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Politics Halting Nova Scotia’s economic and population decline needs urgent action, report warns

Acadia University president Ray Ivany, head of a five-member panel on Nova Scotia's economic recovery, releases their final report in Halifax on Feb. 12, 2014.

ANDREW VAUGHAN/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Nova Scotia is doomed to endure an extended period of decline unless population and economic trends are reversed and suspicious attitudes about business are changed, a report released Wednesday says.

The economic development report, written by a five-member panel led by Acadia University president Ray Ivany, says the province is in such bad shape that it is barely able to support its current standard of living.

"Because of a combination of economic and demographic factors, we are teetering on the brink of long-term decline," Ivany told a news conference at a museum on the Halifax waterfront, where about 250 people gathered.

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Ivany said Nova Scotia's population is expected to decline over the next 20 years as young people continue to leave the province to search for work. By 2036, the province expects to have 100,000 fewer working-age people than it did in 2010, the report says.

"You cannot have economic success with a population decline," Ivany said. "There's no way you can make that up with productivity or efficiency gains."

On the economic front, Nova Scotia has recorded the worst performance of any province, on average, over the past 20 years.

Ivany said this weakness can be traced, in part, to the province's lack of confidence in its business leaders and entrepreneurs.

"At best, we have an ambivalence toward entrepreneurs and the private sector," he said. "We're much quicker to move to suspicion about their motives than we are to celebrate their success."

Panel member Susanna Fuller, marine co-ordinator with the Ecology Action Centre, was more blunt: "We tend to pooh-pooh success."

As well, Ivany said the culture in Nova Scotia is such that residents typically look to governments first for solutions.

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Ivany said Nova Scotians should instead look to the success of companies like High Liner Foods Inc. of Lunenburg, which has become one of North America's largest seafood processors. He also pointed to Scotian Gold in Coldbrook, which invigorated the apple industry with its Honeycrisp variety.

The report, called Now or Never: An Urgent Call to Action, offers 19 goals and 12 long-term strategies, some of which call for lofty targets and drastic changes.

On immigration, for example, the panel says the current number of people admitted annually – about 2,300 – should be tripled.

Premier Stephen McNeil said his government is poised to make an announcement on immigration in the coming weeks.

"It's exactly the direction we need to go," he said. "We know we have challenges and the government has a role to play and we're very encouraged by what we heard. … We have to set bold targets."

The report also says spending on research and development should be doubled to $360-million, and the number of business start-ups should be boosted by 50 per cent. The youth unemployment rate, currently at 19.5 per cent, should drop to the national average at 14 per cent.

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But the challenges faced by Nova Scotia could take a decade or more to fix, Ivany said.

"This is going to be a slog," he said, adding that the government should legislate the recommendations.

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