HALIFAX – A prominent Nova Scotian business leader says Atlantic Canadians must rail against complacency that is holding the region back from growth and excellence.

 “The attitude in Atlantic Canada is one where we say, ‘Well, we’re OK. Why do we have to be the best? As long as we’re not the worst, isn’t that good enough?’ Well, it’s not good enough,” said seafood titan John Risley in an interview.

“We must fight that complacency. And that fight comes from leadership from both the business and political communities.”

Risley, director of Clearwater Seafoods Limited Partnership (TSX:CLR.UN), the Halifax-based seafood producer, said that complacency has bred a false sense of security.

“Atlantic Canadian business has to get its head out of the sand. People in Atlantic Canada think we have it great. And we do,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be good five years from now or 10 years from now. We have to be thinking about how the world is changing and where Atlantic Canada sits in all that.”

The fisheries magnate points to the local education system as an area in need of major reform. Risley contends that education upgrades are essential if the region is to grow its economy and retain its young people.

“The problem is that Atlantic Canadians will say our education system is OK. My point is that that’s not good enough,” he said.

“We’ve got to be great at math or great in the sciences or great in the fine arts. But that’s not the attitude in Atlantic Canada.”

And it’s not just a matter of pumping more money into the system, he said. Instead, it’s a matter of Atlantic Canadians demanding change.

“If Atlantic Canadians demanded the best math programs in the country, we could absolutely have them. We could attract the best math teachers in the world and redesign the math curriculum,” Risley said.

“But it has to start with somebody saying, ‘We want this.'”

Charles Cirtwill, of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, agrees with Risley’s assessment.

“I call it the Goldilock’s phenomenon,” said Cirtwill, president of the Halifax-based think-tank.

“We’re not too hot, we’re not too cold. We’re just right.

“We buy into the adage that if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

The problem, says Cirtwill, is that Atlantic Canadians then wonder why the health and education systems are not improving – and why taxes are so high.

“We’re not so bad that there’s pressure to improve, but we’re not so good that we’re beating anyone either,” he said.

“Somebody has to fix it, but up until now no one has even stepped forward to try,” Cirtwill continued, noting the region’s premiers must step up to the challenge.

“Until we start doing something about it, we’re doomed.”