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The wisdom of Nova Scarcity 

Voice of the City

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The moratorium on fracking has put Nova Scotia's business elite in a spot they're not accustomed to: On the outside looking in. It's a spot that social and environmental activists, heritage groups and even small local producers know all too well. Business elites have taken to our newspapers, radio call-ins and any other source that will have them in an attempt to rouse Nova Scotians to recognize the injustice of the ban. Echoing their compatriots in Ottawa, most of our elites have condemned Nova Scotia's refusal to take this "opportunity" to generate the kind of resource-based economic boom that Albertans and Newfoundlanders have, ostensibly, benefitted enormously from.

According to those who've lambasted us in Parliament and the press, we've foolishly turned down the chance to finally pull ourselves up by our provincial bootstraps, after centuries of dependence on the feds. Barrels of ink have been spilled to convince us fracking is the only way to convey to the rest of the world that Nova Scotia is "open for business." Some have even gone so far as to suggest that we have a history of leaving our natural resources alone instead of making ourselves rich off them, ignoring the centuries of fishing and foresting and mining. To them, we are being classically Nova Scotian: Moving backward while the rest of the world moves forward.

But what if backward is exactly what's needed today? What if, as a growing number of economists the world over are pointing out, we need to abandon the dogged pursuit of economic growth at any cost in favour of something more like "de-growth?"

In some ways, we already know the answers to these questions. Numerous Nova Scotians are quietly (but passionately) toiling to create a more sustainable, more modest future. Compared to the places we seem hell-bent on emulating (all those "world-class cities" and boom economies), Halifax and Nova Scotia have long been wrestling and living with the reality of an economics and necessity of scarcity. Indeed, we live it every day, partly in stubborn resistance to the dominant pressure to live bigger, and partly because we simply don't have the the territory, the economic capital or the scale of unexploited reserves of resources that would let us grow, grow, grow.

Haligonians, Nova Scotians, and Atlantic Canadians should take pride in the lifestyle that we've developed, and which seems to frustrate so many of our elites. We've mastered the art of "occupational pluralism;" that bare-bones strategy that allows us to make ends meet by cobbling together small, ad hoc jobs, in harmony with the seasons and the ups and downs of the local economy. We were also once, thanks to the Antigonish Movement, a model of co-operative business—a model that is, today, being proposed as a promising and liberating alternative to the kind of economic growth that creates so much waste and so little prosperity for most of us.

Instead of hollering to the resource-extracting economic elite of the country that we're "open for business," we ought to subvert and re-claim the labels meant to demean us ("Nova Scarcity") and the notions of our backwardness. Yes, we're slow to jump at the "opportunities" to frack—but it's not because we're a bunch of bumpkins. It's because we're an intelligent population.

Our efforts to fit into the global economy have taught us that boom-time promises of plenty often leave us worse off than when we started. Perhaps our little province has internalized, a bit quicker than provinces where the physical landscape seems more vast, the idea that we have to tend to nature rather than simply dominate it. And in this, perhaps we are so backward we're forward again.


Karen Foster is an assistant professor of sociology and the Canada research chair in sustainable rural futures for Atlantic Canada at Dalhousie University. Brian Foster teaches North American history at Dalhousie and Mount Saint Vincent University.

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