As New Brunswick needs immigrants the way a marathoner needs water, crossing the economic-development finish line is a goal that’s proving increasingly elusive.
Now, it seems, the province’s own systemic weaknesses and failings are taking a bitterly ironic toll on its ability to bolster its population and, therefore, productive workforce.
While spokespeople of either level of government are loath to publicly admit it, the problem is an outcropping of federal-provincial relations.
Ottawa sets the quota of newcomers for which each province and territory qualifies. These caps are largely, though not exclusively, based on demographic trends. Jurisdictions with relatively high populations, and growing job markets, qualify for correspondingly high numbers of foreign residents. In this context, New Brunswick finds itself queasily parked behind the immigration eight ball.
According to a CBC report last summer, “The departure of young people has quietly helped transform New Brunswick into Canada’s fastest-shrinking province. Statistics Canada says while Canada has grown by a million people in the last three years, New Brunswick has shrunk by 3,497.
“That’s equivalent to the entire population of the Town of Dalhousie, and double the decline experienced by Canada’s other two shrinking provinces – Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. Statistics Canada’s Patrick Charbonneau says the most recent numbers, which show the province lost 941 people during the first three months of 2015, is not only the biggest decline in the country, but the worst quarter the province has recorded in 35 years.
‘It’s the strongest decline since 1980,’ said Charbonneau.”
Meanwhile, according to another CBC report last month, “New Brunswick’s unemployment rate jumped to 9.3 per cent in January as the economy shed 1,100 jobs, (said) Statistics Canada. The monthly labour force report showed the province lost 4,600 full-time jobs to start 2016 and gained 3,500 part-time jobs. The overall unemployment rate rose to 9.3 per cent up from 8.9 per cent in December. . . The participation rate, which is the number of adults in the labour force or actively trying to get a job, of 62.3, is lower than provinces with stronger economies.”
All of which militates against New Brunswick’s chances of boosting the number of immigrants it can welcome to its shores – a requirement Premier Brian Gallant, himself, has said will be crucial to rebuilding the provincial economy.
“New Brunswick is facing a number of significant population challenges, including youth outmigration and a population which is aging at one of the fastest rates in Canada,” he said last year, as reported in the Saint John Telegraph-Journal. “When retirees leave the workforce, we must access new workers to ensure our economy thrives. As youth outmigration trends are projected to remain high, we are looking towards immigration as a tool for building our workforce.”
In fact, though, the federal government has only recently refused to reconsider the number of immigrants allocated each year, through the Provincial Nominee Program, to New Brunswick.
Said a spokesperson for Immigration Minister John McCallum in a Telegraph-Journal piece earlier this month: “Provinces and territories were consulted on 2016 levels in the summer and fall of 2015 and in early 2016. Their views were incorporated into the plan and the Provincial Nominee Program levels were maintained at 2015 levels.”