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EDITORIAL: Positives and negatives

The long and winding road; Water Street as it snakes west to connect with George Street and Beck’s Cove in downtown St. John's.
Water Street in downtown St. John's. The new year offers hints of optimism but also presents challenges for Atlantic Canadians. — Telegram file photo

A new year offers the promise that things will be better.

And that optimistic resolve is beckoning to the 2.3 million residents of Atlantic Canada.

Nowhere more so than in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Atlantic Provinces Economic Council is projecting that N.L. will see the top economic growth in the region this year, only second behind British Columbia, as it recovers from the painful economic contractions of 2018. Higher oil production from the Hebron field and other major projects should result in growth, projected to be at more than 2.3 per cent.

There’s some good news for the other three Atlantic provinces, too, with real growth expected to continue, albeit at a slightly slower pace than in 2018.

To further this end, Atlantic premiers should press on with their efforts to bring down barriers to interprovincial trade. It’s estimated that more than $8 billion a year could be added to the regional economy if the provinces adopted uniform regulations and standards.

It will be a politically active year in both N.L. and Prince Edward Island, with two general elections on the horizon. Both provinces have legislated election dates for early October, but because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed in year-end interviews he will stay with a federal vote Oct. 21, the provinces could switch. P.E.I. will likely go to the polls later this spring while N.L. Premier Dwight Ball could do the same or wait till later in the fall.

It’s estimated that more than $8 billion a year could be added to the regional economy if the provinces adopted uniform regulations and standards.

P.E.I. voters also face a referendum question on electoral reform — either to retain the first-past-the-post system or embark on proportional representation. The decisive defeat of the latter in a B.C. referendum a month ago won’t help its cause.

Electoral reform supporters will point to the skewed New Brunswick results in October where ex-premier Brian Gallant won the popular vote by a full six percentage points, but trailed by a seat to the Progressive Conservatives, and eventually lost the government. Under proportional representation, Gallant would have won the most seats and still be premier, perhaps in a coalition with the Greens.

And opportunities for democratic renewal are expanding. N.L.’s House of Assembly has struck an all-party committee on electoral reform that is expected to get down to serious work this year.

But there is also a wedge opening among Atlantic provinces. New Brunswick is the lone holdout without a carbon pricing agreement with Ottawa and is joining a court battle challenging the federal government’s climate change plan. Other Atlantic provinces reached individual deals to mitigate higher carbon prices while moving forward on carbon reduction goals.

There is also a growing complaint in Nova Scotia that economic and employment opportunities and population increases are largely confined to the Halifax Regional Municipality at the expense of Cape Breton, Annapolis Valley, South Shore and Northern Nova Scotia.

The same demographic shifts are evident elsewhere in the region as Atlantic Canadians continue to relocate from rural to urban areas — to St. John’s, Halifax, Charlottetown and Moncton.

That’s what presents one of the greatest challenges to Atlantic governments in 2019 and beyond.

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