Remarks by The Hon. Dominic LeBlanc, Government House Leader and Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard, to the Board of Directors of the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council

June 16, 2016 – Dalvay, Prince Edward Island

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Thank you.

Thanks for the introduction.

I am glad to be here in Prince Edward Island.

I want to start by congratulating you for all your hard work and leadership.

Having a space for thought leadership and dialogue on important public policy and economic matters is vital in enhancing our understanding of challenges we face and is an important part of how we find solutions.

Thank you for bringing voices together and creating this much needed space for discussion.

I have always believed that it is important that Atlantic Canada has an independent, policy-focused organization that is focused on fostering conversations about the potential and direction of the Atlantic economy.

Your events such as Major Projects 2016 conference, which provides business leaders across a wide range of industries with a capital investment outlook for Atlantic Canada, has become a sought after event, known for giving stakeholders a competitive edge and unique insight.

Your many members, including developers, financiers, leaders in the construction industry, lawyers, accountants and government agencies, rely on your guidance when making thoughtful business decisions or when identifying emerging trends or opportunities in the Atlantic Canadian economy.
Your reputation now precedes you and I commend not only the hard work but also your dedication to a better vision for Atlantic Canada.

As I look around the room, I see a number of very impressive experts.

I myself am no economic expert focused on fiscal policy. I am sure this will come as a surprise to many of you.

Rather, my insight is based on my work as a Member of Parliament and as a federal Minister.

What I have learned is a result of my time working within communities, with local authorities from all levels of government as well as national stakeholders focused on the Atlantic economy.

With that in mind, I believe we are at a crossroads.

Now is the time to get Atlantic Canada on the right economic path.

And I am proud to say, that we have like-minded provincial governments that share the common commitment to strengthening the Atlantic economy.

Speaking here to all of you feels special today.

In the 1950’s, Historian William Stewart MacNutt used the term Atlantic Revolution to describe the conference of Atlantic Premiers and their mandate to improve the economic situation in Atlantic Canada at that time.

Here we are, 60 years later, getting ready to embark on what feels like – to me – another Atlantic revolution; something I am eager to discuss, especially with this group.

Now that we have a strong partnership between federal and provincial governments, I see, as I hope you do as well, an opportunity to enhance performance in the core economic sectors of international trade, immigration, natural resources and tourism.

After speaking to experts and hearing discussions at various consultations, it is clear we need to create economic growth, jobs and improve incomes of Atlantic Canadians.

As a government, we have already started working towards this end.

For instance, as part of our budget, our government has committed $120 billion over 10 years, focusing first on public transit, water, waste management and housing infrastructure.

We believe that investing in infrastructure creates good, well-paying jobs that can help the middle class grow and prosper.

Additionally, we have committed to a $2 billion dollar Post-Secondary Institutions Strategic Investment Fund that will create jobs, expand research and help Atlantic Canadian companies compete and grow internationally.

Our government is focused on improving the competitiveness and productivity of the Atlantic economy.

We know that Atlantic Canada faces deep-rooted economic challenges and our budget is one that very much supports the middle class and those working hard to join it.

But we have only just started. Much more needs to be done.

In talking with experts, I am somewhat surprised to learn that we have never thoroughly benchmarked the Atlantic economy against Canadian and globally accepted best practices.

I see benchmarking as a key first step.

Benchmarking will allow us to better understand where governments and private sectors need to focus.

Benchmarking is particularly important to our government, which is committed to evidence-based decision-making.

As I said earlier, APEC, through its economic analysis, has played a significant role in contributing the data needed to support government decisions.

What we know for sure now, is that the region is facing demographic challenges that hinder business growth in most sectors.

As Premiers have said, increased immigration can play a significant role in improving the region’s prospects and in helping to meet skill shortages holding back economic development.

I want to assure you that my colleagues and I have heard the Premiers, the Mayors, the business leaders and everyone knows that this is a big issue.

Immigration by itself will not be enough. We need to create more jobs. We need to improve economic growth.

To that end, improving competitiveness and productivity are key especially when looking to improving international trade and growth.

We need to work with Atlantic firms to expand trade opportunities.

As you know, Atlantic Canadian businesses already have trading arrangements with China, India, South Korea and, of course, our largest trading partner: the United States.

We need to look at ways that we can expand these trading relationships and trade more, create jobs and improve incomes.

The federal government, along with ACOA, also plays a significant role in fostering trade through the Business Development Bank of Canada, Trade Commissioner Service, Canadian Commercial Corporation, and Export Development Canada.

I believe that we need to look at how we can better coordinate these activities as a key feature of developing an Atlantic Trade Strategy.

The federal government, by instituting a “whole of government” approach can do a better job of helping Atlantic business expand and enter new markets. 

The numbers for small and medium sized business exports are frankly dreadful.

This is an area where we need focus on improving those figures and driving growth.

In the same way, we must look to expand markets and opportunities for traditional businesses.

You know, many people look at the Atlantic economy and conclude that it is not exactly dynamic.

What they do not know is that every year, more than 1000 new firms enter the market.  Unfortunately about an equal number also exit.

I think it is time we get a better understanding of what contributes to successes and what contributes to failures.

Solutions to these problems do exist. I was impressed to learn that ACOA-assisted firms have a 54% percent higher success rate that those that have not received ACOA assistance.

Clearly the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well. We need to consider how we can better support entrepreneurs.

There is also, and this will not be a surprise to you, a significant degree of innovation that occurs in the region.

I am speaking of innovation which has improved opportunities for many Atlantic businesses.

Indeed, the University of New Brunswick has been identified as a leader in entrepreneurial oriented post-secondary education.

Prince Edward Island has a strong aerospace sector.

Nova Scotia plays a significant role in the auto industry. 

Newfoundland and Labrador has a world-class marine research institute, which has proven so critical in the exploration and development of offshore resources.

I am sure you are aware of many more examples.

We have to do a better job of promoting innovation and its diffusion across the Atlantic economy.

That being said, we cannot discuss Atlantic Canada’s economy without mentioning a sector which, I believe, offers the potential for economic growth: tourism.

And specifically, I could not find a better place to say this as we are in a region that is known to be the home of Anne of Green Gables, and that also happens to be home to some the world’s most sought-after golf courses.
Prince Edward Island could certainly build on its reputation of being a must-see Canadian tourism destination.

It is important that the Atlantic Provinces work together to maximize the opportunities and benefits provided by Destination Canada – formerly called the Canadian Tourism Commission – was given an extra $50-million over two years in our 2016 Budget.

My hope is that governments can work together to develop a forward-looking tourism strategy that reflects the changing nature of tourism and leads to a growth in the Atlantic tourism industry.

Now, I want to tell you that my Atlantic colleagues and I are very much focused on identifying the challenges and opportunities faced by the Atlantic economy.

We are seeking the best possible advice from the public and private sectors because this is both an important and unique opportunity.

This is an opportunity that we cannot afford to miss.

I know this is shared by all of the Atlantic Premiers and with their cooperation, I believe that we can achieve that long sought after objective: a better and stronger economy for Atlantic Canada.

In closing, I look forward to working with everyone in this room and receiving your ideas, thoughts,  inspiration and help as we work together to build a more vibrant economy, better support our families and improve our way of life, here, in Atlantic Canada.

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