The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency is entering its third decade of operations as the foremost organization dedicated to supporting both businesses and owners in the Atlantic provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland & Labrador). ACOA rang in a new year alongside a remarkable new development for its home base. In March 2023, and with the endorsement of 17 former premiers and deputy premiers of the Atlantic provinces, the PPF (Public Policy Forum) commissioned a report titled the Atlantic Canada Momentum Index. In short, this report gives credence to an ongoing theory that, currently, Atlantic Canada is seeing a considerable upswing in key areas—at times, more so than any other part of the country.
This report, publicly available at ppforum.ca/publications/the-atlantic-canada-momentum-index/ for all to read, has been met with widespread optimism and represents a strong outlook for the decade ahead and beyond for these parts of eastern Canada. As ACOA says on its website, “There are fresh opportunities for the four Atlantic provinces and those who live, work and play here.”
The commissioning body of the index, PPF, is a regional think tank that looks to provide the means for new voices to enter discussions around issues and policies that affect Canadians nationwide. Its report, created in conjunction with the Centre for the Study of Living Standards (a non-profit based in Ottawa) and with help from organizations like ACOA, identifies 20 key social and economic indicators to ascertain whether momentum exists, with Atlantic Canada succeeding in 16 of those indicators. These specific facets fall under five generalized areas: the macro economy; human capital; the labour market; innovation and investment; and quality of life. These areas were measured with data ranging from 2015 to 2022 (or the latest available year), along with a previous period of 2008 to 2015 for comparison’s sake.
The index notes that, especially from 2021 to 2022, Atlantic Canadian population growth exceeded the national average, largely thanks to increased immigration to those provinces. Whereas 2008 through 2015 saw about 7000 immigrants entering the area per year, the newer period more than doubled this rate to 15,000 per year, with a retention rate of 72 percent. Quality of life has seen an increase as well, with more Atlantic Canadians achieving higher levels of education and enjoying an increase in high-quality jobs available to provide for graduates as they enter the workforce. Housing prices are generally lower in the area than elsewhere, and unemployment is at a 40-year low, now lower than or comparable to that of places like Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver.
In turn, the economy of the Atlantic provinces has seen much less decline than the rest of the country, with its GDP having risen to $141 billion since 1961 (in comparison to Canada’s GDP currently resting around $2.5 trillion). “Atlantic Canada now accounts for 5.6 percent of Canada’s GDP,” the index says. It also seems to be leading the country in increasing the value of exports, $41.9 billion as of 2022. This turnaround in the previous decade seems to be at odds with a perception toward the region that it is less of a growth area than other parts of Canada; in fact, the opposite is true.
These and many more promising figures are detailed throughout the report, but the work of PPF, ACOA, and other regional and national partners is not yet done. Now that Atlantic momentum has been proven, it must continue to be stoked and taken advantage of to fully maximize this new opportunity. Tourism is something of a growth sector for these areas, especially after news in late November 2023 that Atlantic Canada will see a boost from the new Federal Tourism Growth Strategy, which looks to target a 40 percent increase of the tourism sector’s contribution to Canada’s GDP by 2030. ACOA, along with the country’s other regional development agencies, will deliver funding directly to businesses and organizations in the area, including Indigenous tourism operations, and support projects to bring more domestic and international visitors to the country.
Along with the positivity the report has brought for the region comes the reminder that there are still steps that need to be taken in critical areas. An ongoing issue in Atlantic Canada is housing, and as 2024 begins, Newfoundland & Labrador will be seeing land made available for more housing, including 23 parcels of vacant government-owned land. In Fredericton, New Brunswick, a housing development (the 12 Neighbours Community) has already doubled in size over the last year. A similar project in Newfoundland for low-income housing is also gaining traction and steps are being considered in all other Atlantic provinces to address housing in a complete and serious manner.
The attraction of talent and growth of local business is also important to keeping this momentum going. Recently announced, Newfoundland & Labrador will undergo a three-year pilot project to hire physicians’ assistants, health care workers who can perform initial patient assessments, assist in surgery, and generally help to lighten and focus a doctor’s workload. In Nova Scotia, the traffic control company Site 20/20 is being celebrated for its efforts in business with its inclusion in the Technology Fast 50, an annual ranking of early-stage tech companies by tax firm Deloitte based on revenue growth. Site 20/20 is the only Atlantic Canadian company on the list this year, placing sixth, a new record for the region.
According to the Index, Nova Scotia raised $41 million in venture capital in early 2023, with global policy advisory and research firm Startup Genome ranking Atlantic Canada in a global top 10 of startup-friendly areas.
ACOA has been a vocal champion of the Index and its findings for Atlantic Canada and has taken an interest in the work of PPF for the region. In an online statement via its Government of Canada website, ACOA says that these trends will be a key factor in redefining the area for the rest of the country: “It’s time to re-frame the Atlantic Canada story, and recognize that the region is a proud, valuable, burgeoning asset to Canada as a whole.”
From so many vantage points, the Atlantic Canada Momentum Index indicates that positive change is already here for the region, and more could be on the way if Canadians from all directions seize these new and exciting opportunities.