Nova Scotia Needs an Alternative, Sustainable Economic Strategy

Opposing Offshore Oil Exploration is an Essential Part of an Alternative Economic Strategy for Nova Scotia

“investments in fossil fuel industries create far fewer jobs than green economy investments” (Marc Lee and Amanda Card, “A Green Industrial Revolution”, CCPA, 2012)

My thesis is that the long-run returns to the province from investment in a restored fishery, a better supported tourism sector, a strengthened boat- and ship-building sector, sustainable forestry, a growing marine-based high tech sector, and a commitment to shifting NS to a renewable energy base (to name some of the obvious investment targets) would eclipse the returns to further investment in dirty energy development. It would also eliminate the catastrophic risks attendant on the latter. We would like to see that thesis tested in research, policy and practice.

Introduction: Nova Scotia Needs a Different Economic Strategy

“..they’re still laughing in Philadelphia!”

– Walter Miller, former Manager, ScottMaritimes, describing Scott HQ Executives’ reaction to the overly generous incentives Nova Scotia offered to entice Scott to locate in Pictou. Quoted in Joan Baxter, The Mill, Pottersfield Press, 2017, p.43)

Nova Scotians have become so used to the particular approach to economic development favoured by their provincial governments that they have lost sight of the alternatives. The reigning approach all too often serves the agenda of large corporations over those of local businesses and traditional industries that have sustained a much higher than average rural population for centuries.  

Instead of focusing on sustainable sectors and building on our traditional strengths, our governments dream of being saved by massive investments by multi-national extractive corporations with allegiances to shareholders elsewhere. And they dream of the revenue streams they might generate, revenue convertible into re-election kitties, if not long-term economic strength.  

This approach to development implicitly denigrates both the vitality and enduring value of traditional industries. It undervalues their sustainability, their potential for qualitative growth, and their capacity for supporting vibrant rural and coastal communities for generations to come with a high quality of life in a preferred environment.  

The corporate-centred approach is not only insensitive to the needs of the province’s long-established communities, but decades of practice have proven it to be notably unsuccessful by almost every measure (with the exception, perhaps, of short-term political expediency). Nova Scotia’s recent economic history is littered with the skeletons and clean-up costs of one white elephant after another. Today’s examples include the hundreds of millions the province is paying to decommission the Sable Gas field offshore, and the fiasco of Northern Pulp’s poisonous environmental footprint and legacy.  

Joan Baxter, an investigative journalist and author of The Mill, a book about Northern Pulp and its predecessors, describes that ill-starred venture;
  “With its absentee corporate landlords….a microcosm of the globalized economy that exploits and extracts to maximize, channel upwards, and then export profits. It is about governments caught between their constituents and corporate power. It symbolizes much of what has happened on the planet in the past century, and the mindset that sees economics as something separate from the environment, that puts profits before people and the natural world that sustains us……” (p.19)  

Baxter is describing a pulp mill whose owners Nova Scotian governments of all political stripes have bent over backwards to accommodate and coddle, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. But her analysis applies equally well to the province’s relationship with the multi-national oil industry.  

What is characteristic of such a focus is a failure to calculate the opportunity costs, let alone the externalized costs of major corporate investments. By opportunity costs we refer to the foregone alternative investments and consequent returns to public capital devoted to an extractive sector. What might we have achieved with the same investment in support of a sustainable, locally controlled, alternative?  

The narrative applies, too, to what the UBC fisheries biologist, Daniel Pauly, calls the “fishing-industrial complex.   “In 1950, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimated that, globally, we were catching about 17 million metric tonnes annually of fish (cod, mackerel, tuna, etc.) and invertebrates (lobster, squid, clams, etc.). Reported marine catches peaked at about 90 million metric tonnes per year in the mid-1990s, and they have been declining since. Much like Madoff’s infamous operation, which required a constant influx of new investments to generate “revenue” for past investors, the global fishing-industrial complex has required a constant influx of new “stocks” to continue operating. Instead of restricting its catches so that fish can reproduce and maintain their populations, the industry has simply fished until fish populations were depleted and then moved on to new or deeper waters and to smaller and stranger fish. And, just as a Ponzi scheme will collapse once the pool of potential investors has been drained, so too will the fishing industry collapse as the oceans are drained of life.” (D, Paul, “Aquacalypse Now: The End of Fish”, The Narwhal, 4 Aug. 2019)  

That “fishing-industrial complex” has steadily undermined the economic base of Nova Scotia’s coastal communities, and only the vibrant lobster fishery has managed to protect that economy from obliteration. Climate scientists, however, are not betting on the lobster fishery’s survival. The ocean surrounding the province is rapidly warming and the preferred lobster habitat is moving northward.    

