Early last year, on the occasion of the PM’s visit for a town hall in Sackville, I posted about the fact that despite boasting by the Liberal government about the country’s employment growth, the Atlantic Region was lagging badly.

Annual estimates published last week by Statistics Canada show job growth in Canada of 336,500 in 2017. In the Atlantic Region it was minus 2,100 in 2017 – a total made up of 8,500 fewer jobs in Newfoundland and Labrador and small employment gains in the three Maritime Provinces.

In this election year, when employment numbers will be flying around, it is fitting to point out for the record that the annual estimates for 2018 show a slight improvement for the Atlantic provinces. While job growth in Canada as a whole in 2018 was slower than in 2017 – 241,100 compared with 336,500 – annual average employment in the Atlantic provinces was up by 11,300. In percentage terms, that’s 1.03 per cent increase for the Atlantic region, nearly the same ballpark as the 1.31 per cent increase nationally.

But modest as it is, the 2018 increase is the exception. Over the first two years of the Liberal mandate, employment in the four provinces actually fell from 2015 levels. As a result, despite the improvement in 2018, there were, as the table shows, only 1,700 more jobs in 2018 than there were in 2015 – failing marks for the Trudeau government’s Atlantic Growth Strategy tagline.

Newfoundland 236,200 225,300 -10,900
P.E. Island 73,200 76,000 +2,800
Nova Scotia 448,100 455,900 +7,800
New Brunswick 351,800 353,800 +2,000
Total1,109,3001,111,000 +1,700
Source: Statistics Canada Table 14-10-0090-01

Making that number of 1,700 even more modest is the fact that, according to Stats Canada, the increase in employment nationally over the three-year period was 710,900. As the election approaches that national number will no doubt get a lot more exposure as the Liberals cite it as proof of their fiscal and economic prowess. But in this part of the country, expect to hear less about where most of that growth is taking place.

Almost half of the new jobs (319,200) are in Ontario, with Toronto accounting for 201,200 of them. Vancouver, with 139,200 new jobs came next, followed by Montreal at 89,500. And despite the drop in oil prices, both Edmonton (19,400) and Calgary (16,400) had reasonable job growth between 2015 and 2018.

Halifax was the only city in the Atlantic Region to pass the 10,000 mark, with almost all of that job growth taking place in 2018.  Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula, which includes St. John’s, lost 7,500 jobs. In New Brunswick, Moncton was up 1,800 from 2015, but Saint John and Fredericton were both down slightly.

Halifax’s relative good  fortune will no doubt delight the gang at the Halifax Partnership, but it’s sobering to realize that without last year’s sudden surge in jobs in Halifax, Stats Canada’s employment estimates for Nova Scotia and the Atlantic region 2018 would actually be lower than they were in 2015.

The table below shows employment in Halifax and Nova Scotia’s four other economic regions.


Annapolis Valley54,20056,400 +2,200
South Shore49,30051,700 +2,400
Cape Breton49,80046,800 -3,000
North Shore70,80066,700 -4,100
Total448,200455,800 +7,600

Job growth in Halifax, the Valley and the South Shore was partially offset by losses on the northern mainland (Cumberland, Colchester, Pictou, Antigonish and Guysborough) and Cape Breton. In percentage terms, employment losses in those two regions were about six per cent over the three years. (Due to rounding, the Total Change for Nova Scotia in the two tables don’t quite match).

The latest numbers represent further confirmation of the realistic analysis of the region’s economy presented by Richard Saillant in A Tale of Two Countries, discussed here. It’s a matter of an aging population and a labour force that continues to decline, despite the headlines about record immigration. Instead of chasing the illusion of economic growth we should be working on fixing federal health transfers, an issue that has been either mishandled or ignored by the region’s politicians over the last three years. In short, we need a strategy not for growth, but for atrophy.