Now or Never Five years later: Province making progress on 10 of 19 Ivany goals

In 2014, Ray Ivany told Nova Scotians it was time to act — now or never. Five years later, the results show the province is making progress on 10 of the 19 goals outlined in the report.

The tracking website says Nova Scotia is gaining ground on more than half of the key areas:

  • Inter-provincial migration
  • International migration
  • Retention of international students
  • Youth employment
  • Post-secondary education and training
  • Research and development partnerships
  • Venture capital
  • Tourism expansion
  • Fisheries and agriculture exports

The province is listed as not progressing on nine areas:

  • New business startups
  • Value of exports
  • Firms participating in export trade
  • Labour-force participation rate
  • Employment rate for African Nova Scotians
  • Post-secondary education research and development
  • Domestic market for agriculture
  • Municipal stability
  • Net debt to GDP

Don Bureaux is President of the Nova Scotia Community College and the convener of the One N.S. website. He says it’s important to remember that the report was written for Nova Scotians, not the government.

“This is something that we have to be committed to for the long term, so therefore over the long term we’re going to see changes.”

He credits programs like EduNova’s Study and Stay with keeping more international students in the province after graduation. The program, and others, connects the students to suitable companies while they are studying, which can often lead to employment after graduation.

“There’s an increased realization that there’s a skill set that international students bring to the workplace that’s invaluable,” he says. “That cultural competency, those international connections, those worldly views.”

It also helps that a shortage of qualified workers remains one of the biggest concerns for businesses in Nova Scotia.

“When you ask business leaders what keeps them up at night, it’s will they have access to the human capital they require to allow their businesses to prosper in the economy of tomorrow,” Bureaux says.

He thinks the province’s universities and colleges can do more to focus on getting more African Nova Scotians and Mi’kmaq Nova Scotians into the workforce.

As a parallel, he points to the Women Unlimited program. It gathered women interested in jobs like welding and gave them a 14-week tour of the different trades. They could then apply to study their chosen trade and many ended up working at the Irving Shipyard.

“We need to meet learners where they are, help reduce barriers, and provide clear pathways to employment,” says Bureaux. “That will increase that labour-force participation in the future.”

Bureaux says the education sector can help drive up the new-business startup figures, too. He thinks the question should switch from focusing on what field you want to innovate in, to what type of innovator you want to be.

“What type of entrepreneur do you want to be? That’s rooted in the belief that all of us have an entrepreneurial spirit in us,” he says.

He sees students use that approach to become social entrepreneurs driving community development. He thinks focusing on the self-starting mindset of an entrepreneur will eventually lead to more new businesses in Nova Scotia.

Bernie Miller, the Deputy Minister of Business, says one of the biggest successes of the first five years is also one of the hardest to achieve: population growth.

For generations, Nova Scotia shrunk with a net outflow of about 2,000 people a year. Since 2015, it’s steadily increased — and Miller says Nova Scotians aren’t having more babies or cheating death.

“It was a very definitive focus on immigration and the creation of new immigration streams,” Miller says. “There was a focus on reversing youth outmigration.”

He credits programs like Graduate to Opportunity, Innovate to Opportunity and the Connector programs in Halifax and Cape Breton. All connect people to work, and that’s a strong factor in attracting and retaining new Nova Scotians.

And he takes a more positive account of exports not increasing in value.

“In fact, Nova Scotia led the country in export growth,” Miller says.

The numbers don’t reflect that because the big offshore oil-and-gas sector has struggled, while there’s been a 44 per cent growth in non-energy exports. That’s things like fisheries, agriculture and manufactured goods like tires.

“The province has experienced steady GDP growth since the Ivany report with a real GDP growth rate of 1.5 per cent last year,” he says. “Nova Scotia’s trade is diversifying, with about 11 per cent of our exports now going to China. Tourism growth has been record-setting.”