Corporate Control of Public Discourse  

Part of the problem is that the corporate perspective dominates the public discourse as if it were the natural and inevitable state of affairs, as if there were no viable alternatives. A significant corporate investment in communications (a tax-deductible expense) helps maintain and protect the dominance of that perspective.  

As an example, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) is the leading propagandist and lobbyist for the giants of the oil and gas sector. Not only does CAPP have far better access to the halls of political and bureaucratic power than the country’s citizenry, but it employs its considerable resources to fund misleading and self-serving public campaigns that further the interests of its members.  

CAPP works behind the scenes to discourage regulations and legislation that might impinge on the oil industry’s freedom of action. It also seeks to undermine Canada’s efforts to address climate change and reduce carbon emissions by growing our renewable energy sector. It exaggerates the economic importance and employment benefits of oil and gas industry activity. CAPP’s claims ignore the hidden and externalized costs of the industry. Climate change effects are ignored or minimized. They omit the competitive economic benefits and job opportunities in alternative energy, which today exceed those of the fossil fuel business. Simply put, CAPP’s disinformation programs hinder public education and honest debate over alternative economic futures. In this they are aided and abetted, ironically, by the captured regulator, the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board (CNSOPB).  

Given the dominance of the extractive corporate agenda over the sustainable agenda, it is not surprising that those who question extractive corporate developments are often dismissed as being “anti-development” or “anti-jobs”. Not so. There are always jobs at stake, but failure to consider the options leaves the public debate lop-sided, without all the facts. The public interest is ill-served when all the alternatives are not on the table.  

Indeed, There are Alternatives to the Corporate Agenda  

When we question the logic of clear-cutting, or corporate fisheries expansion, or further oil and gas development in the offshore we are implicitly proposing a different economic strategy for Nova Scotia. That strategy would focus investment on our traditional, and sustainable, industrial sectors, along with modern marine-based industries and green technologies. It is an economic strategy that recognizes the strengths of rural Nova Scotia and that prioritizes the more dispersed beneficiaries in rural, Indigenous and coastal communities. It is an approach in harmony with what is now being called the Green New Deal. It is also an approach, of course, that is not without its benefits to the metropolis (Halifax primarily), which relies on a healthy rural economy more than it may realize. (Karen Foster wrote recently that the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities estimates 50% of the provincial GDP originates outside Halifax).  

We would argue that the provincial government’s love affair with dirty energy demonstrates its misplaced faith in multi-national capital to solve the province’s economic and fiscal ills. The government has lost sight of our traditional strengths and their modern potential and, we would say, the greater returns offered by a serious commitment to restoration, conservation and sustainability. The McNeil government is obsessed with a short-term vision of a stream of royalty revenues for which it is much less accountable than it is for taxes and other revenue streams. That infatuation blinds it to the risks, environmental, economic and social, that its approach engenders and to the benefits of alternative investments.  

This is not to say there is no role for outside capital investment in a sustainable strategy, but it must fit the goals set by Nova Scotians for the preservation of their natural renewable assets and for sustaining their communities.  

….rural communities now understand that the environment is itself a valuable resource for tourism and for attracting people to live and locate businesses. Protecting vital eco-systems and promoting sustainable resource use will therefore be central to strategies to revitalize Nova Scotia’s rural economy.” (Ivany Report, p.19)    

Where the Jobs Are  

In 2016, Statistics Canada found that 17,500 people were employed in Nova Scotia’s fishery. Another 43,000 earned their living in the tourism sector. Leaving aside boat- and ship-building and other marine-based activities, compare those numbers to the 300-400 direct jobs the oil industry provides in a good year, or even to that industry’s own over-blown estimate of 3,500 jobs. How does the latter merit the priority it receives from the provincial and federal governments, or the offshore regulator, the CNSOPB?  

