Pointing a way forward for Atlantic Canada

Somewhere over the rainbow, a brighter future for Atlantic Canada

Somewhere over the rainbow, a brighter future for Atlantic Canada

It’s timely, cogent and thoughtful, which is exactly why it’ll never work. Human nature abhors big ideas and grand schemes, preferring, instead, to domicile stubbornly in its hobbit holes.

That’s one way to regard the final report of the 4Front Atlantic Conference, a meeting of regional business leaders that just wrapped up in Halifax.

Another is to recognize that the document contains just enough practical magic and common-sense solutions to the problems that burden Atlantic Canada’s economy to suggest that durable, sustainable prosperity in this corner of the steppe need not remain a pipe dream.

That, too, is human nature. After all, the future is about nothing if not the choices we make today.

“What can I do to make Atlantic Canada a more promising place for our children – so that they can realize their potential and their dreams, and be successful in this changing world, living and working here in Atlantic Canada?”

That’s the action plan’s “rallying cry”.

So is: this: “How do we change to prosper in a world where China and Brazil are among the global economic leaders, old trade relations are no longer enough, and all markets are global?”

And this: “How should I work with my neighbour, whether down the street or across the region, to seize these opportunities today for future generations of Atlantic Canadians?”

After three conferences and hundreds of hours examining the issues, the folks at 4Front offer a few suggestions, the most important of which is to start thinking for yourself and stop believing in governments as the fountainheads of originality. They are not. They merely reflect the broader aspirations – or lack, thereof – of those who installed them. And that’s us.

Henceforth, our concern should be aggressively collegial. The history, geography and demographics of this region precludes any degree of economic success as long as we remain siloed by our narrow, parochial interests.

We need a common approach to our common purposes.

On education and training, 4Front says: “We must create a ‘K‐to‐work’ approach, where the focus is on preparing students for the workforce of tomorrow and providing a link between formal schooling and future employers.The public education system should investigate the usage of open online courses and what this technology could mean for core K‐12 courses. We recommend an increased focus on experiential learning and co‐op placements, so that students have the chance to apply their knowledge while trying out different careers and building skills.”

On new skills: “We need dramatically higher levels of economic immigration – this can be done through a business‐government‐university‐community partnership where we are clear about the skills needed, geographic targets, and an engaged community to welcome and integrate these new Canadians.”

On innovation and productivity: “We need to significantly increase the collaboration and alignment between university and industry R&D. University research capacity should be more accessible to private companies and the private sector must engage better with universities and invest more in innovation. We need to establish an accelerator to support and mentor Atlantic Canadian emerging start‐ups, similar to Communitech in Waterloo.”

On globalization: “We must focus on strategic business sectors and global geographies where we can be globally competitive and develop a detailed regional strategic plan for each that is managed and measured. We need to help make Atlantic Canadian SMEs export ready, through ‘reverse trade missions’ where we bring international businesses to visit us and other initiatives.”

On capital: “To combat serious underfunding of Atlantic firms, we should create a regional equity‐investment tax credit. We need to create an organization that can forge stronger linkages to external networks (Silicon Valley, angel investors, Canadian VC funds, universities). We should unify our provincial securities commissions,thus eliminating the four‐tier fee structure for companies and brokers and make financing easier for our firms.”

As for governments, their watchwords should be collaboration, efficiency and relevance.

None of this is particularly new which means, if nothing else, all of it is perfectly achievable, as long as the better angels of our human nature choose to act.

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