Status quo not an option, Atlantic premiers say as they ask Ottawa for economic help

The Canadian Press
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The status quo is not an option as Atlantic Canada faces potentially crippling economic challenges, New Brunswick premier Brian Gallant said Wednesday after a meeting of regional leaders.

Economists have warned of bleak consequences, even fiscal disaster, over the next decade if the region can't boost labour forces through new investments and immigration.

Richard Saillant, director of the Donald J. Savoie Institute at University of Moncton, has warned for years that New Brunswick is on a collision course with bankruptcy. He went farther this week, telling CBC News that the Atlantic region as a whole could see health care expenses rise beyond sustainable levels within 10 years as residents get older and workforces shrink.

Still, the Council of Atlantic Premiers gathering with key federal ministers - all Liberals - was a hopeful sign, Gallant told the closing news conference.

“We talked about how we can work together to ensure that we're developing a strong labour force and, at the same time, working together to address fiscal challenges that can come with an aging population.”

The premiers are asking Ottawa for more investment to help create jobs and offset escalating health costs.

They're also optimistic that promised infrastructure funding in the next federal budget will kick-start new projects and attract younger workers.

Marie-Christine Bernard, associate director of the Conference Board of Canada's provincial and territorial forecast service, said retaining young workers must be a top priority for Atlantic Canada.

“Otherwise, the economy will be growing at a very weak pace over the next five, 10 years,” she said in an interview.

Federal Treasury Board President Scott Brison, who attended the meeting along with Navdeep Bains, minister of innovation, science and economic development, said young aboriginal workers will soon be a crucial labour source.

“We have 300,000 young aboriginal and First Nation Canadians entering working age in the next 10 years. If they have the skills they need to compete and succeed, that's good for our economy. If they don't, that's a real challenge for us.”

Canada is aging as a whole but the Atlantic region is greying faster than the rest of the country.

The premiers who met Wednesday agree another federal financing model is needed to better serve populations that are aging faster.

Brison said more home care support is one of the best solutions.

“It's also very important economically that Atlantic Canada be open and even aggressive in terms of immigration strategy,” he said.

Bernard said cash-strapped provinces such as Newfoundland and Labrador, which now faces an almost $2 billion deficit, must also control spending.

“A lot of provinces are looking at their corporate taxes and sales tax, and trying to contain their program expenditures - especially outside of education and health care. Some governments are also looking at the size of their public workforce.”

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil shrugged off questions about a New Brunswick Liberal Association fundraiser held Tuesday night dubbed “An Evening with the Atlantic Premiers.”

The $250-a-plate event also featured federal ministers taking part in Wednesday's meeting, including Brison and Bains.

McNeil said there was nothing wrong with piggybacking the partisan banquet on a taxpayer funded meeting.

“It was the first time I had a chance to meet some of my federal colleagues outside of meetings to get to know them,” he told the news conference. “I believe the province of Nova Scotia will be better off for the solutions we're working on here.”

Brison noted that the event did not take place poolside at some beach resort.

“If we had been flying to Miami to do this trip in February that might have been a scandal,” he said. “The fact that we're coming to Fredericton shows real commitment to advancing our region - in the middle of a snowstorm."


Organizations: Government House, Treasury Board

Geographic location: New East, New Brunswick, Fredericton

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Recent comments

    February 11, 2016 - 11:42

    The status quo is not an option as Atlantic Canada faces potentially crippling economic challenges, New Brunswick premier Brian Gallant said ....Absolutely! The things that need to be don now are: (1) cut back size of government - drastically. (2) cut back size of civil service -drastically (3) cut out the fat from all departments - drastically. (4) concentrate on balancing the next budget. (5) DO NOT raise taxes. By doing so, it just gives you a false impression and you tend to spend more than you should. (6) try to create jobs in conjunction with other governments and private industry, not bring in more temporary workers whose wages are all spent in another country. You need to broaden your tax base, not shrink it.

  • Fed up
    February 11, 2016 - 09:49

    The group meeting "all Liberals" is definitely NOT a comforting thought. They've always been noted for spending like there's no tomorrow!! Traveling all over the country taking a huge entourage...spouses included... Huge salaries, expense accounts beyond reason...the rest of us living below poverty level! Not much hope for change with the way they spend - OUR money!

  • Just Sayin
    February 11, 2016 - 09:07

    NEWS FLASH!!!... Alberta is broke, no more money going to Ottawa to give to Quebec and Atlantic Canada. The only way out of this mess is to bring in more TFWs' so the locals can stay at home and draw EI, that way they can say that wages in PEI led the way in Canada last year at 3.5% increase.

  • JP
    February 11, 2016 - 08:37

    Funny how when it suits them everything is rosy but when they are looking for cash from Ottawa (again), it's desperate times.

  • Laurent Beaulieu
    February 10, 2016 - 21:11

    it is a worrying situation but it can be managed. As for those hoping for big government cuts, remember that also means big cuts in services. So a balance has to be achieved.

  • old man
    February 10, 2016 - 21:02

    There is so much fat in the government operation that could be trimmed and the average taxpayer would not even notice it. 1. consulting fees (mostly political tinted) 2. lawyers fees (mostly political tinted) 3. too many civil servants in general 4. too high salaries and fringe benefits for civil servants 5. too many and too high paid and pensioned off politicians. and on and on, and on.,

  • Dinky Dalton
    February 10, 2016 - 20:00

    Transfer payments have been squandered by provincial governments for years. Ottawa should impose strict rules on where the money can be spent; otherwise, it will continue to be handed out to the chosen few.

  • Sammy
    February 10, 2016 - 19:48

    So NFLD is approaching 2B in debt. and little PEI with 146,000 ppl sits at 2.2B... hmmm. big thanks goes out to our politicians.BIG spending cuts coming. Too many expensive Government employees.

    • john_n
      February 11, 2016 - 07:07

      NL is 2 billion in debt for this fiscal year. PEI is 2.2 billion in debt total..........big difference.

    • JP
      February 11, 2016 - 08:35

      NL deficit is $2B- that's for this fiscal year. Our accumulated net debt is $2.2B

  • kyle
    February 10, 2016 - 19:48

    Why did they show a picture of Wade ,now thatN S tells the island how much tax to charge shouldn`t pei be talking to him?

  • Joke
    February 10, 2016 - 19:37

    Not one of you guys know what hard times are. Imagime $250.00 dinner. Should be ashamed to be bragging about that . Stop all your foolish spending and mismanagement and put money into the working class who are almost all living under the poverty level trying to raise a family.

  • Big Red
    February 10, 2016 - 15:10

    Here it comes again...the continuing saga of how to bring in online poker and casino gambling.Can't wait for the lame excuses as to why we need more gambling.

  • John
    February 10, 2016 - 12:27

    The ship is sinking and they want to talk about climate change. Do you think maybe they live in another world?