On the basis of their revenue impact in the province’s economy, the conclusion is the same – the contribution of the oil industry pales by comparison with that of traditional industries. The value of seafood exports in 2018 totalled $2 billion, of which lobsters accounted for $1 billion. Tourism brought in another $2.6 billion. That revenue, mostly spent locally, has a multiplier effect 2 to 3 times as much, or a contribution likely over $8 billion a year from both sectors combined. The oil industry’s earnings largely leave the province, while total royalty revenues from 16 years of production offshore amount to less than one year’s revenue from seafood exports.   Simply put, favouring the oil industry over the interests of our traditional industries makes no economic sense.  

An economic strategy whose guiding principle is sustainability would be supported by a regulatory and research framework very different from the one we see today. The current regulatory regime favours extractive corporate bottom lines over the concerns of traditional industries and the workers and communities dependent on them. It rarely, if ever, questions the multi-national extractive agenda. Hence, it undervalues conservation and environmental concerns and the risks corporate activities in the non-renewable resource industries pose for traditional sectors or for the living environment. It also favours corporate profit over the returns to small operators, whose activities sustain rural communities.   A regulatory regime designed for sustainability would place rebuilding and protecting renewable resource stocks ahead of other considerations. Sustainable yields, not maximizing short-term returns, would be the yardstick against which development proposals are judged. The impact on traditional renewable industries and on the communities they sustain would be a key factor in determining which developments proceed and which do not.  

We should acknowledge here the legitimate concerns and fears of those who today earn their livings in the unsustainable, extractive industries. If we are to move to a sustainable future, we must plan and fund a just transition for those whose jobs are placed in jeopardy. There is a growing global experience and literature in this regard to draw upon. No one should be forced to give up a decent living in the shift to a sustainable economy. Here, as elsewhere, the missing ingredients are imagination and political will.  

Our Thesis: Sustainability Pays  

Our thesis is that the long-run returns to the province from investment in a restored fishery, a better supported tourism sector, a strengthened boat- and ship-building sector, sustainable forestry, sustainable agriculture, a growing marine-based high tech sector, and a commitment to shifting Nova Scotia to a renewable energy base (to name some of the obvious investment targets) would eclipse the returns to further investment in dirty energy development. It would also eliminate the catastrophic risks that come with the latter.  

Some argue that it is possible for robust renewable resource industries to co-exist with fossil fuel development offshore, or corporate forestry and agriculture on land. We don’t share that view. What no one can deny is that we lack an informed public in Nova Scotia today, armed with the latest science and the benefit of independent expert opinion. To remedy that, we have called for a public inquiry where the potential impact and risks of oil and gas exploration offshore can be accurately assessed against the findings of science and the competing demands of our traditional marine-based industries. The communities whose livelihoods depend on the health of the marine environment have the right to nothing less. They, and only they, can decide, when armed with the evidence, what is an acceptable risk to their economy and community.  

In the interim, what we do know is that the risks inherent in further offshore oil exploration threaten irreparable damage to our traditional sectors. That’s a fact given short shrift by the regulator, the CNSOPB, with its built-in bias in favour of the industry it is intended to regulate. The precautionary principle, which guides the best regulators elsewhere in the world, requires us to err on the side of caution where catastrophic risks are evident and the science is still inadequate. That is the case with oil exploration in deep and unpredictable waters like ours along the Scotian Shelf. An immediate moratorium on further oil and gas exploration offshore is mandatory, pending the outcome of a full public airing of the evidence.  

We also need a major investment in research on the means of rebuilding and strengthening our renewable economic base and on the potential returns. That research would fill a gap in the CNSOPB’s practice, which ignores the importance of traditional industries as legitimate competitors of the oil industry and with a historic interest in protecting a healthy marine environment.  

Today, the communities most affected by CNSOPB and other corporate-friendly decisions are woefully under-informed concerning the risks oil industry activity offshore and corporate forestry onshore poses to their survival. They also lack adequate information concerning the viability of economic alternatives to the current corporate-based model. The research we propose will help them envision an alternative, sustainable, and more rewarding, economic future than the one presented by the fossil fuel industry, the corporate forest industry and the provincial government in Halifax.  

What Might An Alternative, Sustainable, Economic Strategy Entail?  

The most recent publicly-funded attempt to address Nova Scotia’s economic development predicament was the Ivany Commission (Officially, the Nova Scotia Commission on Building Our New Economy). Its report, “Now or Never”, published in 2014, drew on extensive research, expert input and public representation.  

