DON MILLS: Immigrants key to population growth

Atlantic Canada’s population is finally growing after decades of slow or stagnant growth.

For the first time in living memory, the population of Atlantic Canada grew faster than the Canadian population as a whole last year (1.5% versus 1%).

Prince Edward Island experienced unprecedented growth of 2.8% last year alone. Even Newfoundland and Labrador, which had lost population since the last census, recorded modest population growth last year.

This is the best possible news for our region, which was suffering from a rapidly aging population and a declining workforce.

The last period of reasonable population growth was when baby boomers had children. Since then, birth rates have continued to decline in the region to the point that there are more deaths than births in most regions. Birth rates in the region are well below the population replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman (currently 1.5 on average in Canada) needed to prevent population decline.

Population growth in Canada depends almost entirely on immigration. Fortunately, Atlantic Canada shares the immigration coming into the country.

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs sees his province reaching a population of one million by 2040. Nova Scotia recently passed the milestone, and Premier Tim Houston has considered increasing the population to two million by 2060.

This is an ambitious goal that would require much higher growth (average of 1.8% per year) than is currently the case. This is probably unachievable, especially from an infrastructure perspective where housing affordability and availability is an issue. Nevertheless, this represents a more optimistic ambition.

Advocacy for ambitious growth

The Century Initiative was founded in 2015 to advocate for a long-term strategy to grow Canada’s population to 100 million by the end of the century, primarily through increased immigration. It is a non-partisan network of Canadians from the business, academic and charitable sectors. Its stated mission is to “lead, enable, and support the long-term thinking and planning needed to manage this growth well and ensure a high quality of life and standard of living for all.”

This ambitious goal is based on the fact that our aging population, declining birth rate and shrinking workforce will negatively impact long-term economic growth and weaken the government’s ability to fund public services. , in particular health care and old age security.

The initiative argues that a population of 100 million would increase Canada’s influence in the world. Canada, with a population of 38.5 million, ranks 36th in the world in terms of size. Egypt, with 102 million, is 14th.

Most countries are growing much slower than Canada and many are in decline. Japan, with a population of 127 million, is expected to reach 95 million by mid-century. China, a key source of immigrants to Canada, is expected to decline by 400 million by the end of the century.

The Century Initiative advocates increasing immigration to meet its goal, starting with an average target of 435,000 new immigrants in the current decade, rising to an average of more than one million per year in the last decade of the century. It should be noted that Canada has welcomed over 400,000 immigrants in the past 12 months and the federal government has set a high immigration target for the near future.

Immigrant attraction challenges

At the same time, based on the work of Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson in their book Empty Planet, it is increasingly likely that world population will peak by 2050 before beginning to decline.

The current world population is 7.9 billion. Based on their projections, Bricker and Ibbitson expect it to peak at around nine billion by mid-century before starting to decline (well below the UN estimate of 11 billion by the end of the century).

In this scenario, a target of 100 million is all the more ambitious since Canada’s population growth is entirely linked to immigration, which will become increasingly competitive for countries seeking to attract newcomers.

Even at Canada’s current growth rate, the population will reach 86 million by 2100.

Impact on the region

The national population share of Atlantic Canada is 6.6%. Recent growth in the region has halted the decline in the region’s share over the past decades.

If the region were to maintain its current share, by the end of this century we could expect the population of Atlantic Canada to be between 6 and 7 million people if the goal of the Initiative of the Century were to be achieved. This would mean that the region would have its first city of one million inhabitants.

Halifax’s population is 460,000 and it is the second fastest growing city in Canada. If it were to grow at its current rate of 2%, the population would certainly exceed the target well before the end of the century. I would argue, however, that such a growth rate is unsustainable from an infrastructure perspective, and that a 1% growth rate is more desirable and would mean that Halifax’s population would reach one million by 2100. Nova Scotia would reach a population of 2.2 million. .

I advocated for a population target of 1% per year, allowing the economy and infrastructure to grow sustainably. This rate of growth would mean that the population of New Brunswick would reach 1.7 million by the end of the century, that of Prince Edward Island would be 360,000 and Newfoundland and Labrador would reach 1.1 million.

The end of the century may still seem a long way off, but it is increasingly clear that the competition for people to facilitate economic growth and prosperity is on. With birth rates well below replacement, attracting people from other countries is the only way to ensure the availability of these resources. Fortunately, Atlantic Canada is fully aware of this challenge and is making progress in attracting people to the region. Unfortunately, this will likely become more difficult over time.

Don Mills is the former CEO and owner of Corporate Research Associates Inc. (now Narrative Research), an active entrepreneur and advocate for change in Atlantic Canada.

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