In Brief: In his fortnightly column in the Chronicle-Herald, AIMS acting President Charles Cirtwill takes aim at a lethargic Nova Scotia. He notes that too often habit drives the political process. As a result we get stuck in a rut instead of pioneering new solutions. He says that we have to stop looking for other people to give us the answers and start coming up with them ourselves.

by Charles Cirtwill

I am a fan of the “New Nova Scotia”. Or, more accurately, I have no doubt that absent a new Nova Scotia my children will soon be Albertans and my grandchildren will live in Southeast Asia. It’s not that moving away is a bad thing; it isn’t. It is that being driven away is an unmitigated disaster. To me, that is what a new Nova Scotia is all about, building a strong vibrant province that gives our children the freedom to choose whether to stay or to go.


The new Nova Scotia must, however, be truly new. It cannot afford to be a pale carbon copy of the Irish Tiger or a veiled pursuit of an idyllic past expressed in futuristic language. Incremental change will not sustain us nor keep our children here nor fill the jobs that are going wanting.


This is the challenge facing the current government as it drafts its coming throne speech and that is the challenge that will be facing the opposition parties as they develop their response to it. The task will not be an easy one. We like the old Nova Scotia, that’s why many of us are still here. It is comfortable, familiar, and predictable.


And it is entrenched. Let’s consider just a few examples.


The government is developing a poverty reduction strategy. The first consultation session brought together “stakeholders” to discuss priorities and direction. Absent from the conversation were the people who actually create jobs and pay the taxes that help those who, for whatever reason, can’t take those jobs. Instead of having them at the table, one sub-group actually made a list of the ways in which business perpetuates poverty.


We have people sitting on waiting lists for diagnostic services. Those waiting lists are among the longest in the country. Yet new diagnostic equipment sits in a box at a local health centre because our system is so rigid we can’t, or won’t, reallocate existing funds to cover the cost of the people to install and run the new tool. We wait instead for the beginning of the new fiscal year and a bigger piece of the taxpayer’s pie.


The Council of our largest municipality after years of acrimonious debate and staff study finally passes a bylaw that will force people to register their cats. Years of debate, hundreds of hours of staff and council time, for cats! They then introduced an amendment to it the very next week.


I am loath to go on because I think the point should be obvious. A new Nova Scotia won’t be an easy sell or a painless transition. But I will go on because a new Nova Scotia is central to my future too and I am not prepared to sit idly by and wait for someone else to make it happen.


The Premier stepped up to a microphone a few weeks ago and called for fundamental change in education. The Nova Scotia School Boards Association responded by calling for more money.


Private sector proponents of a new container terminal in Melford have raised millions of dollars in venture capital and tell anyone who will listen that they don’t want any government money at all. Despite that, an editorial in a local paper has called for government to spend millions of taxpayers dollars building them a rail spur.


Our representative in Ottawa tells us that we are not taken seriously because we can’t get beyond our petty historical grievances and people everywhere except here are simply tired of our complaining. The first reaction is an “amen sermon” itemizing every time we have been ill treated and calling on people outside the region to finally get it and get on with making it up to us.


It would be easy for me to say we need political leadership, because we do. It would be easy for me to call on the government to set out a real vision and real, specific, time delimited deliverables in the upcoming throne speech, and I do. But you and I need to go beyond growling at others to make it happen. As I have said before, we are part of the problem, so we need to be part of the solution.


In a few days we all get to pass judgement on a new throne speech. Instead of focusing our criticism on the goodies that are or are not there for us, let’s try something truly unique. Let’s focus our criticism on whether the ideas are truly new and the direction totally different.


We really need a new Nova Scotia, is anyone ready to deliver it?


Charles Cirtwill is the acting President of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, a non-partisan public policy think tank based in Halifax.