The Ivany Report, as it is now called, has its detractors. There is room to quibble with its heavy emphasis on growth and its failure to draw a clear line between sustainable industrial growth and growth in declining sectors like fossil fuel development. However, there is much in its findings of value to those who seek another, more progressive and environmentally sound, approach to economic development.  

A common theme…………was the need to manage resources sustainably. Recognizing that the traditional fishing, forestry, and agriculture sectors will continue to be vital to our economy, many participants recommended more rigorous resource conservation and greater diversity in products and markets. The green economy and the local foods movement were described as offering important opportunities for business development to take advantage of the growing demand for sustainable products and services.” (“Now or Never” The Ivany Report, GNS 2014, p.9)  

Progressive economists and other social scientists in Nova Scotia have sought to define such an approach for decades. New efforts to do so appear on a regular basis, and the NSNDP should seek to engage with other like-minded groups to come up with practical contemporary proposals.  

Our purpose here is to be suggestive, not to supplant earlier work or presume to provide a detailed prescription. The latter is beyond our expertise and resources. It is not, however, out of our reach as a province. Indeed, we advocate the adoption of such a sustainable development strategy by all levels of government.  

Given our concerns with the risks and negative impact of offshore oil and gas exploration, we will focus primarily on sketching possibilities for building on our traditional marine-based industries and strengths. These seek to enhance our rural and coastal economic base, as an alternative to the reckless pursuit of fossil fuels offshore. In doing so, we believe we are aligning ourselves with the perspective of coastal communities.  

This is not surprising, since tens of thousands in those communities derive decent incomes either directly or indirectly from tourism, fishing, boat-building or other industries that rely on a healthy ocean. Today, it is only pessimism over the future of Nova Scotia’s renewable resources and over the ability of citizens to influence decisions about offshore developments that cloud the dream of renewing, building and sustaining traditional sectors.  

It is our mission to paint a picture of a sustainable future in the traditional renewable resource industries and to make clear that non-renewable resource development in the offshore is neither wise economics nor inevitable, but has the potential to destroy a sustainable future.  

What About Climate Change?  

Most Nova Scotians and Canadians regard catastrophic climate change as the biggest threat we face today. They also regard addressing that threat as our primary challenge as a society.

According to a recent Abacus Data poll, climate change will be a top ballot box issue for nearly three quarters of people in this October’s federal election, with 83 per cent of the country saying that they are “quite, very, or extremely concerned” about climate change.”  (Cameron Fenton, National Observer, 15 April, 2019 )  

Incredibly, the CNSOPB, the federal-provincial regulator in the offshore, ignores climate impacts in its deliberations! The over-arching question remains unaddressed – why pursue further development of non-renewable energy resources, given the devastating consequences of further consumption, and given Canada’s failure to meet its international obligations to curb carbon emissions?  

Our commitments already demand that we leave a substantial proportion of our proven reserves of fossil fuel in the ground. The rise in ocean water levels and sea temperatures is already noticeable and threatens long-term destruction of our coastlines and communities. The further pursuit of fossil fuels in Nova Scotia’s offshore is madness.   Climate considerations alone are enough to decide against offshore oil and gas development and in favour of an alternative, sustainable, economic strategy for Nova Scotia.  

Alternative Economic Strategy Example #1: Restoring the Inshore Fishery  

The disappearance of the inshore fishery (with the exception of shellfish and crustaceans) and the fish it depended on is one of the biggest ecological disasters in recent history. It should also be ranked as an economic fiasco. Canada’s marine fish populations have declined by 55% since 1970 (Royal Society of Canada, 2012). The collapse of the Northern cod fishery alone, and the subsequent moratorium, put 30,000 people out of work and devastated countless communities that had depended on cod for centuries.  

The causes of the collapse in the inshore fisheries are manifold – a federal Department of Fisheries bias towards corporate fishing, factory trawlers and advanced fish-finding technology, mismanagement of the resource, foreign and domestic over-fishing, a failure to listen to inshore fishermen, ignorance or suppression of science and, of course, political cowardice, all played a role. We have yet to take the lessons to heart as we barrel ahead with the old model of hell-bent development, avoiding our responsibility to conserve the resource and take the measures needed to sustain the catch.  

Yet, if our objective is to strengthen the regional economy, build on our strengths, and guarantee a future to countless communities and the thousands dependent on the fishery for their jobs, then the biggest pay-off to investment is not in offshore oil and gas, but right here in traditional sectors.  

