Monday, 4 July 2016

Out-Migration 2.0

Out-Migration 2.0

By: Ryan Young

It was just over a year ago that the former PC government announced their strategy to tackle negative population growth in this province. The plan: Live Here, Work Here, Belong Here, certainly lacked measurable goals, which was the major flaw of most PC policy, but it did mean that the government was at least acknowledging that the issue of population growth needed to be addressed.

To get a real accurate look at our population change, we need to go back to the last glory days of rural Newfoundland. In 1992, Newfoundland reached its peak population of 580 000. That same year saw the cod moratorium and the beginning of the largest out-migration in our history. Around the bay, no matter how bad things were, you could always fish. When that birthright was taken away in 1992, the exodus began. Over the next 15 years, the population had dropped by more than 70 000 people to just 509 000 in 2007. Many of the ones who left the province for greener pastures were the young families with children.

Although the population of Newfoundland and Labrador actually grew by 19 000 people between 2008 and 2013, the overall downward trend has led the Conference Board of Canada to predict that our population will decrease by more than 45 000 people, to around 485 000 by 2035. Perhaps even more disturbing is that by 2035, more than 30% of the total population will be made up of seniors. The cumulative effect of all of those young families leaving the province is catching up with us, and we are not ready for this major demographic shift.

Last week it was announced that the provincial population had dropped by 2500 people in 2015. With the measures contained in Budget 2016 and the total abandonment of the population growth strategy, we can expect that the numbers for 2016 will be much larger than 2500. Many have already left in search of better opportunities, and with little opportunity for new, debt-laden graduates, there is not much to entice our young families to stay and contribute to a real stronger tomorrow.

If you are asking yourself why all of this is important to you, I’ll put it in the simple terms that anyone can understand. If our population continues to drop, that means a smaller tax base for the government to collect from. That means that in order to maintain revenue levels, governments will have to continue to raise taxes to provide services. Simply put, it will cost you more money if we don’t find a way to fix the problem. On top of the tax base, an aging population also means increased healthcare costs, which again will have to be paid for by the limited number of tax payers left in the province. It is a dangerous combination, and our government seems quite content to leave the problem for future generations to figure out.

The measures contained in Budget 2016 were short sighted for a number of reasons, but maybe most important of all is the effect that it will have on our population. The Conference Board predictions were based on natural trends and did not take into account the extra financial burdens that would contribute to a new wave of out-migration. With the province in a recession and no relief in sight, it is reasonable to assume that the rate of depopulation will continue to increase. A perfect storm is gathering that has the potential to leave our province in financial ruin, without enough capital to provide adequate services to our aging population.

So how do we turn the trend around? There is no quick fix or magic solution. It will take a combination of new measures and policy shifts that will need to be implemented with long-term, measurable, goals. It will take time, but if we act now we can attempt to reverse the trend and start to grow our population.

Immigration is certainly part of the solution, but I am skeptical of how much long-term growth we can realistically expect from attracting new residents to the province. The biggest problem is that Newfoundland and Labrador does not have any large ethnic communities. While some immigrants come and build a new life here, the vast majority end up moving on to larger centers such as Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver where there are more social and economic opportunities, and often large communities from their native homes, established by previous immigrants. It is unlikely that this trend will change anytime soon, and for that reason, immigration can only act as a partial solution to the population problem.

In order to grow our population, the most important thing we need to do is provide a stable economy and better support for our families and young people. We need to invest in real economic diversification that includes investing in Newfoundlander's. We need to provide better support for small business and to think outside the box to find solutions to renewing our rural economy. We are blessed with an abundance of talent and ingenuity in this province and we need to find ways to tap into that spirit through targeted investments in order to create a stable economy that will encourage our young leaders to stay at home and raise a family.

While we rebuild our economy, we must also do better in supporting our young families. Increased child care supports and subsidies are needed to ensure greater workplace participation, especially by women. We must also work with our federal government to develop better parental leave options that encourage families to have more children. In my work with the provincial child care coalition, one reoccurring theme has been that people want to have more children, but it is just too expensive. When you consider that a family with an infant and a toddler in St. John’s will pay around $25 000 a year for child care, it is easy to see why they don’t consider having a third child. In rural areas of the province, the problem is often lack of any child care supports at all. ¾ of all children in Newfoundland and Labrador have no access to registered child care. If we really want to encourage our young families to stay here and have more children, we need to support them.

Keeping our young graduates in the province is another major issue that needs to be addressed if we are going to grow our population. “Brain Drain” has been an ongoing issue for this province for decades. Many of our best and brightest minds leave the province in search of opportunities that are not available to them here. The first thing we need to do is facilitate more of our young people to receive a post-secondary education. Cancelling tuition grants was another very short-sighted decision by this government. It will lead to lower enrollment numbers and less qualified people in our workforce. We need to encourage our youth to be educated and available for future growth opportunities. In order to keep our youth here we must also continue to invest in research and development and to support our graduates to become entrepreneurs and the new leaders of our economy.

We can do it. We can turn it around. All we need is someone with the political will to realize how big the problem is, and how important it is that we tackle it head on. There are many solutions that we could explore to grow our population but unfortunately none of them can be found in Budget 2016. Unless we want to see another mass out-migration like1992, we need to start working together to build a Newfoundland and Labrador that can support its own people. We have everything we need, except the will to change.


  1. Great post.....thanks for sharing!

  2. There are other opportunities, most of which I brought to the attention of our MHA Gambin-Walsh as she had asked me for input. She has subsequently blocked me. Why on earth are we not attracting Syrians, some expert farmers, by allotting them crown land which would be theirs to keep after a specified time period?

    Why in God's name are we not expanding the opportunities for tourists? I'm in the hospitality industry and here are the major complaints: no cell phone service in large rural tourist areas (looking at you St. Mary's, St. Vincent's, Riverhead), frightening roads littered with potholes, and the biggest one of all? Nowhere to spend their money in rural Newfoundland. They are looking for artisan products. Immigration HAS to happen or we may just as well curl up and die. Sustainability and green energy have also not been touched upon here with the pols in a choke hold by Nalcor et al.
    Thanks for a well-written take-down on this whole, sad and sorry state of affairs which frustrates me beyond belief. For instance why is there no bottle recycling plant in this province? Ground glass can be used with asphalt. Not to mention side artistic endeavours. I'll stop now. :D

  3. That's there plan though. The more of us that leave or die, the sooner they can bring in Temporary Foreign Workers and abuse them instead.