Attracting more people key to Atlantic Canada’s future
It is no secret that Atlantic Canada faces demographic challenges. In addition to having the oldest population in the country, the region has often in the past faced a situation where youth left in search of good jobs in Central and Western Canadian provinces.
However, recent population estimates from Statistics Canada show that over the past half decade (and especially more recently) things have changed. In these recent years more Canadians have come to the region than have left for other provinces.
It would be a mistake, however, to assume that the recent influx of migrants from the rest of Canada means that the issue of interprovincial outmigration has been solved. While the region may have some advantages (for example, housing costs), the underlying economic problems that have caused decades of outmigration still exist.
First, let’s consider the scale of the problem. One recent study quantified the number of people who have left the region for other provinces and found that between 2000/01 and 2019/20, 66,396 more people left Atlantic Canada for other provinces than came to the region from elsewhere. The majority of those who have left the region were working-aged people between the ages of 20 and 44.
The reason for the recent change, with more people coming to the region than leaving, has not necessarily come about because of positive economic developments in Atlantic Canada. Rather, the Alberta and Ontario economies have stagnated. These two provinces have been the primary destination for Atlantic Canadian outmigrants in recent years. With fewer good jobs to be found in Alberta and Ontario, it is not surprising that fewer people have been leaving Atlantic Canada.
If the economies in the two main destination provinces for Atlantic Canadians improve it is reasonable, all else being equal, to expect the longer-term reality of outmigration to resume.
So, what can the region do to retain the new arrivals for the long term and attract and retain more people going forward? Historical evidence clearly shows that people tend to move to places with strong economies, in search of jobs and opportunity. Therefore, governments in the region must focus on creating the conditions for stronger economic growth and the creation of good jobs.
Achieving this objective will require substantial policy reform. The region is still contending with the four provinces having among the highest tax burdens in North America, a weak climate for investment, and economies that are dominated by government.
In sum, the recent inflow of people to Atlantic Canada does not mean that the longer term problem of outmigration has been solved. Substantial policy reform can help the economy grow over time, creating the jobs and opportunities that will induce working-age people to come and stay in the region.