I count more than a dozen stories in the media in recent weeks about the wave of people moving to New Brunswick and the Maritimes from Ontario. Apparently UHaul trucks are piling up in local lots. Real estate agents have never seen it so – people buying houses sight unseen for the asking price or higher. Young families eager to leave the congested and costly big cities for the pastoral, bucolic life in the Maritimes.
Unfortunately we don’t have any hard data from Statistics Canada to back this up. The stats agency’s quarterly migration estimates show considerably fewer inward migrants in Q2 and Q3 this year compared to last (7,500 last year, 6,200 this year). The same pattern holds for Nova Scotia (11,200 last year, 9,700 this year). The type of migrant might have changed but the data so far suggests the overall numbers are down. Outward migration from New Brunswick is also down slightly this year compared to last.
It is possible Statistics Canada could be wrong. This is why the data is called an estimate.
I have had the opportunity to interact with at least a couple of dozen folks who have moved here from the Toronto region in the past 2-3 years. They fall into several categories:
*Sold a house in Toronto for a pile of cash and moved here on spec hoping it would work out.
*Took a job here – sometimes at a lower salary – to take advantage of lower housing costs.
*Moved here to start a family or with a young family to benefit from a ‘slower pace of life’.
*Came here to start a small business or to work in a business they were thriving at in Toronto (e.g. real estate agent).
*Came to retire.
**Came here as a newcomer because it is easier to ‘get PR’ here (hearing more of this anecdotally).
I am thrilled that people are moving here and believe our future as a province and region is totally dependent on our ability to attract people – particularly younger workers and entrepreneurs. But I want people to do their research and know what they are getting or not when they move here.
I know examples of people who came here and burned through their surplus housing value (e.g. sold in Toronto at $1.2M, bought here for $450K) and after a few years quit and went back to Toronto to basically start over building up housing equity. I know examples of people who moved here for a job, it didn’t work out, and they couldn’t find an alternative and went back. I know examples of folks who moved here to start or grow their family but were not able to replace their Toronto income and went back. I know examples of people who came here to start a business and didn’t really understand the market.
As for newcomers moving here as a quicker pathway to PR only to move back to Ontario upon receiving it, all I can say is that employers should not be hiring people who are overqualified for the job.
If you are looking to move to this region, you will find friendly people, lower housing costs (watch out for property taxes), some products can be a little more expensive (the Brits complain about our high priced cheese), lower commute times (unless you plan on living 100 KM away from your job and other benefits. Many surveys and other data points confirm this is a great place to live, raise a family and ultimately retire.
But you have to do your research. For some people, selling it all, renting a truck and moving here without any plan is exciting and just what the doctor ordered. But for the rest, here are a few recommendations:
If you are moving here for a job, do some research on lateral career moves in case your new job doesn’t work out. This includes the potential of going it on your own as an entrepreneur.
If you are a professional, instead of coming here without a job and hoping to find one in a local professional services firm, why not try and bring your work with you? If you are currently employed, ask your firm if they would consider letting you work remotely. If not, why not hang out a shingle and work as a freelancer for existing or similar clients in the big city? In the past 10 years I have heard more and more about people moving here and bringing their clients with them. This is great for the local economy (as it is export revenue alongside a taxpayer).
Look at business opportunities here. There are an increasing number of business owners looking to retire and you could use some of that surplus housing cash to invest. But be careful. You need to understand the dynamics of this market – how stuff gets sold, margins, customer preferences, etc. You can’t impose the Vaughan or Oakville socioeconomic profile on Miramichi or Charlottetown.
In the same vein, if you have had roaring success at what you were doing in Toronto or Calgary it might not translate here. I have witnessed this with professional services providers, real estate agents, real estate developers, small niche retailers – you gotta know the market.
Your quality of life will be based on many things – income is only one of them. Meaningful relationships, pastimes, family considerations, etc. are all important. If you want to just accumulate cash you might have better luck elsewhere. But having said that there are opportunities here for entrepreneurs looking to invest. There are opportunities for ambitious professionals looking to advance their careers. There are public sector entities looking for talent to ensure we have high quality public services in this region.
There are great companies for those looking to start careers. You can build your resume here and who knows where you may end up?
In the end, New Brunswick and the rest of the Maritimes will benefit if people do their research. We don’t need a wave of naïve people to cash out in the big city, move here, burn through the cash and then, disgruntled, move back.
We do need a wave of folks to come here, integrate into the economy, workforce, neighbourhoods and social institutions and help us build a stronger, more durable economy for the next 30-40 years.