A Tale Of Two Government Programs

In early February, there were two strikingly different news reports about the economy of Southwestern Nova Scotia.

The first was a CBC report on Riverside Lobster International, a seafood processor in Meteghan.

The plant employs 300 people processing 27,000 kilograms a day of fresh and frozen lobster, paying about $13 per hour plus benefits, including a defined contribution pension plan. They operate five buses a day to bring in workers from Yarmouth and Digby. They use the most efficient equipment available, but are chronically short between 20 to 30 workers.

CEO David Deveau says they would add 100 workers if they could find them, allowing them to innovate and expand their product range.

They have never had a payroll rebate from NSBI to support their growth, but they are getting a different kind of government help.

Unlike the previous Conservative government, the federal Liberals have recognized that reversing population decline is crucial to the viability of the Atlantic provinces.

In Nova Scotia’s case, that has meant increasing the limit on provincial nominees for immigration to 1,350 individuals, each of whom can bring along immediate family members. Together with the influx of Syrian refugees, this resulted in a record year for immigration to Nova Scotia—5,000 arrived during the first nine months.

We need still more. In support of employers like Riverside, the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program will allow up to 800 additional immigrants, plus families.

The program is employer-driven. An employer seeks designation from the province by demonstrating that the jobs cannot be filled locally, and that they have a plan to support the integration of the immigrant family.

The immigrants can be temporary foreign workers already in Canada, or other qualified workers that the employer has been able to identify and is willing to hire.

They may be skilled or semi-skilled—the 35 employers so far engaged are in seafood processing, hospitality, and information and communications technologies.

The benefit is not just for the immigrants and their employers. The new families in rural communities add vitality. Their children may make the difference for a school threatened by declining enrolment. This program costs taxpayers nothing beyond the cost of administration.

In a separate story, around the same time, Mayor Pam Mood told the Chronicle Herald that the renewal of the ferry service caused a “complete turnaround” for tourism and the economic well-being of Yarmouth. She went on to say that the Liberals see the importance of the ferry in getting the province “back on its feet.”

Neither statement fits with the facts.

The province had a terrific year for tourism in 2016. Through October, visits were up 8%. For the full year, the total number of visitors was 2.2 million. Of these, 14,000 came via the ferry. For every visitor arriving by ferry, more than 150 others will have arrived by other means. The impact of the ferry on the province as a whole is negligible.

Visits by Americans grew by 14% to 221,600. More than 93% of them came by means other than the ferry. They and others headed to Cape Breton in droves, increasing room nights sold there by 16%.

It is true that the Ferry has had some impact on the Yarmouth and Acadian Shores area. Room nights there are up by about 12,000 over the years when the ferry was not operating. That is a little more than 100 per day for the period that the ferry operated.

The ferry travels to Maine in the morning, returning in the afternoon. Many of those extra room nights were Nova Scotians going south. Your tax dollars are being used to subsidize New England tourism.

No doubt the ferry increased employment at hotels and restaurants. But two or three dozen low wage jobs for three and a half months does not provide a foundation for economic resurgence in Yarmouth, nor does it justify an annual subsidy of $14 million.

But what is especially strange is that we are spending that money while, at the same time, Riverside Lobster is importing workers from Mexico and Chile to year-round jobs. How can that make sense?

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