Put population decline on the agenda

Whenever you have a fundamental change in something, people usually start talking about it. For many it becomes an issue of concern. For example, let’s say you gain 50 pounds. You may do so over 10 years but at some point it becomes a fundamental change and you, if you are smart, decide to do something about it.

I would propose that in Canada we saw a fundamental shift in population trends in the early 1990s. In fact, it coincided with the recession of the early 1990s. Up until that time, all provinces in Canada more or less exhibited at least some population growth. However, at that important juncture 1992-1993ish, everything changed. At the time of the 2001 Census, six provinces in Canada were either in population decline or full stagnation with impending decline.

That’s 60% of the Canadian provinces, folks including NB, NS, PEI, NL, MB and SK.

As of 2005, not much has changed. True, Manitoba has seemingly turned things around and that province’s population has started to grow again. NS and PE may see slight population growth in the 2006 Census while SK, NB and NL will all lose population again as of the 2006 Census.

Running parallel to the population decline and/or stagnation in these provinces are ever increasing government budgets – and ever increasing reliance on Equalization and other transfer programs (with the notable exception of SK).

Now my question is this. Why isn’t this an election issue?

Self preservation is supposed to be a fundamental human urge and yet when it comes to the future of many of our provinces and communities we act more like lemmings.

In 2002, the OECD called the lack of effective regional development in Canada a serious challenge to the country’s long term economic success.

I don’t believe in population growth for population growth’s sake but when we have an insatiable appetite for more and more public spending – we must have a correlated strategy to raise the funds to pay for that public spending.

Look at it another way. What if Ontario was in population decline? Or BC’s? Or how about Canada as a whole? This would be a national emergency. Demographers would cry that the very future of our country and way of life is at stake.

But when it’s New Brunswick, or PEI, or Saskatchewan, it’s just some ‘inevitable’ urbanization trend that we should all just live with.

Our government has a duty to look beyond the end of its nose, that is beyond the next by-election or general election, on behalf of the people. It needs to understand and address this critical issue. I believe this is tied to a long term economic development strategy.

The NB government never mentioned population decline in its Prosperity Plan. Since the publication of that document, the issue is almost never mentioned by politicians unless it is in the context of the need for ‘immigration’.

Ignoring it won’t make it go away.

Is it inevitable?

One this is for sure. If we don’t start as communities and as a province to address it – it will be.

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0 Responses to Put population decline on the agenda

  1. Anonymous says:

    We don’t need to ask that hypothetical question since a couple years ago it WAS the case that it was a ‘national emergency’ even though it wasn’t affecting population levels. It was called the ‘brain drain’ and Global networks and papers were definitely touting it as a national emergency and a reason to dismantle our tax and health infrastructure.

    However, this is a case where people somewhat let politicians do their work for them. How matter letters to the editor have you written? How many times have you emailed or called your running representatives? How many blogs have been set up to deal specifically with the election? Chances are, very few. Which means PEOPLE aren’t that interested in it either, which is no coincidence since people generally exhibit little interest in politics anyway, let alone specific issues.

    So it isn’t really a question of ‘why’, we already KNOW why. However, could you please footnote the stats, because it was my understanding that health and social transfers were RADICALLY cut back in the mid 90’s and have only now started to be reinstated.

  2. David Campbell says:

    I have not seen any research on that subject but it would be very interesting to me. If, in fact, it was the cuts to health and social transfers (as a result of the recession) that led to this population crisis, then that would bolster my underlying assumption. I have always said that places like New Brunswick are becoming less and less able to handle a major recession (and these are inevitable – everytime we think we have the boom/bust cycle licked we get hammered).

    If New Brunswick has to go through another round of large scale cuts, will we come out the other end unscathed?

  3. Anonymous says:

    I just want to know, I wasn’t linking it to an argument, certainly not population declines. As you say, if you can’t cope, people are going to leave.

    However, the nineties weren’t a time of recession at all, the last recession was beginning to ebb in 93, following the american growth. From that point our economy was picking up. Personally, being conspiracy minded I think this was why the national debt and deficit had to be ‘targeted’, because without that and Harris’s ‘common sense’ revolution Canada would have been in pretty good shape.

    This is even more frightening to the maritimes, because the economy is the one thing that the liberals brag on, can you imagine what would happen if there were TEN ‘have not’ provinces. You’d see the end of the country for sure. Of course as we know, the feds can be stinking rich while the provinces are dirt poor, even Ontario is having a rough go of it and certainly isn’t laughing all the way to the bank.

  4. David Campbell says:

    You are right about the timing of the last recession – that’s why I say ‘early 1990s’. I still have 300+ rejection letters that I sent to just about every major company in New Brunswick in 1991 – not one interview but I did get 300 form letters stating that my experience and qualifications did not match their needs. I talked with the NBTel recruiter at the time and she said they got several hundred qualified applicants for each job they were posting. Bad memories for sure.

  5. scott says:

    It is not an election issue because you allowed it not to be one. I think that you have proven to all your readers that you are as knowledgable as the next think-tank CEO/exec. So why not pledge your powerful message to donors so that you can get your message out and hold these political organizations accountable? It seems like a sensible plan to me. Unfortunately, I don’t possess the knowledge and research ability of someone I know. Just a thought!

  6. Anonymous says:

    Who are the ‘donors’? I also support getting more into politics if one wants issues to be resolved-it took Charles all of two months and a by-election to get tenants rights into the throne speech and on a bill. Imagine what more ‘business friendly’ minds can come up with!

  7. scott says:


    You said:

    Who are the ‘donors’?

    Just a thought, but if you desire one to be forthright and frank, then why are you hiding behind a veil of anonymity. Are you afraid of being accountable to your words?

  8. Anonymous says:

    I asked who the donors are because I didn’t understand what you meant. As for the question and remark afterwards, I don’t really understand what its intent is. I don’t really care if people are forthright OR frank, I don’t even know where that comes from. As for the other questions, here are the answers: ‘none of your business’, and ‘no’.

  9. scott says:


    Until you represent yourself honestly and openly, like Mr. Campbell, Alec Bruce, myself and many others, than you will never understand. It is easy to criticize when you don’t use your name, but I chose to stand by my name and word as I have nothing to hide.

    So in your case if the answer is ‘no’ to this question: Are you afraid of being accountable to your words?

    Then why all the secrecy? Just a thought.