After a short and indecisive interlude, back to the polls we go. Let us re-examine where the parties now stand on policies and how they intend to bring Atlantic Canada back into the nation’s economic forefront. In the final days of this federal campaign, this series of commentaries will examine key policies that can make a difference to the region.

Atlantic Canada has all the necessary human and physical resources to compete strongly in the North American and global marketplaces, and there is every reason to believe that the existing gap between incomes, productivity, and employment in this region and those in the economically better-off provinces can be eliminated.

That statement is not merely a fanciful slice of “airborne apple pie”. It is a thoroughly realistic vision of what the future can be. We have seen the past – and it did not work. Our analysis demonstrates that misguided federal policies not only have failed to close the economic discrepancy between the Atlantic Provinces and the rest of Canada; they have, in fact, been a drag on the natural process of convergence, which could have closed the gap relatively quickly. The government of Canada has focused on providing regional development spending, equalization transfers, and regionally extended employment insurance benefits. Those policies are failures. They may have been well-intentioned, but they have left the region with per capita gross domestic product that is about 75 percent of the national average, productivity levels that are well below average, and unemployment that is high even while the region suffers from chronic and increasingly significant labour shortages.

Moreover, excessive federal regulation and short-sighted bureaucratic interference have prevented key industries where the region enjoys a natural advantage, such as the fishery and offshore energy, from reaching their potential. The “big picture” is that such industries, if sensibly managed, can act as natural catalysts to economic revitalization in the region.

These commentaries do not comprise a wish list for handouts or preferential treatment. Collectively they are a request that whoever forms the new government thoroughly scrutinize and quantify the actual effects of existing policies. We believe that such an examination will lead to the same conclusions that many authors published by the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies have arrived at over the past several years.

This dysfunctional approach has not been unique to a single party. It reflects decades of oversight and misconception. Canada’s political leaders must recognize that reversing bad measures and introducing effective new policies will offer every prospect of improving Atlantic Canada’s economy. There is no better time than the present, as political parties distance themselves from failed policies of the past, to undertake the actions necessary to restore the region to economic vitality. This New Year’s recipe for fundamental change is a potent concoction and will take some courage to imbibe. However, it is more and more obvious with each passing year that the current brew of economic development policies is a poorly blended potation lacking in real nourishment. Atlantic Canada can’t sustain itself on this weak gruel any longer.

The links below connect to commentaries on specific areas of public policy:

Part 1: Making business work in Atlantic Canada (January 13, 2006)