I have been thinking a lot lately about the limits to migration. With the revelation that the federal government has been asking Atlantic Canadians what it would take to get them to move out of their communities to where the jobs are, I wonder if there are ultimately limits to this approach? Atlantic Canada has already gone from among the youngest regions in North America to one of the oldest in just 40 years – if we stimulate even more out-migration – what will happen?
Even within the region, I wonder about the limits to intraprovincial migration. Some migration makes sense to recalibrate things – I have always maintained this – but eventually every region even within a province needs an economic rationale for existence – and I don’t think retirement community will pass the grade. It would be interesting to see the results of a study showing what it might look like if you turned the whole region of Northern New Brunswick or southwest Nova Scotia or Cape Breton into a retirement community.
It shouldn’t be that hard to model. Just extract what is left of the core industries – fishing, forestry, the rump of manufacturing – and the workforce and then cost out what kind of tax revenue could be expected against the cost of public services. These regions would still need hospitals, roads, police, other infrastructure and a service-based workforce for what would be left of retail and personal services.
Of course the radical alternative would be to take Smallwood’s approach in NL back in the mid 20th century with the small outports and just shut them down. I don’t know the logistics of this – shutting down whole communities and even regions.
As you know, my preferred option, is to have a viable economic foundation under provinces and under regions within provinces. It’s not necessarily about population size but it is about having an economic rationale for the existence of the community/region in the long term.
As the charts below show, at least using population as the main indicator, Atlantic Canada hasn’t performed very well in the past few decades.