Q&A

Nova Scotia making progress on Ivany Report goals, says lead author

The author of a plan to revitalize Nova Scotia's economy and pull it back from the brink of a demographic crisis says we're having some success.

Ray Ivany cites farmer who converted fields to kale and started exporting as one example

Ray Ivany says the Ivany Report set ambitious goals so that it could open up people's minds on what they would need to do to achieve them. (CBC)

The author of a plan to revitalize Nova Scotia's economy and pull it back from the brink of a demographic crisis says we're making some progress.

Ray Ivany was chair of the Nova Scotia Commission on Building Our New Economy in 2014 when he and four other commissioners wrote and released a report called Now or Never: An Urgent Call to Action for Nova Scotians, commonly known as the Ivany Report.

The report set ambitious targets for Nova Scotians to strive for by 2024, including increasing immigration, growing the number of business startups, doubling tourism revenues and increasing exports.

A view of the Halifax's waterfront. (Robert Short/CBC)

At the end of June, Ivany retired as president of Acadia University, two years before the end of his mandate, due to health concerns following a heart attack in October 2015. 

Ivany recently spoke with CBC's Information Morning to chat about where things stand three years into the 10-year scope of the Ivany Report.

The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

CBC: One of the few criticisms of the Ivany Report was that this was a good road map, but you don't tell us how to get there.

Ivany: I always say on these big questions, let the historians judge, because I don't know if you can tell right now whether or not we made the right call.

We made the choice — rightly or wrongly — as a group of commissioners, that the way to actually catalyze transformative change is to set, essentially, a stretch goal.

Let's take immigration as one of them. At the time people said: tripling of our immigration levels in 10 years? That doesn't make a lot of sense. How is that even possible?

Fifty-three people took the citizenship oath at Pier 21 immigration centre in Halifax on Saturday, July 1, 2017. (Adina Bresge/The Canadian Press)

I'll use myself as an example. In 2014, if you had asked me, "Would Nova Scotia reach its highest population level ever by 2016 and then beat that again in 2017?" I would have said it's not going to happen, but it did.

And seafood and agricultural exports are almost at our 10-year target now, which is absolutely incredible, right?

By setting that goal so far out there, it almost frees an organization up to build the creativity and innovation, to figure out how to get to a place that you didn't even think possible.

CBC: Re-reading the report, the warnings are dire. This is not it would be nice to live in a better place, this is you've got to fix this.

Ivany: We felt that deeply. We went into this work knowing the fundamental data sets and even with that, once we started doing the extrapolations, it scared us. We were afraid.

We highlighted attitude and culture in a way that we knew would be provocative, but we thought it had to be named. 

Because in many ways, this is the power of the status quo. If we were going to keep doing what we were doing, we felt we had to say to Nova Scotians, there's no way that this is going to work out well.

CBC: Can you think of one example that stands out for you of somebody who seems to be doing something which is in the true spirit and letter of the Ivany Report?

Ivany: I'm at an event and Bruce Rand — who is part of the family that runs Randsland Farms over towards Canning — he came up and introduced himself to me.

He said "Ray, I read the report and I believe that Nova Scotia needs to head in that direction." He said, "Our family sat down and said: What can we do to make a contribution to moving toward the goals of that report?"

They decided that year to convert a percentage of their acreage to kale — they'd grown broccoli for years — and they exported, for the first time, virtually all of that kale into the New England market.

The story keeps getting better. A year later, they're doing research projects with Perennia, the tech transfer agency, to look at extracts from the kale that they can then sell.

You can kind of look at that and say, well, isn't that a quaint little story. But think of scale.

If a thousand Nova Scotians make the same quantum of change in their lives in that direction, not only would you see it on the GDP line of the province, it would be palpable. You'd feel that energy and momentum.

With files from Information Morning