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October 4, 2021

Atlantic 2030: Lessons from Eastern Canada

By Prasanthi Vasanthakumar, Institute of Corporate Directors

Last Tuesday, directors and business leaders attended Atlantic 2030 to hear Premiers Andrew Furey, Blaine Higgs, Tim Houston and Dennis King discuss Canada's East Coast in the next decade. Held by the ICD, in collaboration with our Maritime and Newfoundland & Labrador Chapters, this virtual session also featured nine regional leaders in economics, sustainable resource transformation, tourism, and innovation and entrepreneurship. The conversations were moderated by Rahul Bhardwaj, ICD President and CEO, and Sarah Young of National PR.

“Atlantic Canada has been in the spotlight recently,” said Bhardwaj in his opening remarks. “We want to understand what factors are driving this dynamism.” As the discussion unfolded, it became clear that collaboration, innovation and talent are key components of the region’s current and future success.
The premiers’ discussion
The four premiers discussed lessons learned from the pandemic, key strengths of the region, the role of Indigenous Canadians in future success, co-operation and healthcare, and their visions for 2030.

Pandemic lessons
  • The Atlantic Bubble enabled us to share learning experiences, and create a non-competitive and collaborative environment to exercise our full potential. Resources vary across our four provinces, but together, the Atlantic region can be a powerhouse. – Premier Andrew Furey
  • Rather than competing with each other, we should sync up to be a force in our nation. People are returning to the region, and others are moving here for the first time. It’s a renaissance of Atlantic Canada. – Premier Blaine Higgs
  • Frequent and open communication is important for co-ordination and trust. Being open with your constituents and neighbours about your plans, and listening to public health experts is critical. – Premier Tim Houston
  • Consistent, evidence-based decision-making is necessary to earn the trust of your constituents. Beyond COVID-19, this approach will be important for the challenges of greening our economy and reducing our carbon footprint. – Premier Dennis King
 Premiers’ vision for 2030
  • We need to diversify our economy. Over the next decade or two, the province is well-positioned to capitalize on our low carbon footprints while recognizing our abundance of green energy. We can work together to provide reliable and clean energy at stable rates to Atlantic Canada and the Northeastern Seaboard. We also have incredible resources to develop the technology sector. – Premier Furey
  • Population growth is critical for economic growth. To attract and retain people, we need good access to primary health care and education. – Premier Houston
  • We need an accountable workforce and a model of continuous improvement, where we're building on successes, not rebuilding past issues. In the right environment, we will have more people innovating in the same direction. – Premier Higgs
  • P.E.I. will have more than 200,000 residents, and 2.5 million tourists every year by 2030. We will take greater control of our own destiny when it comes to economic growth, educating healthcare professionals, and environmental issues and carbon reduction. Our goal is to have all green, electrical generation from within P.E.I. and the region. Every school bus will be electric, and we’ll have bike lanes on all roads and highways. We want a more active and safe society, and a better environment. – Premier King
Future economy of Atlantic Canada
Next, Craig Alexander, Deloitte’s Chief Economist, discussed the region’s economic prospects. With ongoing health risks and the strength of the fourth wave, it will take until 2022 for most of the region’s provinces to return to their pre-COVID-19 levels of economic activity, he said. He commented on consumer spending, the impact of the real estate boom, the risk of inflation, expectations around government debt, and more.

