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Nova Scotia needs a new deal 

Times are tough, but you ain’t seen nothing yet. To avoid the looming disaster, our Economic Advisory Panel calls for urgent action from premier Darrell Dexter and his just-elected NDP majority government. Photos by Scott Blackburn

Kyle Shaw: Not long after the global financial meltdown started last September, Nova Scotia's then-premier Rodney MacDonald announced that he had formed an Economic Advisory Panel to help steer the province through these troubled times. The names on his list were the usual suspects of Nova Scotia business, representing the major companies literally doing business as usual here. In other places, it was these sorts of traditional pillars of the business community who are exactly the kind of people who caused this global economic mess in the first place, so at The Coast, we looked at the list and we laughed. "Of course we could make a better Advisory Panel," we said, so we put together a well-rounded list of interesting thinkers as an alternative.

With the election a couple of weeks ago giving premier Darrell Dexter an unprecedented NDP majority and an unprecedented mandate to govern differently, we figured this is the time for our panel of people who think differently. This new government is in a position to take these concerns and perspectives seriously, so let's give it to them.

But first, I want to figure out where we are right now. What does the global meltdown mean to us? How bad is it for Nova Scotians right now?

Angela Giles: Under the MacDonald government, privatization has been continuing to occur in the health care system, with for example the signing of the Scotian Surgery contract with Capital Health and also the telecare contract that was recently announced---$20 million for a "call-a-nurse"- type program. So, the public health care system as we know it has basically been eroding.

Susanna Fuller: Lobster fishermen have been greatly affected by the economic downturn, because their fishery is almost 99 percent export oriented, and so there's been a backlog of product. We can see Clearwater, who almost faced bankruptcy and had to be bailed out for $10 million by the Nova Scotia government, because of its leveraging by foreign banks.

Ron Colman: The big flaw that I see presently is that everyone is talking about "stimulating" the economy so that we can somehow get back to where we were, to this so-called "boom period." There's very little recognition that there's a relationship between the meltdown we're experiencing now and the nature of the boom period that proceeded it. Everyone talks about "recovery," as if we want to recover to where we were. Where we were was ecologically unsustainable, but even financially, a lot of that growth during the so-called boom period was debt-fueled. We have to look at that whole picture more realistically than current, conventional analysis has done.

Kyle Shaw: If we don't want to recover, where do we want to go? What do we want to do?

Dan Roscoe: Specifically on the energy side, we are still in a very dire position here in Nova Scotia, as we import the vast majority of our energy, despite having tremendous renewable energy resources from all types imaginable---wind, biomass, wave, tidal. We feel that there's a tremendous potential there to repatriate our energy supply, to bring it home. Right now, we spend 10 cents or 12 cents on a kilowatt hour, eight or nine cents of that leaves the province and goes somewhere else, but we could be turning that into jobs and manufacturing in renewable energy products and installations, insulating all of our homes and making them more efficient. And that will not only solve our energy crisis but also help stimulate our economy.

Kyle Shaw: So what's the first step for Darrell Dexter to start repatriating our energy supply?

Dan Roscoe: We need a new definition of cost when it comes to energy. Right now we have a very narrow definition of cost---it's a kilowatt hour today; it doesn't matter what the source is or where it's coming from, or the emissions associated with it, the cheapest kilowatt hour is the best. We have this mantra that renewable energy costs more, but we need to come to the reality that our status quo, when it comes to energy, is going to be by far the most expensive. Oil is going to continue to skyrocket in the long-term, and so will natural gas and coal. We need Darrell Dexter to take the leadership to recognize that there is value from fixed costs from renewable energy and from local supply that generates local economic activity.

Susanna Fuller: It's an exciting time, also a bit of a scary time. If we can really figure out how to recount things as well, in terms of what we need in terms of the economy, and get the public to support that, then we have a real chance of doing it.

Kyle Shaw: How much time do we have?

Ron Colman: Ten years, max. I've done nothing but look at statistics for the last 13 years, and I think that we have a very narrow and increasingly small window of opportunity. If we have business as usual for the next 10 years, then it will be too late to reverse certain things which will lead to an inevitable decline in global prosperity. We have a very small window of opportunity.

Patricia Bishop: With agriculture, we really need to figure out how we can get farmers a higher return for their product, that will cover their costs, and take into consideration the debt loads and the actual cost of production, which right now is causing a really big challenge. It comes back to what we were talking about with fuel, too---we have a cheap food policy in Canada, and so until we start realizing that there is a real cost to produce good, local healthy food, and we're willing to pay for that, then we're going to continue to see farmers get out of business. We need the government step in and say, "OK, food security in this province is a critical part of what we need to do here, so we're going to invest in and create a better system.

Tony Tracy: I look at apples and t-shirts. Apples: in Aldershot, in the Annapolis Valley, home of the best apples in the world, and a kid on the base opens up his lunch bucket, picks up the apple, and it's a New Zealand apple, purchased by the federal government. T-shirts: During the Democracy 250 celebration, the provincial government ordered t-shirts made in China, when we have a textile industry in Canada, here at home. We need to look at procurement issues in a very serious way.

Dan Roscoe: I'll add another one to those. The new farmers' market, which has just started construction last week, is going to have imported solar panels on it, despite the fact that we've made world-class solar panels in Dartmouth for 27 years now. A building that's committed to buying local wasn't able to have locally sourced supply---so you can add solar panels to your t-shirts and apples.

