Shrinking population growing problem in Atlantic Canada: think-tank

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HALIFAX - Atlantic Canada stands to lose hundreds of thousands of workers over the next several decades as it contends with a shrinking population, a new study prepared for a Halifax-based think-tank has found.
In a report on population and the labour force, the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies says the region is experiencing a "population crunch" that's expected to accelerate as people grow older.
The report is a follow-up to a 1998 AIMS study that predicted Atlantic Canada's population would grow by about 35,000 people in the ensuing 10 years.
However, the latest study says the region's population had actually shrunk by about 47,000 people as of 2006 and will likely continue to drop. By 2046, that number is expected to swell to 272,800, the report says.
"Population has declined a lot faster than they thought it was going to back 10 years ago," Charles Cirtwill, president and CEO of AIMS, said in an interview Monday.
The study's authors cite a number of reasons for the decline: the trouble of attracting immigrants to the region, an aging generation of baby boomers, low fertility rates and out-migration to other parts of Canada.
The East Coast, in particular, has witnessed an exodus of young people who've been lured out West with the promise of stable jobs and big paycheques.
Newfoundland and Labrador's population is expected to be hit the hardest, according to the study. It predicts the population in that province will plummet from 510,000 people to about 390,000 by 2046.
On a positive note, the study says the Atlantic region has been successful in boosting participation in the labour force in the last decade despite a dropping population, particularly among women.
But the trend isn't expected to last.
The study estimates a smaller population by 2046 will result in the loss of about 100,000 workers each in Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, and 13,000 workers for Prince Edward Island.
"As we get older ... and as there are fewer of us, our capacity to get people into the economy is actually going to be weakened," said Cirtwill.
While it's important for the region to continue efforts to attract immigrants and boost the birth rate to supplement a declining population, Cirtwill said Atlantic Canadians may need to change their thinking.
"For the most part, we're going to continue to want our quality of life, our standard of living, we're going to want to see our economy keep going," he said.
"That's going to mean finding ways to do it with fewer people."
As the population dips and the rate of growth in the labour force diminishes, certain jobs might end up becoming automated, he said.
"Anywhere where a service industry can be replaced with technology, that's going to happen simply because there's not going to be anyone to stand behind that counter anymore," he said.
"It's not so much that we're setting policies that are driving people away, it's that there are no people anymore."
The study also says special attention should be paid to big-budget items such as education and health care as the population changes and the demand for such services grows or shrinks.
Cirtwill said Atlantic Canada has been feeling the effects of a labour shortage for at least six years. But while the region is leading the rest of the country in that respect, he said it's not necessarily a bad thing because it is also ahead in looking for ways to respond to the problem.
"We may actually be able to draw people back here because we've addressed it sooner than places like Alberta and Ontario have," said Cirtwill.
"We have to realize that productivity and doing the best with the people we have has to be our priority over the short term."

Organizations: AIMS, Atlantic Institute for Market Studies

Geographic location: Atlantic Canada, HALIFAX, Newfoundland and Labrador The East Coast New Brunswick Nova Scotia Prince Edward Island Alberta Ontario

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Recent comments

  • Steve
    February 24, 2010 - 23:46

    I agree Pride, take care of atlantic canadians and stop trying to just fill the land with immigrants.

    If you want people to STAY here, lower taxes and increase wages. I can't understand why things are so expensive here compared to ANY province west of us - and we have the highest income taxe rates and sales tax!

    I don't see how the gov can get higher wages though - that is a business thing and all they can do is try to bring in more businesses.

  • Andrea
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    As a come from away (10 years ago) I absolutely LOVE Nova Scotia, but have to say that it takes a pretty brave soul to come here. Jobs are scarce, taxes are high, health care is shaky, and no provincial government party seems to be able to set up a common sense business solution to attract investors to this province! Personally, I'd like to see the leaders of Nova Scotia's successful small to mid-size businesses tackle this problem, and write a strategic business and marketing plan for the province that would get it on the right track. HEAR THAT GOVERNMENT? DON'T HIRE CONSULTANTS WHO THROW AROUND BIG WORDS FOR BIG BUCKS BUT OFFER NO SOLUTIONS, HIRE THOSE WHO HAVE ALREADY BEEN SUCCESSFUL!!!! Protect the environment from exploitation and destruction, but use the natural resources right at our fingertips. This province doesn't have too much longer to wait before it becomes a financial disaster... Just my two cents worth.

  • Pride and Tradition
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    I see this question over and over and the answer is simple. Payed the skilled workers a decent wage(we are not, compared to other parts of Canada) and we will stay here to work rather than going west for work. Start pushing skilled work to those coming out of school and pay them well, and they will stay here too. The answer is NOT, I repeat, NOT bringing unskilled immigrants into the Maritimes. Mr Gov't PLEASE wake up and see this. Look after your own people FIRST!

  • Jennifer
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    Or you can stop fighting over the Sanctuary and open it up for exploration. Join the West in discovering the natural resources and invest in them. Many people would love to return home, but not by giving up a corporate job in the West making 4 - 5 times what a person would make living back there, or a job in the oilfields making 10 times higher wages, all with full benefits, stocks, savings and retirement plans (that WILL be there for me when I retire). Money talks... you need industry to provide it. You are all too busy arguing over the poor moose and salmon populations that have declined or diminished to realize the answer is right there under your feet!
    In MY OPINION, of course...

  • Robert
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    Pay them more? How is that going to help when the industries we have now (the ones you'll force to pay more) simply move to locations where they can pay less? The answer is not to arbitrarily raise wages. The answer is to lower taxes, lower prices on essentials/utilities and improve services. This is what will make people more interested in staying here. You can get higher wages in many areas so raising them here, to compete with greener pastures, isn't an ideal solution. Make it more attractive for people to live, and invest, here is the answer. The more we raise taxes the worse we get because the people who can still afford to live here will simply leave taking their incomes with them.

    Lowering taxes and prices will make people want to stay.

  • Don
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    As one the left Nova Scotia for the military after that oil patch and self employment I would dearly love to return to Pictou County and invest in a business most likely property development. Question, why do the four principal towns in Pictou County not share services and governance? Too many egos in one basket?
    After several exploratory investigative research trips to the area and other parts of NS, I am of the opinion that high taxes, bureaucratic regulatory roadblocks, high cost of living, NYMBIs frustrate most potential small business developers from moving to the province or if they do hasten their departure. However if one has some far out day dream to employ every person in the Province or get the car works back to wartime production levels the governments will ignore/change laws and back up and dump the concession money truck until a clam can see its not going to work. Solve some of the real issues by taking action. The shortage of doctors for instance, recognize credentials from other countries, no taxes for 1st five years, Ok private clinics, hospitals. Dwindling population, have some concession for former residents to return to retire. Here in BC I can defer my property taxes and have them paid by my estate. NS is one of the most beautiful places on earth and that goes double for the residents. Pardon my poetic license, as the saying goes, good looks and four dollars will get you a latte.