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Super Nova! Letter from New Scotland

Honey McBee  buzzed all the way to Nova Scotia to track down her ancestors and returns to resume her media column in two weeks. Meanwhile, Alan Steel, Scotland’s greatest living IFA, sends a brilliant dispatch on what life is like in Scotland’s home from home... 

It’s mid-September, three in the afternoon, it’s still 25c and sunny. Tomorrow they expect torrential rainfall and probably thick fog. No it’s not Scotland. It’s Nova Scotia, New Scotland in more ways than one.

Summers here are typically warm/hot because Nova Scotia is not, as most Scots believe, in the Arctic Circle. It’s on the same line of latitude as Toulouse. They say there’s 289 sunny days and 170 rainy ones - work that out. 

Did I mention the fog?  Nova Scotians, like the Scots, have a self-deprecating sense of humour. Despite the wonderful summers and not-too-cold winters they claim their four seasons are – Almost Winter, Winter, Still Winter, and Road Repairs.

Their flag is an inverse Saltire, colours reversed, with a Lion Rampant at the centre. The Coat of Arms features a Thistle. They have their own tartan, patent 001, a licence to Kilt you could say. 

Nova Scotia was claimed by oor ain King James the Sixth in 1621 as part of Scotland. The capital, Halifax, has a Military Tattoo, and Nova Scotian soil lies in the heart of Edinburgh Castle.

But it’s poor, they say, compared to other Canadian provinces - Ontario, B.C, and Alberta – average wages are 20 per cent lower in Halifax than Toronto and 10 per cent lower than Vancouver. But homes are dramatically cheaper here.  A four-bedroom 2,400 sq. ft.  home, waterfront plus wharf and one acre land overlooking magnificent Mahone Bay, an hour from the international airport only sets you back £300,000. Rural homes are hugely cheaper.

Unemployment seems not too bad in these difficult times - seven per cent over the province and only 3.9 per cent in Halifax. Income taxes are slightly less than in the UK, sales taxes are lower too, Stamp Duty is only one per cent, and Capital Gains Tax can be as low as ten per cent. The Small Business Corporation Tax rate is only five per cent which may explain why 30 per cent of folks work now for businesses with less than 50 employees. And two thirds of these companies are in rural areas.

That in turn may explain why the median journey to work is only five miles – and on empty roads. The population is below 920,000 in a province roughly the size of Ireland, with 77 per cent covered in forest and 5000 miles of coastline with 100 beaches to sharpen up the tan and breathe in the healthy sea air.

Locals have had generations of hard slog and disappointment with which to contend. They say you’re Nova Scotian if your grandfather was a fisherman, forester, farmer, ship builder or coal miner. 

But times have been tough for the traditional industries, though fish exports still bring in over $820 million a year, half of which comprise lobster sales. Forestry still accounts for 20 per cent more in earnings than oil and gas, at $1.2 billion, while manufacturing dwarfs them at $9 billion a year.

Two million Christmas trees are sold each year, 80 per cent to the US, but enough left here which is just as well given there’s a 59 per cent chance of a White Christmas in Halifax.

Nova Scotia is North America’s second biggest Blueberry producer, healthcare is free and quality of life is high with a focus on outdoor activity. This may explain why rural areas have 17 times more 100 year olds than the world average.

Is there an alcohol problem? Not with prices this high! The provincial government controls the liquor stores and prices (Alex Salmond, take note). Drug   problems?  Seems   not, with four times the number of Impaired Driving violations compared to drug charges. 

What dominates the newspapers here? Locals seem to be more interested in Canada issues like Quebec or slow Canadian GDP growth than Syria. And business news is dominated by Canadian companies with Wall Street getting the odd mention. Investors tend to stick to local mutual funds despite a consensus that they hadn’t performed well.

Situated where it is, about five hours flying time from the UK, and an hour and a half from both New York and Toronto, with its top notch wi-fi speeds, there’s a growing number of remote workers moving here for lifestyle. 

English born Steve moved here with Canadian Trisha providing online marketing analysis for a number of UK blue chip companies, buying their 2,500 sq. ft. home on the South Shore six years ago for less than £140,000.

What don’t I like? Summer mosquitoes and black flies , no rural public transport , high alcohol prices, and difficulty getting here from the UK - which may explain why less than four per cent of the two million tourists each year come from overseas ( US doesn’t count apparently).

What do I like? The beauty of the place , the warm summers , the deserted beaches , empty roads, but most of all the people who are the friendliest most helpful folks you’re likely to come across. 

Last word from the relatives the 229  who died in the Swissair Flight 111 crash off rugged Peggy’s Cove in September 1998: “In the middle of this terrible time it was a revelation to find a place teeming with wonderful caring people”.


Alan Steel is chairman of Alan Steel Asset Management Ltd.(