While travelling through Nova Scotia one notes an economy that has changed and diversified over time. Like its distinct society neighbour, Newfoundland (the Rock), the Bluenose province has a long, glorious history and a unique culture. But it’s facing economic challenges, not long ago it had a robust fishing economy on which much of the province depended. In the past, there was a huge timber and ship-building industry that saw Nova Scotia-built wooden vessels traverse every ocean. As well, Nova Scotia had an industrial side with steel mills and coal mines on Cape Breton Island.
Thanks to its strategic location the province had a well-developed trading business with the American east coast, the Caribbean and Great Britain that made the area an economic powerhouse at the turn of the 19th century. But alas, the province has not fared well in the last 75 years. Almost all those legacy industries have faded from their economic prominence and countless thousands of jobs have disappeared – most steel and coal industries have gone altogether. This led to an ever-increasing number of proud Nova Scotians having to leave and go West to seek their fortunes; it’s not just Newfoundlanders that make the job trek to Alberta.
What is left one might ponder – there is still a remnant fishery chasing lobsters, crabs, mackerel, tuna, scallop and other species. There are a few major fish plants left, but ironically, they mostly process imported fish caught by foreign offshore fishing fleets – much to the exasperation of local commercial fishermen. As in Newfoundland, the Federal Fisheries department is a much-despised regulator. One wonders why the Canadian fishing industry seems to bear the brunt of what seem like rather severe fish conservation measures, while foreign fishing factory ships pillage the offshore waters with impunity and then sell the fish to Canadians. It boggles the mind.
Thanks to a more favourable climate and better geography, Nova Scotia has a more diverse agriculture industry than Newfoundland. The geologic history of the Bluenose province is different from that of the Rock and it is blessed with much more arable land, even if it still consists largely of rock, bog, and millions of acres of forests. Less than 30 per cent of the land can be farmed across the province, but mainly concentrated in a few choice areas like Hants County, North of Halifax and the Annapolis and Cornwallis Valleys. Primary agriculture contributes about $600 million to the economy led by the supply managed farming industries – dairying, poultry and egg production. The farming economy also includes sizeable numbers of beef cattle, sheep and hogs along with a substantial horticulture sector anchored by the orchard industry in the Annapolis Valley. Apples from that area are even seen at times in Alberta grocery stores. Nova Scotia in many ways is much more self-sufficient in diversified food production than its neighbours – it even produces maple syrup and now wine from newly established vineyards. The province does still encourage land clearing for agricultural purposes, but what is left is marginal at best and used mostly for blueberry production.
But what of the rest of the economy? There is still a forestry industry, but it seems to be focused more on cutting skinny trees for pulpwood mills. The giant old-growth pine trees were all used up in the 1800s for shipbuilding. The only industry that has really grown over the past 40 years has been tourism. Nova Scotia is blessed with many historical sites remaining from its lively history, an abundance of picturesque villages, and a never-ending scenic coastline. It is also close to millions of potential tourists from the adjacent American states to which it has historical connections. The Halifax Citadel, Peggy’s Cove, Fortress Louisburg, Lunenburg, the Bay of Fundy and other sites are well-developed attractions. There is more tourism potential, but it’s not enough to employ the many thousands that once worked in the legacy industries. Nova Scotians seem like resilient folks with a survivor instinct. Local entrepreneurs try to exploit every tourist angle from craft and art shops, to a whirly gig souvenir stand, to a hooked rug museum but it’s tough going. Any permanent full-time job is treasured – with a government job seen as winning the lottery.
One suspects that governments have been grappling with the economic concerns for generations with the usual business shenanigans based on subsidies. One notes the presence of windmills so subsidy boondoggles continue, albeit they are now politically correct and trendy green. More next time.