“The need to rebuild our fisheries has never been greater. Our fisheries remain depleted decades after collapse and we are in the vulnerable position of being dependent on only a handful of species to support the fishing industry. Currently more than fifty percent of the value of Canada’s$6.9 billion fishing industry is dependent on three species, two of which are crustaceans and one of which is farmed. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) recently reported that Canada’s top three species exported globally in 2017 were lobster ($2.1 billion), snow/queen crab ($1.0 billion), and Atlantic (farmed) salmon ($909 million)”. Canada has gone from being the seventh largest producer of wild fish by weight in the 1950s to twenty-first place today.”  (Oceana Canada, “Restoring Abundance in Canada’s Fisheries”, presentation to the Commons Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, May, 2018.)  

Restoration of the East Coast fishery promises enormous economic and social benefits. Given that fact, it is extraordinary that it doesn’t appear to be a priority of either the federal or provincial government in Nova Scotia. Little effort to date has been focused on rebuilding overfished stocks. The failure to reinvest is inexplicable and unforgiveable. It is a shared task, though federal leadership is constitutionally to be expected. And there should be no doubt – rebuilding the fishery is doable!  

The first step is to bring Canada’s federal Fisheries Act up to the global standard set by international agreements to which Canada is a party. The UN Agreement on Straddling and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries both mandate countries to restore or maintain fish stocks at levels capable of producing maximum sustainable yields.  

Canada’s new Fisheries Act (Bill C-68) recognizes the need to rebuild the fishery, but falls short of provisions common to the best legislation globally. Bill C-68 fails to require the Minister to implement rebuilding plans for fish stocks that fall to critical levels. A 2017 study by Oceana Canada found that “in sharp contrast to Canada, fisheries legislation in, for example, the European Union, the United States and New Zealand each include provisions that fisheries “shall” or “must” be managed to rebuild depleted stocks.”  

The failure to reduce the ministerial discretion in Canada’s new Act once again leaves our fisheries vulnerable to the political cowardice and short-term thinking that doomed our fish stocks in the first place. Strengthening the Fisheries Act to require stocks to be rebuilt when they fall below an identified threshold is the first step in a sustainable economic strategy for renewable marine industries.  

The benefits of such legislation are clear from US experience. According to Oceana Canada, the United States Magnuson-Stevens Act “has some of the most stringent and effective” provisions for rebuilding fish stocks. A Natural Resources Defence Council report in 2013 found that of 44 overfished stocks in the US for which rebuilding plans were prepared 28 stocks had been either rebuilt or showed significant progress. Today (2018) the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that all 44 overfished stocks have been restored.  

Alas, the story in Canada is a tale of failure. There are at least 26 critically depleted fish stocks (stocks that are unsustainable at present levels of exploitation, or in danger of disappearance), and many others for which data are insufficient to make a judgement about their status. We still lack adequate estimates of population health, adequate monitoring of natural and commercial mortality, and management plans for rebuilding stocks in trouble. In fact of the 26 critically depleted stocks, only three have rebuilding plans in place. This fact alone speaks to a lack of political commitment to sustaining a vital element in a robust coastal economy. It makes the irresponsible federal/provincial promotion of fossil fuel development in the Atlantic offshore all the more reprehensible.  

Rebuilding the fishery is the real low-hanging fruit for a progressive economic development strategy in Western Nova Scotia. Experience elsewhere underlines the benefits of a real commitment to rebuilding stocks. The economic impact of revamped legislation in the US is clear from the fact that the rebuilding of 44 fish stocks has generated on average 50% more revenue than when those stocks were overfished. That means additional employment in the fishery and a higher return to those in the industry.

The story from the EU is similar. The number of stocks with a total allowable catch designed to produce maximum sustainable yield has gone from 2 in 2007 to 53 in 2016. The cod has registered a return to health from a state of collapse in the North Sea, in Norway and the Barents Sea.  

The World Bank estimates that overfishing has resulted in losses of $83 billion globally compared to returns we might expect if fish stocks were managed and fished sustainably. It also says annual harvests would increase by 13%, while fish prices would rise by up to 24% as higher value species recover.  

There is no question a bonanza awaits Canada as a late-comer to the global effort to restore fisheries. In any rebuilding effort, there remains the thorny issue of how harvesting of additional stocks should be shared. How do we keep the primary benefit from going to large corporate entities at the expense of smaller inshore operators? How do we ensure a return to a healthy inshore fishery? How do we allow for specialty producers, hand-liners and such, who serve first class products to local and luxury clientele? These are matters for open debate in community forums. Still, debating the distribution of a much larger, sustainable harvest is a luxury we cannot yet enjoy. The missing ingredients remain political will and good management practices.  

