The Atlantic Provinces Economic Council is predicting a small increase in economic growth in the region in 2014, with the region counting on recovery of the United States economy to increase exports.

The independent think-tank released its economic outlook for each of the four Atlantic provinces Monday, at its annual business outlook conference in Halifax.

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Elizabeth Beale of the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council thinks a more rational debate about shale gas development in the region is needed, with consideration given to the potential economic benefits.

​APEC president Elizabeth Beale says the next 14 to 18 months will be pretty slow in the Maritimes.

"We've seen almost five years with no net employment growth in Nova Scotia, for example, and there's a big difference too now between Newfoundland and Labrador, which is looking to a long and sustained period of large project activity and all the benefits that brings in terms of high income growth, high employment growth," said Beale. "The difference here in the Maritimes couldn't be more stark."

The provincial breakdown by APEC includes:

  • New Brunswick will have no economic growth in 2013 as a result of a weak labour market, the closure of the Xtrata mine in Bathurst and a lack of major projects. New Brunswick's real GDP growth is forecast to expand 0.9 per cent in 2014.
  • Nova Scotia sees flat employment and weak consumer spending in 2013, limiting GDP growth to about 0.8 per cent. In 2014, that is forecast to accelerate to about 2.0 per cent, boosted by a jump in natural gas output and increased investment in major projects.
  • Prince Edward Island will see its economy expand by 1.1 per cent in 2013, due to a strong labour market. The forecast for 2014 calls for growth of 1.3 per cent, due partly to growth in the bioscience sector, a rebound in aerospace and defence, increased food processing and a decent tourism season.
  • Newfoundland and Labrador is expected to have one of the fastest growth rates in Canada this year, at 6 per cent, due to increased oil production and capital investment. However, that is expected to slow to 0.8 per cent in 2014 due to flat oil production and investment.

Balanced discussion on shale gas needed

Beal said shale gas development is one of a number of economic development opportunities for the Maritimes.  But with shale gas exploration activity in New Brunswick being met with strong opposition, Beale would like to see a more balanced discussion around shale gas, including its potential economic benefits.

"We released a poll as part of a group across Canada, last week, that showed Atlantic Canadians, Maritimers - very negative on the issues of shale gas," said Beale. "Really more negative even than the results for the oil sands or any type of other energy developments across Canada.

"I think that speaks to the fact that we really haven't had all the facts out there," she said. "We certainly need to, in terms of looking at the positive benefits for the region's economy."

Beale says there is some good economic news in the MaritimesWith the improvement in housing starts in the United States, New Brunswick is already seeing an increase in the export of forest products such as lumber, she said.