead by example. Some already have, including those at the forefront of the ONE Nova Scotia movement. But a much broader push is clearly required if we are to achieve transformative change.
THE COLLABORATIVE ACTION PLAN
This report presents the Coalition’s recommendations to animate collaborative action by governments, business, post-secondary education (PSE) institutions, civil society organizations and Nova Scotians themselves, to create a bright future for the province made possible by our many strengths. It has seven Action Points:
- The Early Years: Starting Strong
- Our Future is Young
- Universities and NSCC as Innovation Hubs
- Immigration and Welcoming Communities
- Our ICT Momentum
- Going Global: Innovation and Competitiveness
- Nova Scotia’s Ocean Advantage
These choices reflect a progression from early childhood, through the education process to career opportunities. The topic of immigration is cross-cutting and a key to resolving our demographic challenges. There are other vital issues: the acute challenges and promising opportunities facing rural communities; the need to ensure environmental sustainability; the support of diversity in the workplace and in culture. Each is addressed within the Action Points, all of which are inter-related. Achievement in one area will assist progress in the others.
Many recommended initiatives require various combinations of civil society organizations, business, post-secondary institutions, public sector agencies, and individual citizens to collaborate to achieve community objectives. These are often related, for example, to early childhood, youth, disadvantaged groups, work or educational opportunities. The question is how to operationalize and sustain effective collaboration to confront complex challenges and opportunities in these areas. One well-tested methodology is Collective Impact, which brings together stakeholders in partnerships to design and implement projects. (See Background: Collective Impact)
Government, the private sector and citizen organizations are already doing a great deal to achieve the vision and goals of the Ivany Report. That work will continue and should be complementary to the Coalition’s proposals. The Coalition has deliberately restricted its focus to a limited set of recommended actions where there is both an exceptional need and opportunity for new initiatives or where existing activity needs greater priority or a jolt of energy.
The Coalition’s recommendations are explicit and actionable. They assign responsibility for implementation to one or more of the provincial or other governments, to PSE institutions, to business, to civil society organizations, or in a small number of instances to Nova Scotians collectively. It was beyond the scope of the Coalition to recommend precise implementation details or to estimate budgetary requirements. These will have to be worked out with stakeholders and will be impacted by program design.
Several recommendations propose actions to be taken by the Government of Nova Scotia and, in that regard, will be properly subject to the usual political debate and legislative scrutiny. It follows that the three political leaders, while joining the Coalition’s consensus as to the thrust of this report, may disagree with specific recommendations addressed to the provincial government including overall appropriateness, design of implementation, timing, funding, and so forth.
The gravity of the challenges facing Nova Scotia demand a sense of urgency, while the magnitude of the transformative change required will inevitably take time to fully accomplish. Many of the recommendations must begin to be implemented immediately, while others can be phased in, with the objective of being achieved within approximately a decade.
A decade is a long time over which to sustain public attention and commitment. The Coalition, in Chapter 8, proposes two innovative ways to accomplish this: a method for regularly measuring and reporting publicly on progress so as to facilitate accountability for results, and to signal any need for course correction; a novel initiative to allocate funds to foster continuing collaboration and to harness the energy, creativity and commitment of Nova Scotians in support of the plan.
WHY THIS TIME CAN BE DIFFERENT
Neither the Ivany Report nor this document is a first in Nova Scotia. Since the Jones Report of 1934, there have been at least 10 major economic reports that draw comparable conclusions regarding the province’s economic situation. So why should we expect a different response and outcome this time?
A persistently stagnant economy, a rapidly aging population, and the resulting strain on public resources are now affecting all Nova Scotians. They are no longer just statistical abstractions. At the same time, our opportunities have never been clearer. This province has:
- Exceptional advanced education and research institutions
- A $25-billion naval ships project, with the potential to anchor a powerful “cluster” of sophisticated ocean industries
- The “green shoots” of a new economy evident in the surprising strength of our young and highly entrepreneurial technology businesses
- The extraordinary beauty and charm that have always set Nova Scotia apart can make our province a global magnet for travelers and for businesses seeking to offer our enviable quality of life to their employees
But simply writing a report and then waiting for government action alone to change our trajectory will never work. So what also makes this time different is the Coalition’s call for concerted, collaborative action by all Nova Scotians.
Organizations such as Pictou County20/20, Now Lunenburg, the Cape Breton/Mulgrave Prosperity Framework, among many others, and “connector programs” launched by the Halifax Partnership and the Cape Breton Partnership are among the many and diverse examples of community-based programs that help to build regional strengths and that inspire broader emulation. Their participants are individuals and groups who are already taking the ONE Nova Scotia message to heart and creatively setting forth to bring about change in new ways. They should be celebrated and encouraged.