Let us not forget the knock-on effects of improved returns to the fishery – the high local “multiplier” effect of fishery income, strengthening the economic base in rural Nova Scotia, boosting the resilience of our communities, increasing their capacity to support essential social programs like health care and education, better municipal services, increased demand for locally built boats, and increased appeal to tourists who visit to enjoy our seafood, amongst other benefits. Finally, the thought of putting that future at risk by reckless approval of offshore oil and gas exploration makes no sense at all.  

Other Examples  

What we have laid out above is suggestive of the potential for sustainable development of our renewable fishery resources as a major contributor to strengthening the economic base of coastal communities in Nova Scotia. Similar logic and goals would guide an approach to other sectors dependent on a healthy marine environment, like tourism, marine-based renewable energy R&D – tidal, wave and offshore wind energy, and other marine high tech. It would also apply to the management of on-shore renewable resource industries like forestry and agriculture.

The investment needs will vary according to the particulars of each industry, but the guiding principles of building on traditional knowledge and skills, precautionary exploitation, conservation, maintenance and sustainability, local involvement in all decisions, and maximizing local benefits apply to all.  

Alternative Economic Strategy Example #2: Agriculture for Local Consumption and Export  

“The planet must produce more food in the next four decades than all the farmers in history have harvested over the past 8,000 years….If …(not)… a billion or more people may face starvation.” Ernst van den Ends, Managing Director of Wageningen University of Research’s Plant Sciences Group. NG ibid. p93-4  

The world faces a looming food catastrophe, a fact that also represents an enormous opportunity for regions with sustainable agricultural potential. Nova Scotia is one of them.   While there are reasons to dismiss a strict comparison between Nova Scotia and the Netherlands (Netherlands – 51-54 degrees north latitude, area 42,508 sq. Km.  Pop 17.08 million. Nova Scotia – 43-47 degrees north latitude, area 55,284 sq. Km. Pop. 960,000), consider the following facts:  
– The Netherlands, averages 10 degrees latitude further north than our province, with only 74% the area,  
– Once considered “bereft of almost every resource long thought to be necessary for large-scale agriculture” (Nat. Geog. Spt. 2017), the Netherlands is, incredibly, the globe’s number two exporter of food, measured by value, after the United States, which has 270 times its land mass.  
– Twenty years ago, the Dutch embraced sustainable agriculture under the rubric, “twice as much food using half as many resources”.   Dutch farmers cut their use of water by up to 90%, almost eliminated chemical pesticide use in greenhouses, while poultry and livestock producers cut their use of antibiotics by up to 60%.  
– The Netherlands is the world’s top exporter of potatoes and onions and the second largest exporter of vegetables by value.  
– More than a third of global trade in vegetable seeds originates in the Netherlands (no GMOs).  
– The Netherlands is a world leader in aquaponics, which integrates raising fish and plants into a single system.  
– The Netherlands success is underpinned by an unprecedented investment in university research facilities designed to bring the farm sector into the lab and vice versa.  

Is it crazy to suggest that Nova Scotia, with significant, relatively inexpensive, high quality agricultural land, has enormous potential to both feed itself and others?   We can do so through judicious investment in local talent, potentially creating hundreds, if not thousands, of additional jobs in food production and applied research. As the Ivany Commission pointed out, import substitution in the food industry could be a very significant contributor to a stronger and more independent provincial economy. The seeds of such a transformation are already evident in the growing influx of young farmers intent on organic agriculture and environmental sustainability. Those newcomers deserve enhanced support to ensure their success in what could be a province-wide experiment with enormously positive ramifications.    

Alternative Economic Strategy Example #3: Sustainable Forestry  

All we have said about the fishery and agricultural sectors in Nova Scotia would seem to apply to sustainable, intensive forestry practices. And the province’s forestry resources are under threat of permanent degradation today from the rapacious demands of corporate practices. The benefits of enlightened management are clear.  

