The 'social question' dominated intellectual discourse at the end of the nineteenth century. In Nova Scotia and the Maritime Provinces, the 'social question' showed up in outmigration and rural poverty. The problem of leaving home to make a living has been a historical reality for generations of Maritimers. As one historian of the region perceptively argued, "the consciousness of the Maritimes as a distinct place was largely developed in the first place through the common experiences of people who worked away from home then later returned" (Ernie Forbes, cited in Burrill, 1992: 4). By 1880, Burrill reports, "there were already more Nova Scotians in Boston than in Yarmouth, Sydney and Pictou combined” (1992: 4-5). The experience of migration from every community of Nova Scotia has dominated the historical literature, and for good reason. "Going out west appears to be the order of the day in Cape Breton this spring", printed the Aurora, an Antigonish broadsheet in 1883, while the Shelburne Budget reported in 1899 that the "ever-increasing exodus" had drained the South Shore of the province of "many of its best men".
Attempts to describe and explain the economic forces behind this extensive migration have consumed historians and social scientists, and various regional studies have made claims about the impact of this migration on the various ethnic communities throughout the region. In a pioneering study on the Nova Scotian Scots, for instance, D. A. Campbell and R. A. MacLean argued that emigration was an alternative to the poor economy that was utilized by Scottish individuals “to a higher degree than any other ethnic group in the province” (Campbell and MacLean, 1974: 93). One clergyman, ministering in a small eastern Nova Scotia community in the 1920s, admitted to issuing “far more birth certificates for emigrants than for newborn babies” (Nearing, 1975: 25). The Dominion Bureau of Statistics estimated that gross out-migration from the Maritimes to other Canadian provinces and ‘the Boston States’ during the fifty-year period between 1881 and 1931 was about 600,000 persons, with net out-migration of 470,000. As Patricia Thornton notes, this constituted “some 50 per cent of the population still present in 1931 at the end of the period” (1985: 5).
A vigorous academic debate about the reasons for this devastating social implosion was mounted through the 1970s and ‘80s. These debates got traction by taking issue with S.A. Saunder’s classical analysis of the Maritime staple economy (1932, 1939), and focussed research on the implosion of the manufacturing sector. The most influential critiques built on various forms of dependency theory, criticizing the weakness of Maritime entrepreneurship, limited capital access, discriminatory tariff policy, high freight rates, agricultural under-performance, and external business acquisition. However, as early as 1985, Michael Clow argued that “we have reached a situation where theoretical speculation has outrun substantive research” (p. 150).
Recent work by Inwood and Keay (2005, 2008, 2012) and by Chernoff (2014) have begun the work of building an alternative explanation of Maritime industrial decline. In a comparative study of U.S. and Canadian manufacturers, Inwood and Keay conclude that "what mattered was the producers' willingness to foster more fundamental determinants of growth – technical efficiency, appropriate input and technology decisions, and the realization of scale economies (Inwood and Keay, 2012: 312). Using the same data, Chernoff suggests that “regional agglomeration effects may have emerged as important determinants of growth during the late 19th century” (2014: 88).
This thesis is consistent with developments in growth theory that needed to wait for a much deeper empirical knowledge than was earlier possible. A distinction is now made between the macro-economic framework conditions which sustain growth from those meso-economic proximate factors which ignite growth. This focus on meso-structural dynamics is concerned centrally with innovation and production linkages. The macro-economic factors identified by the dependency theory of the 1970s and ‘80s highlighted important framework conditions which undermined industrial performance in the Maritimes. Current theoretical work, though, suggests that rural sustainability needs to focus on fostering innovation and building linkages (Ocampo, 2005). While there is considerable attention to regional innovation systems, it is only when innovation at the firm level ramifies through the local economy with backward and forward linkages, that new business activity is converted into economic development.
The distinction between innovation and linkages has important implications. Innovation is largely a function of entrepreneurial activity, but linkages are importantly dependent on the cultural capabilities of the region. Part of those cultural capabilities, of course, involve the appropriate stewardship of the land - Aldo Leopold's land ethic, Rachel Carson's silent spring, or Wendell Berry's poetry of life - so environmental sustainability cannot be separated from the larger problem of social and economic sustainability. It is in just this area of cultural capabilities that the Institute, with its particular collection of expertise, might be able to play some role in fostering rural sustainability.
- Burrill, Gary. (1992). Away: Maritimers in Massachussetts, Ontario, and Alberta. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press.
- Campbell, Douglas A. and R. A. MacLean. (1974). Beyond the Atlantic Roar: A Study of the Nova Scotia Scots. Ottawa: McClelland & Stewart.
- Chernoff, Alex. (2014). "1871 Productivity Differentials and the Decline of the Maritime Manufacturing Sector." Acadiensis: Vol. 43, No. 1, 65-88.
- Clow, Michael. (1985). "Situating a Classic: Saunders Revisited." Acadiensis: Vol. 15, No. 1, 145-152.
- Inwood, Kris E. and Ian Keay. (2005). "Bigger Establishments in Thicker Markets: Can We Explain Early Productivity Differentials between Canada and the United States." The Canadian Journal of Economics: Vol. 38, No. 4, 1327-1363.
- Inwood, Kris E. and Ian Keay. (2008). "The Devil is in the Details: Assessing Early Industrial Performance Across International Borders Using Late Nineteenth Century North American Manufacturers as a Case Study." Cliometrica: Vol. 2, No. 2, 85-117.
- Inwood, Kris E. and Ian Keay. (2012) "Diverse Paths to Industrial Development: Evidence from Late-Nineteenth-Century Canada." European Review of Economic History: Vol. 16, No. 3, 311-333.
- Nearing, Peter A. (1975). He Loved the Church: The Biography of Bishop John R. MacDonald, Fifth Bishop of Antigonish. Antigonish: The Casket.
- Ocampo, José Antonio. (2005). "The Quest for Dynamic Efficiency: Structural Dynamics and Economic Growth in Developing Countries." In Beyond Reforms: Structural Dynamics and Macroeconomic Vulnerability, J. A. Ocampo (ed.), pp. 3-43. Palo Alto and Washington: Stanford University Press and the World Bank.
- Saunders, Stanley Alexander. (1932). The Economic Welfare of the Maritime Provinces. Economic Publications No. 1, Acadia University, Wolfville.
- Saunders, Stanley Alexander. (1939). Studies in the Economy of the Maritime Provinces. Toronto: The MacMillan Company of Canada Limited.
- Thornton, Patricia A. (1985). "The Problem of Out-Migration from Atlantic Canada, 1871-1921: A New Look." Acadiensis: Vol. 15, No. 1, 3-34.