There was a good article in the Globe & Mail recently outlining New Brunswick’s demographic challenges and how that is dampening the economic potential of the province. It certainly wasn’t a positive article – but it wasn’t the typical hatchet job either. It’s behind the paywall so I can’t link it here.
It was written by a former NBer. In my experience, there are two kinds of former NBers – those that are bitter and want to crap on their former province and those that still have an affinity to their former home and a nuanced view of things. Unfortunately some of the former have found their way into senior federal government roles, but I digress.
Unfortunately the writer continues to lament the woeful out-migration of New Brunswick’s youth and he continues to make this the main plot line for New Brunswick’s economic challenges.
In fact, it is the main plot line but for the exact opposite reason.
There are many reasons why young New Brunswickers leave – the main one being for economic opportunity. This is not controversial – most people agree on this point. But like most things in life you have to avoid the superficial explanation and dig a little deeper. We encourage our young people to go to university – a good thing – but the fact remains that the economy is creating a lot of jobs that do not require a university degree. Do we expect these young university educated workers to stay for jobs that don’t require a university degree?
Someone told me recently they went to UdeM engineering and 53 of the 55 people that graduated with them left the province. Do I think we should eliminate UdeM engineering? Absolutely not. In fact I think we should do a looooot more to position this talent pool as an asset to attract engineering firms or to support local engineering firm expansion. Many of these young Francophone engineers would be happy to stay in New Brunswick and work.
But I don’t think that engineer will go work in a back office or a warehouse or a manufacturing assembly line.
The facts are simple. People are more mobile than ever before. We are attracting more immigrants and more of them are showing up in the interprovincial migration data. Again, what do you expect? Immigrants don’t have roots here – very little connective tissue to the local community. Of course many will leave. The great Toronto loses an average of 23,000 per year on a net basis to intra- and inter-provincial migration. There isn’t a lot of hand wringing about the lost youth population in Toronto. They just go out and bring in 75,000 more every year. When Manitoba and PEI massively boosted immigrant numbers a few years ago – their net interprovincial migration spiked – as you would expect it to. But they kept more than they lost – and their economies benefited from it.
Canada is a place where it is not hard to find hypocrisy. I hear at some some federal bureaucrats are lamenting the fact that a lot of the jobs under the Atlantic Immigration Pilot are in service industries and other lower wage sectors. They would have preferred a lot more higher end jobs.
The flexibility to fill gaps in the labour market – across the spectrum – was the MAIN point of the Atlantic Immigration Pilot. Tens of thousands of immigrants flow into Ontario every year into lower skilled jobs – even a peek at the data confirms this – more than 60% of manufacturing workers are first generation immigrants, more than 50% of contact centre workers – something like 50% of overall service industry workers in Toronto are first generation immigrants.
The point is that there are many pathways into Canada – family class, refugee, student, etc. and New Brunswick has been restricted to the pathways that are targeted at high skilled immigrants. The AIP was meant to fix that and fill gaps in the labour market – sending a signal that employers can find workers here and foster expansions and growth.
I’m not going to litigate all the other issues here. I’m tired of it. Yes there are lots of people using EI. Yes there are people that prefer to not work rather than work the jobs on offer. Yadda. Yadda. Yadda. Guess what, there are exactly the same kinds of folks in Ontario and everywhere in Canada – just a little higher proportion here. Please don’t hold the rest of the economy hostage because of this. It’s patently unfair to hobble New Brunswick just as it wants to get serious about economic growth.
Don’t obsess with youth out-migration. Many leave and come back and are better for the experience. Those that don’t come back – fine. They are building their careers and lives in a great country.
If we use this as an excuse to hold back immigration – we are dooming New Brunswick to a downward demographic spiral.