When it comes to problem topics in New Brunswick, our aging population, out-migration, and low birth rate rank right up there with our public debt.
When our current cohort of Baby Boomers retire and wind down (and yes, eventually leave this world for a better place), our economic capacity will be devastated and our population will decline significantly. We just don’t the people to replace them.
This post isn’t so much about our aging population. We can’t stop people from aging.
It’s about our MISSING population. And why we’re going to keep losing people and fail to attract newcomers unless we make some changes.
Dr. Michael Haan (now at the University of Western Ontario) did some research while working at UNB about the people who have left, why they left, and what we can learn from provinces that have grown their populations and those that haven’t (like ours).
Here’s a summary of his findings.
50,000 Baby Boomers left NB. What we can learn from them
More than 50,000 Baby Boomers left New Brunswick while in their 20s and established careers and families elsewhere. Dr. Haan, now a Canada Research Chair in Migration and Ethnic Relations, studied this cohort of “exiled New Brunswickers” and found the following:
- More than 90% of New Brunswick Baby Boomers moved to one of Canada’s 20 largest cities (none of which are located in NB). They didn’t leave to go to a particular province. They left to go to a city.
- When they left, they were just like other New Brunswickers of the same age: likely to be unemployed, less likely to be high earners, and less likely to be self-employed.
- How did they make out? Years later, the New Brunswick Baby Boomers who left for larger cities are:
- twice as likely to own a business than those who stayed in NB,
- three times as likely to have a university degree, and
- FOUR times more likely to earn more than $100K per year.
Why some provinces grow and others don’t
Dr. Haan can’t say with absolute accuracy WHY certain provinces have succeeded in attracting people and certain provinces have not. There are certainly multiple factors. For example, there is no question that the federal government has disproportionately invested in Ontario and Quebec over the past 150 years.
But that’s not the only reason. In fact, evidence points out that it may not be the main reason.
There are other–more global–factors at play.
The one major thing that growing provinces have in common is their high rates of urbanization.
There is a great deal of evidence throughout the world that urban environments attract people and grow populations. For thousands of years, cities have been magnets for people. And Canada’s population trends over the past 150 years show that it is as true here as anywhere else in the world.
Provinces with the highest rates of urbanization have grown their numbers at healthy rates. The rest of us haven’t.
In fact, New Brunswick has one of the lowest rates of urbanization in the country.
So is population growth even possible in New Brunswick?
Dr. Haan concludes that after about 30 years, population decline in New Brunswick is inevitable. There is likely no way we can attract (and retain) enough immigrants to make up for the Baby Boom. So we need to starting thinking now about what New Brunswick looks like with 100,000 fewer people 30 years from now.
And we can at least to try to lesson the decline as much as possible. And if you believe global population and demographic trends, our cities represent our best chance of attracting people.
Ask yourself objectively:
- Can New Brunswick cities compete with other cities in Canada?
- Do our cities offer the lifestyle, amenities, services, transportation, and opportunities of other cities?
- If not, how can we improve them?
Those are questions that need to be addressed in the next election. Because planning for 30 years from now starts today. Because if our cities can’t even attract people, the rest of the province doesn’t stand a chance.