Immigration: Inching ahead

I wonder how immigration to New Brunswick was received in previous times of above average inflows?  Maybe some historian could provide insight.  We had a small wave of European immigration in the 1970s.   I believe there was another after WW2.   For the most part, immigration to New Brunswick has been a trickle and not really much to talk about.

It is starting to pick up now.  I had a couple of really interesting examples of this in the past week.  Someone remarked to me about what they perceived to be the large number of ‘non-Canadian’ names at the music festival here in Moncton and I had a similar comment about the provincial chess tournament in Fredericton over the weekend.

No matter how hard I look at the list of participants at these two events, I can only see Canadian names.    Sure there are more names that are less familiar than the usual Smith and Leblanc but for me Rodriguez or Chiu is just as Canadian a last name as the former.

The truth of the matter is that New Brunswick needs immigrants.  We haven’t had a significant wave of immigration probably since before Confederation (as a significant percentage of the population).  In the early 1790s it still represented only a few thousand per year across the whole province.

I am not a demographer but I would suggest that over the next 20 years or so, New Brunswick will need at least 100,000 immigrants.  This is based on a very loose calculation of the replacement rate needed in the labour market just to keep us at a modest employment growth.   It is possible that some of this 100,000 will come from other parts of Canada but increasingly this will be harder as labour markets tighten across Canada.

I am excited about this.  I am a big champion of immigration.  The interaction of cultures enriches our communities and our social and economic potential. It also brings some risks as the colliding of cultures can increase tensions.    But the slow stagnation of New Brunswick that has been peaking in recent years is not sustainable.

As I have said many times before, Plan A for the province has to be a substantial economic renewal and a boost of population to support that growth.  I can’t see any Plan B other than the very negative downward spiral where the province’s public services spending – driven by health care – is  matched with an economic stagnation forcing the need for increasing transfer payments from the federal government eventually leading to Royal Commission on the Future of the Maritime Provinces.  This commission will recommend merging the three Maritime Provinces and a dramatic consolidation and downsizing of population and public services to a ‘sustainable’ level.  In that scenario, New Brunswick’s population would drop to 500,000 or so of mostly older folks clustered around a couple of urban centres.

I know some of you roll your eyes but I have yet to hear an alternative view of how New Brunswick can sustain its economy and public sector with the current demographic and economic development trend lines.    It’s easy to bury our heads in the sand. In 1970 there were three young people for every person over the age of 65.  Now it is one-to-one and getting worse.  Explain to me how we can have a sustainable economy with the continued exacerbation of this dependency ratio?

We are going to need immigration and a robust economic rejuvenation.

مرحبا بكم  to New Brunswick.

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