By NBMC President Mike Timani:
There is a bright light on the horizon for New Brunswick and its name is immigration. Economists, academics, and leaders from civil society all recognize how much immigration matters, but I wonder – are New Brunswickers ready to start talking about immigration as one of the single most important investments our province can make in its future?
For the past four months, the media has been captivated by stories about how Canadians and New Brunswickers are welcoming Syrian refugees. Thanks to the coverage, a much needed discussion has reignited about the role of immigration in rebuilding our province, but we’re only skimming the surface.
New Brunswick is expecting 1,500 government assisted Syrian refugees throughout 2016. If we add this to the expected number of economic immigrants (skilled workers and entrepreneurs) who come each year, we may hit a total of 4,500 new permanent residents in New Brunswick in 2016. This is a great start, we need to maintain this momentum and build on our success by investing more in attraction and retention of newcomers.
To understand how serious this is getting, let’s take a look at our labour market growth since 1976. From 1976 to 1990, our labour market grew by 5,850 people. From 1991 to 2008, it grew by 2,933 more people. From 2009 to 2014 our labour market actually shrank by 217 people! On top of this, our own Department of Post Secondary Education, Training and Labour forecasts an additional 110,000 exits from our labour market over the next 10 years. The same forecasts point out that we will have a shortfall of roughly 40,000 workers when this wave of retirement takes place. The good news is we are not without recourse. Immigration can be our counter wave to decrease the shock of a declining population and increased retirements to our economy.
If we want new companies to come to New Brunswick, one of the first things they will look at is whether we have the labour force to support their operations. If we don’t, or they expect to have challenges securing labour, they are going to think twice about establishing their businesses here. Not to mention that if we don’t have the workforce, even our existing New Brunswick companies are going to continue to face unnecessary challenges to remain viable.
Without population growth, we will miss out on new business investments which will leave fewer people in the province carrying an increasing debt load, which now sits at roughly 13 billion. Why wouldn’t we embrace more immigration and welcome people who are willing to settle here and help to create a brighter future.
New Brunswick’s former Premier, Frank McKenna, wrote in an Op-ed for the Globe and Mail in January pointing out that Atlantic Premiers “need to make population growth their number-one priority and work together to create a new demographic destiny for Atlantic Canada.” Can you imagine what we could accomplish if we collectively decided that population growth is our number one priority?!
Richard Saillant, an economist from University of Moncton and author of “Over the Cliff”, has laid out that New Brunswick needs an annual increase of 1% to our population to be in step with the rest of Canada. He points out that if we achieve this, we might just have a chance of avoiding economic calamity in the years ahead.
Growth of 1% works out to roughly 7,500 people each year. With the year we just had (potentially up to 4,500 new residents), we are certainly getting closer, but we’re not close enough. We need to set ambitious targets like 10,000 new people each year, then gather the stakeholders to make this vision a reality. Ultimately, we need to make the attraction and retention of immigrants in New Brunswick a cornerstone of our economic growth strategy.
New Brunswick currently has a population growth strategy, but it will expire in March, 2017. We have less than a year to engage stakeholders, reflect on our challenges and opportunities and set some ambitious targets for population growth in the years to come. This conversation needs to involve our cities, our rural communities, our universities and colleges, our businesses, and our immigrant serving agencies. We need to come together and create an ambitious plan to grow our communities and grow our economy.
To help propel this important discussion, you can look forward to more commentaries over the coming months. This is the first in a series that the New Brunswick Multicultural Council will be putting together, on why immigration matters for our province right now and for future generations.