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People before profit: critique of Nova Scotia’s ‘new’ economy

Experts says ‘quality of life’ is missing from Ivany Report

by Stephanie Taylor

Experts say Ivany Report does not address 'quality of life' in Nova Scotia. Photo by Stephanie Taylor
Experts say Ivany Report does not address 'quality of life' in Nova Scotia. Photo by Stephanie Taylor

K'JIPUKTUK (Halifax) - Prosperity starts with people.

That was the message on Monday’s roundtable discussion, “What is at stake? The public interest and Nova Scotia’s ‘new’ economy,” presented by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Nova Scotia.

Five experts from a range of different political, social and environmental backgrounds were brought together to critique the Ivany Report— a 243-page report that summarizes the province’s current economic woes, such as its shrinking population and jobless growth. 

The report, prepared by The Nova Scotia Commission on Building Our New Economy, has become synonymous with economic change since it was released earlier this year. 

Titled, “Now or Never: An Urgent Call to Action for Nova Scotians,” Monday’s panelists criticized the report’s perceived tone of immediacy as “fear-mongering”. As well, they addressed how the report made no mention of income disparity or social problems, and concluded that the proposed solutions for change were overly vague. 

Christine Saulnier, director of the centre’s Nova Scotia office calls for an in-depth review of the report, citing the Nova Scotia Alternative Provincial Budget 2014: A Budget for the 99 per cent, as a more comprehensive way to discuss changes in the province. 

She views the Ivany report as highly problematic because it focuses purely on economics and fails to provide an accurate vision of what improvements Nova Scotians really need.

“We need to tackle income equality and we need to tackle the gap between the rich and the poor,” she says. “We need to have policies that actually really help people in our province and none of that was really there.”

“If you focus only on economic growth then you are going to basically ignore all the other things …you’re not focused on well-being (and) you’re not focused on health.”

Quality of life and health should be the main priorities when it comes to policy development, according to Monika Dutt, Medical Officer of Health at the Cape Breton District Health Authority. She studied the report in terms of how economic decisions positively or negatively impact communities' health. 

“Integrating health into our policy decisions would be something that would help our health as well as the economy,” she says. 

Income inequality, access to housing and employment have a direct impact on peoples’ well-being and must be seen public health issues, she explains. 

“We really need to look at how we’ve created poor health through the economic systems we’ve created.”

Dutt believes the province needs to better discern ways the economy can better peoples' health, rather than how to only increase profit. 

For example, she points out the hidden health costs attached to CETA, the free trade agreement between the Europena Union and Canada which the report hails. 

“We’re going to have increase drug costs from this trade agreement that we have with Europe. That’s not something a lot of people are talking about,” she explains. “It’s about, ‘oh, it’s great we’ll have more international trade,’ but if you looked at it from a health perspective there are certain things that are going to get much more expensive.”

She says although there was no health officer on the original commission, a public health physician has been appointed to assist in the post-Ivany follow-up.  

The health perspective offers a broader view of prosperity, Dutt says. She also recommends the province replace the GDP with the Canadian Index of Wellbeing as a way to measure societal progress beyond economic productivity. 

The index examines peoples’ quality of life through access to, leisure, culture, education and income. 

“If we take something like that and apply it to Nova Scotia and look at how are we doing in terms of well-being, that’s much more powerful than only looking at the economy in isolation,” she says. 

A similar tool, the Genuine Progress Index for Atlantic Canada was developed for Nova Scotia in the past, but on a smaller scale. 

“We have in Nova Scotia a quality of life that is already amazing,” says Tony Charles, a professoer in the Sobey School of Business and School of the Environment at Saint Mary’s University. 

To him economics must be looked at in the broader context of the environment and social issues to properly determine well-being.

“It’s not about growing the tourism economy," Saulnier says. “It’s thinking about why people come to a place.” 

Further discussion of the Ivany Report will continue at the conference “A Different Kind of Profit",presented by the centre on June 16 and 17. 


See also:

Video of the panel

A budget for the 99%, not for corporations and the wealthy

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