Key insights:
  • Consumer spending will lead robust economic growth. Due to pent-up demand, Atlantic Canada will see a boom in tourism.
  • The pandemic will leave behind lasting legacies, such as the shift to digital and flexible workplaces, the importance of trust, and the need to build resilient supply chains.
  • As a global pandemic, COVID-19 won’t be behind us until the global economy addresses health risks.
  • Labour shortages are occurring because of: a lack of immigration, especially for jobs filled by immigrants (e.g. pharmacists); the shift to digital, which requires more workers with digital skills; government income support programs that dissuade a return to work; and a lack of desire to return to certain industries susceptible to government restrictions and health risks.
  • ESG is increasingly factored into policy and investment decisions, which creates opportunities for Atlantic Canada.
Alexander concluded by identifying three actions that Atlantic Canada must take to achieve a faster pace to prosperity. First, it should remove barriers that face the labor force domestically, such as inequality issues, skills training, and immigration, integration and retention. Second, it should incent business capital investment by leveraging trade deals, actively collaborating as a region to attract foreign investment, and investing in public infrastructure (e.g. digital, transportation). Third, it should encourage innovation and productivity through skills training, business investment, championing entrepreneurism, and investing in critical infrastructure such as health care to support population growth and a healthy labour force.
Sustainable resources transformation
Following Alexander, Sarah Young welcomed Karen Hutt of Emera Inc., Kendra MacDonald at Canada’s Ocean Supercluster, and John Paul of the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs Secretariat. These leaders explored how the region can develop and manage its resources for long-term sustainability.

Key ideas:
  • With a common vision, we can do more together and move faster. For example, we have the largest carbon sink in the ocean in the North Atlantic. Our understanding of its ability to keep absorbing carbon will affect how Canada and the world achieve net-zero targets. We need to work together to develop this resource. This is an example of the tremendous opportunity to build on the momentum of the Atlantic Bubble. – Kendra MacDonald
  • True sustainability can only be achieved if we bring everyone along. To tap into our energy infrastructure and resources in an inclusive way, we need interprovincial and intergovernmental co-operation and support. Some would say it's easier to flow energy between Canada and the U.S. than across our country, but it shouldn’t be that way. We need to create infrastructure that all Canadians can get the best and most advantage from. – Karen Hutt
  • I would advise business leaders looking to partner with Indigenous communities to be honest and clear about their expectations. Don’t make assumptions. The people and leadership in our communities are accessible. Find credible ways to create opportunities and growth for communities. By being forthcoming without unrealistic perceptions or myths, you'll reach receptive people. – John Paul
Zita Cobb of Fogo Island Inn and Shorefast, and Jamie Thomas at Lennox Island Mi’kmaq Cultural Centre, took the virtual stage to share their vision for the future of the tourism industry.

Key ideas:
  • I think the future of tourism is community-based and carbon-light. Travel will unfold in a way where some people will take fewer, longer, deeper trips. Sustainable tourism has two preconditions – it can’t be your only industry and the scale has to be right for the community. With 2.3 million people in a big geography, we have a unique opportunity to be leaders in community-based regenerative travel. – Zita Cobb
  • With Indigenous tourism, we have to build on our capacity and available products to meet the needs of visitors to Atlantic Canada. To achieve this, we need to collaborate with other First Nations communities and individual entrepreneurs. We need to invest in our people. Where possible, we should create partnerships with non-Indigenous communities. Maybe that’s creating itineraries across the province, the Maritimes or Atlantic Canada. – Jamie Thomas
Innovation and entrepreneurship
In the final panel, David Alston of Marketswell Solutions, Brendan Brothers at Verafin, and Laurie MacKeigan of Backman VIdcom, discussed the challenges of innovation and talent.

Key ideas:
  • Everyone is looking for talent. As people can work from anywhere, you have more hiring opportunities. However, you also have to compete with the Googles and Microsofts of the world, which puts pressure on wages. The only way to grow our businesses and economy is to bring more people here. – Laurie MacKeigan
  • We can’t look to governments to drive innovation, because political systems are risk-averse. As entrepreneurs, we need to approach the edge of government through entities like the McKenna Institute in New Brunswick, and create opportunities to draw out innovators to work on problems together. This way, we can continue innovating and iterating through political cycles. – David Alston
  • Our universities attract talent and create a stickiness, fostering a love of the community. Rather than trying to bring people that don’t know about our region, we should focus on those who have already sampled it. We have to be welcoming. It’s not just the job that matters, because people can work from anywhere. We need to understand why people want to come here and how we can make it a great place for them to stay. – Brendan Brothers and David Alston, in conversation
This event was supported by Deloitte’s Future of Canada Centre, Emera, Longview and Port of Belledune.
Note: Speaker insights have been condensed for the purpose of this article.