Ron Colman: The key thing is that the full costs of imported food is not included. We don't have to go down the protectionist route, it's just that the cost of transportation and use of energy and greenhouse gas emissions are omitted from the actual price of the product. We have to be able to bring those true costs into the accounting system; we have to have an accounting system that includes social and environmental benefits and costs---without that, nothing's going to change.

I want to come back to a second to the beginning of this. I'm not sure that what we want to look at is called "recovery." I think we're talking about a restructuring of the economic system and it won't look the same---it can't look the same. I've got a quote here from George Monbiot, who says, "Climate breakdown, peak oil and resource depletion will all dwarf the current financial crisis, in both financial and humanitarian terms." So unless we start thinking long-term, this current economic meltdown is going to seem like very small potatoes.

Dan Roscoe: Addressing those issues, though, will employ people. It will put people back to work, it will give people security---all those short-term things that people are looking for.

Ron Colman: There are very creative solutions that are not nearly sufficiently looked at. The current solution that is being touted, and I hate to say it, but from right to left, across the whole political spectrum, is economic stimulus. But it was debt-fueled growth that led us into the mess, and now, as a solution, debt-fueled growth is being promoted as the solution. This was the problem. So now we're going to go deeper into debt, who's going to pay the debt? Our children, and our children's children, both in financial and environmental terms.

There are other ways to avoid unemployment, aside from simply restimulating the economy. I think we have to learn how to shrink the economy creatively, and restructure it.

Tony Tracy: When workers receive employment insurance, much like workers who are receiving social assistance from the province---every dime of what they receive goes into the local economy, in a very serious way. Unlike corporate tax breaks, which the dollars quite often are going out of province and going often times into Bermuda, and we think of large employers---I won't name Irving---who take their tax breaks and literally ship them overseas into bank accounts that have no taxes and so forth. The dollars that are spent on social programs, the dollars that are spent on social services in terms of the provincial model or employment insurance at the federal model, are spent in the local economy---that's economic stimulus in a real way.

Jeff Moore: It's fundamental that we've got to get the NDP government to stand up to the mindless and heartless deregulation of Stockwell Day and the Harper government. It's just crazy that we would continue to pursue that road when that's led us to this disastrous economic meltdown.

Susanna Fuller: I don't know if we're looking at enough. My mother worked in health care, and she struggled a lot, just getting enough money to keep the home care system operating, which is much, much cheaper than having people come into the hospital. So things like midwives or homecare, where you're actually giving people care in their home, so you're not having the high cost of infrastructure for every single patient, make a huge amount of sense from an economic perspective, and are a shift in attitude. A lot of things we can move forward on don't necessarily need economic stimulus. They need a stimulus of intelligence---an attitude change----to make them happen. They need to cut the status quo, and stop the relationships that exist between certain governments and corporate entities---those have to stop and change.

That's one thing that has to change, and the other thing is how we get around. One way to make it so we can actually work a four-day workweek is to not have a car---cars cost a lot of money. How do we get from point A to point B? Is the government investing much in public transit or active transportation, so that people can afford to earn a bit less, which is ultimately what we're going to have to do. But we don't have the systems or the infrastructure in place to do that comfortably---we feel that pain if we have to give up our car. We're not investing in those things that will help us transition, and I think that is the real challenge for this government, if they can do it, is to build that transition to an economy that's environmentally and socially respectful. And it will take some courage, and some real breaking of relationships. Like you said, a lot of this doesn't have to cost a lot of money, it's just a shift in how we think.

Ron Colman: There's a huge opportunity. During a boom period, nobody wants to change anything, everyone's just riding high on the hog. But it's at a moment like this when people are maybe more open to change.

I think, Susanna, you put your finger on the critical word, when you said "courage." The real question is, Will this new government have the courage to do more than tinker? In other words, to really take some serious steps. We have everything it takes, in terms of a wonderful province, creative people, we actually have a Genuine Progress Index ready to use, that is a full cost accounting system that's ready to be applied---we could implement all of this---but it takes courage, because then we have to say to Stockwell Day, "Sorry, according to our accounting system, it's cheaper to buy local, because we're taking full costs into account. Take us to the World Trade Organization panel---we'll fight it because we've got our accounting system."

But it takes courage.

The Coast’s economic advisory panel

Jeff Moore
Founder and CEO of Just Us! Coffee Roasters, Canada’s first fair trade coffee roaster.

Ron Colman
Founder and executive director of GPI Atlantic. GPI is Genuine Progress Index, which is an effort to measure our progress more holistically in a way that integrates social, economic and environmental perspectives.

Susanna Fuller
Marine coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre.

Dan Roscoe
Chief operating officer at Scotian Windfields, a community-based developer of renewable energy products.

Angela Giles
Atlantic Region coordinator for the Council of Canadians, and also representing the board for the Nova Scotia Citizens’ Health Care Network.

Tony Tracy
Atlantic Regional representative for the Canadian Labour Congress, which represents three and a half million workers from coast to coast.

Patricia Bishop
A family farmer in the Annapolis Valley, owner of Taproot Farms and with the King’s County Federation of Agriculture, representing farmers in King’s County.

Kyle Shaw
Editor and co-founder of The Coast, and moderator for our Economic Advisory Panel.

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