Labour and land are the key inputs in the production of wood and non-wood forest products, and environmental services and investments in upstream (primary) forestry activities are able to generate more jobs than most other sectors. An annual outlay of US$1 million in forest management (including agroforestry) could generate from 500 to 1 000 jobs in many developing countries, and 20 to 100 in most developed and middle-income countries….Since a major share of a worker’s income goes to the purchase of goods and services, mainly at the local level, every one job created in forestry generates an additional 1.5 to 2.5 jobs in the economy.” C.T.S. Nair and R. Rutt, “Creating forestry jobs to build the economy and build a green future”, FAO, 2009  

Looking at Nova Scotia’s forests as a resource for the long-term, rather than as a feedstock to a couple of major corporate operations with work forces in the hundreds, seemingly dependent on the status quo, could open the door to enormous job creation potential and a far greater local return on investment, both public and private. That return would also be better distributed and a far greater proportion of it would remain in the province to stimulate additional economic activity than its equivalent in the corporate sector.   The latter has been responsible for a continual degradation of our forestry resources.

Rebuilding and sustainably managing our forests, like rebuilding our fish stocks could be a massive job generator. A University of Massachusetts study comparing job creation in a variety of industries found reforestation and restoration outperforms even the second-most jobs-intense activity analyzed (mass transit and freight rail construction) by 74 percent – 39.7 jobs vs. 21.7 jobs per $1 million US invested. Sustainability pays!  

“Why are forest investments such good job generators? Restoring forests (as well as rivers, wetlands, peat bogs, and prairies), requires people, which means jobs: soil scientists, tree planters, equipment operators, water engineers, and people to nurture the trees over time…… The actual jobs impact of forest investment is actually significantly higher.. (than direct employment numbers suggest) …. A variety of other studies have analyzed job creation through conservation and found dramatic indirect effects. Expand a national park, national forest, river or local recreation area, and spending on and employment in outdoor recreation — everything from birdwatching and hiking to fishing and hunting – is dramatically increased.” G. Hurowitz, “The jobs are in the Trees”, Grist, Feb. 4, 2010  

A major study in 2018 by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) , “Green Jobs in the Forest Sector”, elaborates on the job creation potential of sustainable forestry. This is how it summarises that work:  
“The ECE/FAO Team of Specialists on Green Jobs in the Forest Sector (ILO/ECE/FAO Joint Expert Network) undertook the analysis of the current landscape of occupations in the forest sector, in order to provide a comprehensive overview of the existing and potential jobs related to forests.   The Team took into account the widely accepted sustainability criteria for realistic, fairly compensated, and environmentally safe jobs, and focused on identifying green forest jobs, anchored in the green economy.   The study agreed that promoting green forest jobs contributes to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and supports the achievement of a number of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Green forest jobs are of particular relevance to achieving SDG 1 “No poverty”, SDG 3 “Good health and well-being”, SDG 5 “Gender equality”, SDG 8 “Decent work and economic growth”, SDG 13 “Climate change” and SDG 15 “Life on Land”.   The study focuses on understanding the potential of green jobs in the forest sector, one of the key sectors contributing to the transition to a green economy and, hence, sustainable development. It provides guidance on how to carry out the identification of current and anticipated skill needs for the green economy and green jobs.   The information gathered was clustered in seven thematic areas: “Wood and Energy Production”, “Agroforestry and Mountain Forestry”, “Social and Urban Development”, “Forest Management, Inventory and Planning”, “Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning”, “Health and Recreation”, “Education and Research”, and nineteen related fields of activity.   Each of the nineteen fields of activity is described in a short summary of general skills, expertise and professions needed in that field. Furthermore, specific activities, products and services are described and job specifications are listed. The aim of the study is to provide a starting point for further analysis and discussion on the future of green forest jobs and identification of measures supporting their development.”  

The Nova Scotia NDP’s natural resources strategy announced in 2011, was an important step on the road to building a new green economy, but the McNeil Liberals have all but dismantled that initiative, ignoring the inevitable day of reckoning.  

According to the UN Environmental Program a green economy is one that results in “improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities” (UNEP, 2010).   Our current forest management practices fail those measures spectacularly. In the process, we are also missing out on the far greater economic potential of the green economy and sustainable forestry and their obvious environmental and social benefits.  

Cherry Hill, NS, October, 2019                


By Peter Puxley

Hi, I'm Peter Puxley, an economist, geographer and urban planner by academic training, and a political organizer/activist, development educator, journalist, policy wonk, researcher and political staffer by practice. I have tried my hand at poetry, fiction and non-fiction writing, some of which has been published.

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