OTTAWA — A quartet of Atlantic Canada Liberal MPs are calling on their own government to sharply ramp up financial support for economic growth in the region even though the four Atlantic provinces already get more federal funding for economic development than Quebec, Ontario, or Western Canada.
The MPs, one from each Atlantic Canada province serving on what they’ve called the Atlantic Growth Strategy Subcommittee on Innovation, tabled the report Monday here.
The report calls for an even greater role for the federal government in Atlantic Canada in funding private sector businesses. The MPs, for example, believe there is a greater role for the federal government to take on early-stage funding of riskier startups, even if it means that federal taxpayers might lose money backing some businesses.
“There are valuable federal assets in Atlantic Canada … but there is room for increased contribution to all federal department clients and partners,” the group writes in the 44-page report released Monday.
The MPs on the the subcommittee are Matt DeCourcey of Fredericton, Sean Casey of Charlottetown, Andy Fillmore of Halifax and Nick Whalen of St. John’s.
The MPs say additional support is justified because Atlantic Canada suffers from comparative disadvantages relative to other regions in North America. The MPs argue, for example, that Atlantic Canada gets less money for research and development and that the region has a workforce which is less highly skilled than those in other regions.
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“The federal government must recognize its role to address Atlantic Canada’s need to be a more competitive region, and its need to compete on a global scale,” the report says.
Ottawa provides help to the region through the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), one of six regional economic development organizations that operate within the federal department of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development.
For the 2017-2018 fiscal year, ACOA, first established in 1987, will provide $240 million in grants and loans to Atlantic Canada businesses and organizations. That’s down by about $22 million or 8.5 per cent from the amount ACOA handed out in the region in 2016-2017.
That said, Atlantic Canada gets far more economic development aid already from the federal government than any other region. Of the $1.12 billion, Ottawa will spend on its regional economic development agencies this year, 27 per cent will go to ACOA which serves 2.38 million Atlantic Canadians. No other regional economic development agency gets a larger slice of Ottawa’s economic development pie.
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To compare, the Western Economic Diversification Corporation which serves the 11.5 million people who live in Canada’s four western provinces will receive just 17 per cent or $199.6-million of Ottawa’s economic development aid this year.
Politically, Atlantic Canada may be in a sweet spot for consideration of the kind of additional help the MPs recommend.
Every single federal seat in the four Atlantic provinces is represented by Liberals and provincial Liberal parties in each province hold majorities in every Atlantic legislature.
That said, an election is underway in Nova Scotia where incumbent Premier Stephen McNeil is seeking to renew his majority mandate. Any political cover from a sympathetic government in Ottawa could help McNeil’s cause.
McNeil campaigned for and with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the 2015 federal election and Trudeau, then the leader of the third party in the House of Commons, campaigned for and with McNeil in the 2013 general election.
In 2017, no federal leader has yet campaigned with any provincial leader in Nova Scotia.