Asset management a central focus of Nova Scotia government’s strategic plan
Don’t use the phrase “have not province” around Stephen McNeil. The Premier of Nova Scotia rejects that old adage, saying his province has big economic potential as long as you know where to look. “We’ve seen some very positive numbers in the last year,” says McNeil. “Our ocean cluster, our innovation hubs like Volta Labs, our export businesses—there are some real success stories here. Now we have to ask ourselves how we can capitalize on the assets we have here—on the opportunities presented by ocean technology, by the emerging tech industry, by our universities and the innovation that is coming out of those institutions. How do we capitalize on the young, bright minds who come here to study and to live?”
The first part (ocean technology) represents the jewel in the McNeil government’s economic development strategy crown. Driven in large part by a cluster of ocean-related businesses in Halifax, ocean technology companies in Nova Scotia already earn an estimated $2 billion in sales every year—an impressive sum for an industry that has developed without a lot of economic development fanfare. McNeil says his government is now doubling down on that success story by providing support to a number of new ocean-related initiatives, including the new Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship (COVE) housed in a decommissioned Coast Guard base on the Dartmouth waterfront.
“We started in 2013 on a course to diversify the economic opportunities available in this province,” says McNeil. “We looked at opportunities like the ocean cluster in Halifax and Nova Scotia’s wine industry and began developing ways we can increase the value of these industries.”
As part of their 2017 election platform the McNeil government announced a $17.4-million investment in the agriculture and aquaculture industries known as The Building Tomorrow Fund. The fund will invest $9 million in the agriculture and seafood industries over the next three years to help businesses in the province develop new products and open up new markets. McNeil says the program, due to start in 2018, will create jobs for young people along with new opportunities for business in the province. Another part of the fund, called the Aquaculture Development Program will support the aquaculture industry in Nova Scotia with an $8.4-million investment over three years.
Invest Nova Scotia is another new program, a fund that invests in industry sectors rather than individual businesses. Designed to foster innovation and collaboration within emerging industries, Invest Nova Scotia receives direction from a board of directors who are independent of government. McNeil says the fund will improve Nova Scotia’s competitiveness in the global economy.
McNeil says that much of the focus of programs such as Invest Nova Scotia and the Building Tomorrow Fund is on fostering industries that will sell goods and services internationally. “Increasing our export markets is vital,” he says. “We all should be proud of companies like Clearwater, Highliner and Oxford Frozen Foods, just to name three companies that are doing an outstanding job of exporting around the world. Other companies need to realize that they can be taking their products to markets around the world as well.”
Though admittedly not as glamorous as ocean clusters and technology hubs, the Nova Scotia government is also putting much of its economic development focus into levelling the business playing field in the province. “We’ve increased the Small Business Corporate Income Tax threshold from $350,000 to $500,000,” says McNeil. “That’s a tax innovation that will help make Nova Scotian small businesses more competitive with the rest of the country.”
For the premier, who owned and operated his own small business before entering politics, reducing the amount of red tape that businesses are forced to deal with has long been a pet concern. The new Office of Regulatory Affairs and Service Effectiveness (RASE) is his government’s response to that. RASE was created in 2015, with former Bell Aliant executive and lawyer Fred Crooks appointed as Nova Scotia’s first chief regulatory officer. Unique in Canada, the office has two important mandates: to reduce the undue regulatory burden faced by Nova Scotia businesses and to align regulatory systems across Atlantic Canada.
RASE’s first major cost-reduction initiative promises to reduce regulatory burdens to businesses by $25 million starting at the end of 2018. By reducing the time and money that businesses spend complying with regulations that are unnecessary for achieving regulatory objectives, McNeil says businesses will see immediate and significant cost savings. “The region needs to work together to create a strong regulatory vision,” he says. “Fred Crooks and his team are doing a fabulous job and we’re going to see some significant results with this.”
If there’s one economic problem that keeps the premier awake at night it can be summed up in one word: people. Even with the recent influx of new immigrants, particularly those from war-torn Syria, the demographics in Nova Scotia need to improve, he says. “Population has been a big challenge. We need people, and we can’t just focus on one stream of immigrants. We need to change the demographic of this province, both by bringing in immigrants and by encouraging young people to stay here in Nova Scotia. We need to work with universities to bring in more international students. We need bright, young people who will stay, work and grow businesses here.”