Ivany commission reports on Nova Scotia's progressive economic future

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Here's some good reading on the economic future of Nova Scotia. The Ivany commission on the "new economy" has written up what it heard on the road in an interim report (at www.onens.ca). In so doing, it has cleared much underbrush and roughed out a path forward, like Dr. John Ross's report did for health care.

In short, we may be getting better at grappling with our problems -- just in the nick of time as the economic prognoses get more ominous and as one-note Harperist forces to the West work to trivialize the Maritimes as a mere welfare case.

The commission had been warned that "consultation fatigue," cynicism and "one-issue" interests would make this just another round-and-round. It didn't happen. The response has been enthusiastic, making it "hard to conclude that Nova Scotians are risk-averse."

There are plenty of entrepreneurs of all kinds -- big, small, individual, co-operative and social -- who came out of the woods. "We just need more of them."

But the story goes deeper, into what kind of growth we want. The "growth" mantra generally means simply more gross domestic product -- and more environmental destruction.

But "growth for its own sake" was not what the public said they wanted, preferring "wealth creation that respects community values," the environment, and cultural and social assets. The commissioners had taken into account the enormous work done by GPI Atlantic (for "genuine progress index") on the true cost of certain kinds of growth, and others for whom "growth should not become a proxy for social progress or the advancement of well-being generally."

And so economic development is more than a matter of individual entrepreneurs. The report points out that the initiatives that have drawn international attention to Nova Scotia -- the Antigonish-based co-op movement and our recycling programs -- were social in nature, and noted an abundance of "grassroots community-building movements" in Nova Scotia."

(In that regard, let's note the recent recognition given to Nova Scotia's CEDIF program by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum at a conference in Peru. It declared this program of local investing "a successful example" of fostering social innovation, entrepreneurship and local economic development.)

From there, the report cuts out its work for its final report next year: strategies on workforce issues (immigration/mobility/training); innovation; entrepreneurship; adding value to resources; infrastructure; supply chain strategies; impact of services -- that is, problems related to governance and bureaucracy -- and taxation. It remains open to input.

I've seen many commissions of inquiry in my long years. I like this one. It's deep into the nuts and bolts, and has defined the problem well -- the challenge as well as the strengths we have at hand. Just doing that is a promising start.

I mentioned cynicism. It's annoying that the Dexter government, which should have struck this inquiry at the beginning of its mandate, has done it now in reaction to its self-inflicted salmon farm debacle.

Still, the exercise appears to be working. As far as salmon farms go, the commission only mentions that there's conflict. However, with such hot topics, it hopes to work out mechanisms with which to seek out "evidence-based discussions" and to avoid "pre-judgment for or against every new venture."

The report, adding up some grim figures, warns that if nothing changes, the children and grandchildren "will have less."

Here's the one thing I find lacking in the report. There is, after all, a sense in which having less is both desirable and necessary. It's called conservation.

And conventional economic calculations have difficulty with it, both locally and worldwide. Worldwide, there's a movement of economists that has never made it onto the financial pages. It's called "de-growth," in recognition of the limits to growth that we're not acknowledging. Google it. Something for the commission to think about on its next round.

Meanwhile, the report points out that surveys consistently show that, among Canadians, Nova Scotians are those most satisfied with their lives.

Is it possible that as we whine and crab about everything under the sun, including politicians, we don't really mean it? Something for the rest of us to think about.

Ralph Surette is a veteran freelance journalist living in Yarmouth County. This article was first published in the Chronicle Herald.

Photo: Doug Kerr/flickr

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