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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  • blaine
    March 01, 2010 - 14:40

    how stupid can these people be? The population implosion of the past decade has been, to paraphrase Cirtwill, unexpected or surprising? C'mon, don't be that daft, man. When you have a resource-based economy, the lowest standard of living in the country, a tumbling birthrate that reaches back decades, and are absolutely lacking in great schools or in great tertiary sector industries that might draw talented young people in, why would you think that the population would swell like the AIMS report of 1998 claimed it would? This sort of thinking makes no sense to me at all. Incidentally, i find it humorous that immigration is considered one of the solutions insofar as there is plenty of evidence that immigration alone will not be enough to save canada - let alone the maritimes where they are steadily bleeding people and have been for years. And, oh, one more thing: we tend to blame men for everything in this country, but why are we not blaming women for refusing to have children? The laws favour them, the culture favours them and they can always go back to their job - but (they) still put buying a new pair of shoes ahead of children. In a country where men have no reproductive rights to speak of (and where fathers are usually discriminated against by the legal system at every turn), this is one problem (they) can't pin on men.

  • girl
    March 01, 2010 - 14:40

    John, you couldn't have said it better. I miss Nova Scotia alot and I would love to live there but you hit the nail on the head as to why young people would want to stay there. I'm sorry I'm not going to make a career working at the dollar store for min. wage and they're not very willing to send me to school to improve my skills either.
    They don't see it the way we do.

  • john
    March 01, 2010 - 14:39

    WHy would people stay here , with low wages, higher taxes and user fees , higher heating fuel and gasoline taxes, poor roads, etc.

    The government of NS has to lower taxes, and impove services but be fiscally responsible and not going after pie in the sky dreams - OR admit NS is a great retirement home and plan for that.

    Saskatchewan, Alberta and other places are far more lucrative and attractive to younger wage earners and tuitions are lower as well.

    Tax the rich, not the poor, Make it realistic for younger folks to stay and not at poor paying call center jobs, and part time retail positions.

  • Jason
    March 01, 2010 - 14:39

    Yeah .. I am young folk that had to leave NS because there were simply no jobs. I got tired of working call centre jobs and working for really low wages with really high taxes. All the good jobs is a you have to know someone in order to get in, and once a person lands it, there isn't much attrition. It just wasn't profitable and leaving day by day with your money plays with your sanity. So i made the change and went south.... and i've never been happier. Sorry NS.. I love yah, but I can't live with yah. But of course I will retire there.