New Brunswick has failed to meet population growth projections set about a decade ago by a regional economic think-tank, and actually recorded a reversal in its population count. The Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS) said shrinking population numbers hit all four Atlantic provinces hard over the last 10-years, as detailed in a report released yesterday which followed up on a study first published in 1998. Furthermore, the study said the problem threatens to develop into a crisis because further regional population declines are being predicted for the future. In 1998, the collective population of all four Atlantic provinces was predicted to increase by about 35,000 people over 10 years. Instead, the new report says the region’s population decreased by 47,000 people in that time. “New Brunswick actually stands out as sore thumb both on the population side and on the labour shortage side,” said Charles Cirtwill, president and CEO of AIMS. “We projected back in 1998 that New Brunswick’s population would have grown by about 25,000. “It’s actually declined by 7,000.”
It must be nice to work for AIMS. On one day you can complain about the government for trying to do things that restrict out-migration and on the other you can hammer them because of the results of out-migration. Cake and eat it too. Where do I sign up?
Anyway, I am now old enough to remember all these old initiatives. There was not real interest in population growth in 1998. Come on. Bernard Lord’s Prosperity Plan never mentioned out-migration or population decline once – not one single whisper. To be honest I think some policy makers see out-migration as a good way to reduce unemployment. This has been the view from the Ottawa think tanks for more than a decade but I think some here agree.
As I have said ad nauseum we don’t have a population crisis – we have an economic crisis. People in Calgary age at exactly the same pace as in New Brunswick and yet they can’t build elementary schools fast enough. If the New Brunswick economy was creating enough good jobs each year we would have very little out migration and immigrants would be far more interested in moving here.
But what is the normal policy response to a population crisis? Try to force young people to stay by offering them tuition rebate bribes. Churn up the number of immigrants settling here and hope more of them stay. Beef up the EI system – make it just a little more lucrative – so that people won’t move to Alberta or Saskatchewan. And, of course, my favourite – announce another round of funding for small business the engine of the economy.
We need to fix our structural economic challenges, folks. Businesses are not investing here – at least not enough to generate economic economic activity just to keep our people here – let alone grow the population.
The current government prefers grand schemes – broad-based tax cuts, selling NB Power (which I agree with under the right conditions), reforming education – they believe that structural changes are needed. Fair enough. We can debate that but, in the end, I believe the best way to generate sustained economic growth for a generation is to focus on a few key industries that have growth potential and shaping public policy to see business investment flow into those sectors.
The structural stuff matters but I really don’t think it will work without the second part. If you have the best education system in the world – you end up with better exports of people. We know from the data there is a direct correlation between the level of education and out-migration from New Brunswick. The more you proceed up the education chain, the more likely you are to leave.
Tax cuts are fine as a dividend for strong economic growth but as a stimulus of economic growth? I can’t find any data to support this – particularly for a small province.
My point is that governments have to focus. It’s not that they focus on one thing to the exclusion of all others but they need to have a focus. I thought Graham’s was going to be economic renewal. It was the self-sufficiency agenda.
Too much political capital expended at the structural level while ignoring a practical economic development agenda many end up being a mistake.