For business start ups, high-growth companies (defined as 20 per cent employment increase or 20 per cent revenue growth) have created about 6,500 new jobs. “The data is lagging. It isn’t capturing the more vibrant high-growth startups that are creating lots of opportunity,” he says.

He adds that the province has had a string of balanced budgets and “is tracking to” the Ivany target of a debt-to-GDP ratio of 30 per cent. The province’s credit was recently upgraded to AA-, the best in Atlantic Canada.

Like Bureaux, Miller wants to see more African Nova Scotians and Mi’kmaq Nova Scotians getting better jobs. “More targeted approaches, more targeted policies. I think employers could have an impact,” he says.

Many of those jobs could come in the growing Oceans supercluster, information and communication technology and entrepreneurship. “The biggest change is that the province and participants in the economy seem to have a new focus on areas of competitive advantage.”

He says venture capital investment has risen by 323 per cent in the last five years.

“The government just lowered the cost to incorporate, so Nova Scotia has the lowest incorporation fee in Canada. This, plus incubators like Volta, Cove, Ignite (Yarmouth) and Momentum (Sydney), together with focused effort of post-secondary, business, venture capital and entrepreneurs will build on the 4,500 jobs created in start ups since the Ivany report.”

Patrick Sullivan, the CEO and president of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, has a pleasant suggestion for how individual Nova Scotians can do their part. “Maybe I think it’s my personal responsibility to try every micro-brewery in the province,” he says with a laugh. “By trying these, I’m employing Nova Scotians. I’m buying products made by Nova Scotians.”

He spent Boxing Day shopping in downtown Dartmouth and Halifax, which strengthens existing businesses and encourages others to open.

The government can help wine producers by listing them at the NSLC and giving them good shelf space. They can give grants to plant new grapes. But they can’t plant the grapes and turn them into wine. And they can’t make people decide to buy locally, rather than internationally. “It’s not up to government to solve these things for us. It’s up to us,” Sullivan says. “Frankly, if we leave it to government, it won’t get done.”

He does want the provincial government to cut spending down to rates on par with inflation and population growth. “They’ve been spending faster than inflation and spending faster than our population has been growing,” he says. “Long term, we need to think about how we can reduce those kinds of things to reduce taxes to attract those new businesses and ensure people are enthusiastic about staying. And that goes for folks in every income category, not just higher-income earners.”

He also points to IBM, which in 2013 employed 65 people locally and by 2018 employed 518. He puts a number on the venture capital increase: it went from $15.9-million in 2013 to $77-million in 2017. “We’re seeing many more start ups — in the Halifax area in particular,” he says, adding that 16 per cent of the startups generate more than $1-million in revenue.

He says the Ivany report stands the test of time as an overall view of the state of the province in 2014. He cites population and immigration as two bright areas that will bring long-term benefits. He puts a positive spin on the areas marked as “not progressing” in the report. That means we’re not on track to meet the targets, but it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re not progressing.

The One N.S. website backs him up. It calls the goals “visionary, ambitious and difficult to achieve.” It defines progressing as “moving substantially closer to the target” while not progressing means “the indicator is moving away from the target or not moving substantially.”

The Ivany report calls for 7,000 new immigrants per year. Nova Scotia had 5,500 last year.

“If we only get 75 per cent of the way to say a significant increase in youth employment, or labour-force participation, that’s a significant accomplishment,” Sullivan says.

That will be especially important as our aging population continues to retire. He says companies may want to “overinvest” in attracting and retaining younger staff to smooth that transition period.

“We’re going to have over 75,000 people who are going to turn 65 in the next 10 or 12 years. That’s a significant number of people who may decide that they’d rather not work,” he says. “We need to replace them.”

As a final point, Sullivan says the Chamber’s 2019 strategic plan focuses on key Ivany report goals: entrepreneurship, youth retention and immigration. With a widespread focus on those key areas, he’s confident the 10-year anniversary of the Ivany report will see a prospering Nova Scotia getting closer to the overall goal of building a new economy.