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.