A forum at St. Francis Xavier University dedicated to continued economic development and growth in Atlantic Canada came to a close June 21 with a call to action.
The inaugural Atlantic Economic Forum, hosted by StFX’s Brian Mulroney Institute of Government, ended with a clear message that Atlantic Canada has to take up a lot more space in the global conversation and it has to continue to think big, bold, and differently.
“We can be influencing the conversations that matter,” Catherine Blewett, President, Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, said in closing remarks as she described the three-day forum as “impactful.”
“We covered a lot of ground.”
The event, an Atlantic-wide, retreat-style discussion on economic development opportunities and issues for the region, comes at a critical and unique time, when the economy is in the forefront of people’s minds, and we need to think about it differently. Forum organizers have said the rapidly changing landscape post-pandemic is creating new potential and challenges, with a reversal on population decline, increasing immigration, a housing shortage, growth in new, innovative companies and in the tech sector, a rapid shift to the green economy, and significant urban revival.
Ms. Blewett says we’re facing dramatic global shifts, and Atlantic Canada is poised to contribute to it if we hustle. “We can’t waste this platform or this momentum.”
Charles McMillan, author, and professor of strategic management and international business at York University, gave a rapporteur’s summary, including five takeaways from the conference.
These included the fact we must work together as a region, in numerous sectors; we have to focus on data and benchmark ourselves; we can and should learn from other jurisdictions that are doing things well; we must think big, bold, and global; and we must nurture our talent.
About 300 delegates were at StFX for the forum, which ran June 19-21. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney helped opened the event on Monday June 19th and the Hon. Lisa Raitt and the Hon. Anne McLellan, co-chairs of Coalition for a Better Future spoke at an evening fireside chat on June 20. Numerous panels and plenary sessions were held over the three days.
Day three started with an inspiring closing plenary on Indigenous business and economic development opportunities for Atlantic Canada, moderated by Jarvis Googoo, Director, Atlantic Indigenous Economic Development Integrated Research Program. It was also National Indigenous Peoples Day.
Panelists for the session included Rose Paul, CEO & President Bayside Corporation; Mary Beth Doucette, Purdy Crawford Chair in Aboriginal Business Studies, Shannon School of Business, Cape Breton University; Kelly Lendsay, CEO, Indigenous Works; and Chris Googoo, We’koqma’q First Nation and CEO, Ulnooweg.
A policy leaders’ panel on strategic direction and next steps for economic development in Atlantic Canada brought together five speakers representing regional and national governments.
During this session, the forum heard from the Hon. Gilles Arsenault, Minister of Economic Development, Innovation and Trade, Prince Edward Island; the Hon. Sean Fraser, Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship, Canada; the Hon. Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion, Canada; the Hon. Jill Balser, Minister of Labour, Skills and Immigration, Nova Scotia; and the Hon. Gudie Hutchings, Minister of Rural Economic Development, Canada.
The conversation ranged from the Atlantic Growth Strategy to how exciting it is now that young people can see themselves in jobs in this region. Panelists spoke about a number of issues from the need for access – air, marine and local transit – to and in the region to the need to eliminate that ‘good enough’ attitude, and how the region is better off when we work collaboratively and support each other.