- Since moving to Halifax in 1996, Gord Whittaker has worked primarily in the creative industries. He recently chaired a special advisory committee on arts and culture for Halifax council, volunteers for many organizations and wants Halifax and Nova Scotia to be successful.
The March 21 Globe & Mail article, “The Incredible Shrinking Region,” is honest and depressing. While it provided important context and outlined our current economic and demographic challenges, it didn’t reveal any real surprises. The insightful political history was the only “new” content for me but then again, I was raised in central Canada where sadly for many people the country east of Quebec City is a mystery.
I did appreciate the “Five Rules for Saving the Maritimes” (don’t rely on Ottawa, grow the private sector, invest in Halifax, improve inter-provincial collaboration and increase immigration). Again, old news but it was reassuring to read them so clear and obvious in a national newspaper. Each one is valid and needs our collective attention and although immigration is the very worthy hot topic, rule number three and number two are just as critical.
Rule number three reinforces the importance of Halifax to the province’s future. Even I know the city has played a key role in Nova Scotia and the region since well before 1879 when the federal government’s new tariff cut off the province’s main trading partners. Now 136 years later, Nova Scotia needs Halifax more than ever. The article states, “Halifax, especially, could once again be a major hub” and recommends investment in the city.
Halifax is Nova Scotia’s most important asset and the Province’s best chance for a brighter future. A prosperous city will benefit the Province just as Halifax benefits from Nova Scotia’s rich history, culture and beauty. Good or bad, global urbanization is well underway and most young people (the ones we need) want the diversity, opportunities and richness that a city provides. For Canada, this trend means our vast beautiful country is imploding into a handful of urban centres that offer the full range of opportunities and choices that attract people and create diversity and prosperity. These urban places will fuel larger and larger geographic areas causing significant social, political and economic upheaval for small provinces. Nova Scotia is a prime example with 940,000 residents of which 50 percent live in a city with modest growth while generating close to 50 percent of the provincial GDP. The next step is obvious. Halifax must become an enviable city of choice, a viable alternative for people (and business) and a spark for the province’s economic turnaround.
Rule number two reinforces the importance of the private sector and the need for policies that encourage business. In such challenging fiscal times, coupled with a declining tax base we need dramatic change in how Nova Scotia is managed. With every passing year the heat rises and the stakes get higher. We desperately need a new approach; the same old won’t cut it. A recent interview with a food truck owner/operator illustrated the dilemma. Our entrepreneurial food truck owners who take risks and deliver great service will be subject to a government services fee increase of 405 percent. This oddity conflicts with a broader need of encouraging small business. Various fee increases will raise $7.7 million while we struggle with a $15 billion debt and a 2014/15 deficit of $220 million. Sure every little bit helps, but another budget of cuts, freezes and fee increases means the status quo; until we embrace bigger ideas and new ways to manage, turning the corner towards prosperity becomes more elusive and further out of reach.