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JOHN DEMONT: First step to solving a problem: understand the problem

And the first step in understanding Nova Scotia's economic problems could be taking another look at the Ivany report
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LocalXpress columnist John DeMont suggests that Nova Scotians should take another look at the Ivany report, which was titled Now or Never, an urgent call to action for Nova Scotians.

When I read the other day that half of Nova Scotians didn’t have a clue what Ray Ivany’s report about Nova Scotia’s economic dilemma was all about I thought the story was mistaken. So I went back and read the item again, then I got worried.

That bit of info was even more dispiriting than another insight contained in the recent poll by Corporate Research Associates: that just 17 per cent of those polled thought there’d been actual progress in the areas identified in the nearly three-year-old report as having the best potential to turn things around for this province.

Don Mills, CRA chairman and CEO, tweeted that maybe the public ennui reflects a lack of communication by the government and the blue-ribbon panel struck to do something concrete with the Ivany commission’s recommendations.

On the other hand, it could be just that there isn’t much to say when it comes to the government’s response to Ivany.  

My view is that if the government is eschewing the kinds of sweeping changes that just might, in the long run, solve our woes, for incremental steps more suitable to a place that has all the time in the world — which Nova Scotia surely does not — perhaps we have only ourselves to blame. It would be a shame if it was all because we just didn’t get around to reading a document, even one as heavy going as the Ivany report. 

The fear with any report is that it will end up on the shelf with the other volumes that have been filed before it. I would have thought that the tone of this one would have made it impossible to ignore.

It’s now or never, said Ivany and his commission. In my view the commission showed remarkable restraint as they laid out our situation: the worst performing economy in the country for the past 20 years, our industries tapped out, our skill sets obsolete, our population getting older and declining to the point where we are going to have trouble meeting the demands of employers in the future.

Not everywhere of course. Most Nova Scotians live and work in Halifax. Here, with our service-based economy, our universities, government offices and naval base, life is enviable. But this is a two-tiered province now. In many of the towns, hamlets and wide-open country outside of Halifax the economic struggle is palpable.

This wasn’t always so. During the Great Age of Sail — which turned Nova Scotia into one of the wealthiest places in the land entering Confederation — ports and shipbuilding towns boomed up and down the coastline. Later, during the Industrial Age, newcomers flocked to the coal and steel towns of Cape Breton, Pictou and Cumberland counties, many of which seemed to one day materialize from nothing. Pulp and paper created good jobs in other Nova Scotia towns.

Those days are gone. Outside of Halifax people are older, they generally make less money, their futures seem shakier. Economics isn’t everything of course; I’d stack life in any number of Nova Scotia towns against existence anywhere else in this country.

But the urban-rural schism is the elephant in the room during any conversation about the future of this province. Ray Ivany had lots of ideas and clearly stated goals for achieving them. I have no idea whether what is proposed will be enough. But I do know that the first step to solving any problem is understanding that problem.

So maybe we should all have another look at what he had to say in 2014. Just don’t do it alone, or late at night, because it can make for pretty scary reading.



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