Ivany Report: Let’s Get Moving
Posted February 21, 2014
The Ivany commission has established the need for strong and united leadership to address Nova Scotia’s big challenges. It is now time for political leaders to respond.
An important part of its mandate was to engage with citizens and organizations across the province, both to raise awareness of the challenges that the province faces and to record the views of those individuals and groups.
Unsurprisingly they heard and reported widely differing opinions. Some are in favour of more immigration but others are not. Some understand that resource industries are essential to a viable economy, particularly in rural Nova Scotia, while others would like to leave the landscape untouched. Some believe that there is too much government while others would like to see more.
The commission’s report does its best work when it takes a stand on these issues.
Immigration is the leading example. As the report persuasively argues, no prosperous future for Nova Scotia can be envisioned unless we reverse the trend toward an aging and dwindling of our population. By 2024 the commission calls for interprovincial migration to improve from a net annual loss of 800 persons to a net gain of 1,000; for international immigration to almost triple to 7,000 per year; and for a doubling of retention of foreign students to 10%.
It makes an important related recommendation that the immigration and economic goals be established by an all-party process. This kind of consensus across the political spectrum has been at the foundation of Manitoba’s highly successful immigration strategy.
It is not enough that political leaders passively endorse the goals. Each leader has a duty to frequently bolster Nova Scotians’ lukewarm support for immigration. They must lead public opinion, not just follow it. Business leaders have an equally important role to provide active support.
Likewise the report endorses properly regulated resource industries, which will be vital to the survival of many of our rural communities. Yet many of the best opportunities in areas such as mining, mink farming, aquaculture, and onshore oil and gas encounter shrill and sometimes disruptive opposition from those who believe that no regulatory regime can be adequate.
Too often the response is left to civil servants or the courts while politicians hide in the weeds. Both government ministers and opposition leaders should be visibly supportive of these business efforts to establish new rural employment opportunities.
The report sometimes pulls its punches. It points to a number of reasons why adjacent towns should be amalgamated, for example in Kings and Pictou counties, but can’t quite bring itself to say so.
It points out that our universities and the Nova Scotia Community College could do much more to contribute research efforts to Nova Scotia businesses. But the proposed goal for increasing research funding does not include any emphasis on what that research money will be used for.
There are a couple of odd pieces near the end of the report. The report endorses the present structures for economic development funding, completely ignoring the disastrous record of the past four years. Fortunately this topic is to be addressed in a separate report by retired Dalhousie president Tom Traves.
There is a call for a better partnership with the federal government, which is no doubt a good idea, particularly on immigration. Most of the text about the relationship whines about perceived past injustices or favouritism to other provinces. This is hardly the foundation for a constructive dialogue.
These flaws do not undermine the central message of the report. The province has serious problems that must be addressed quickly and with strong political leadership.
There was an interesting example of that kind of leadership last week in Britain, where an upcoming referendum on Scottish independence creates its own existential crisis. The governing Conservatives issued a statement that an independent Scotland would not be allowed to use the pound as its currency. They appear to have given advanced warning to the leaders of the two other parties who quickly affirmed their support for that position.
Premier McNeil’s response in remarks this week did not embody the same spirit. He was quoted as saying: “I think all three parties have said they’re committed to those targets and those goals.” Well perhaps they are, but however commendable the commission’s efforts each of the goals are worthy of careful review, and subsequent monitoring.
Does the premier want to be held accountable for progress toward each of the nineteen goals? Do he and the other party leaders want subsequent governments to be likewise accountable? They may differ on the means but as Ivany urges they should concur on the destination. McNeil announcing that they agree on everything does not really do the job.
It is time for the leaders and the legislature to substantially engage with the report’s recommendations, and to build vigorous support around the goals that they ultimately adopt. Premier McNeil’s dismissive response risks trivializing the entire effort by the commission and the many Nova Scotians who contributed to their work.
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