Former premier Danny Williams didn’t mince words when reporters asked him about a Conference Board of Canada forecast which predicts a drop in population for the province over the coming decades.
Danny Williams told reporters Monday he strongly disagrees with the Conference Board of Canada’s prediction that Newfoundland and Labrador’s population will plummet. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
“In my opinion, it’s absolute bullshit. That’s the simplest way I can put it,” he said.
“When I first got into government, the first presentation I had from the Department of Finance told me that within years, we were going to be below 500,000 people. Well, right now, I think the number I saw today was 525 or 527. We’ve grown by 18,000 people. So where do they come up with this?”
The Conference Board is a non-partisan research and analysis organization which looks at economic and public policy issues.
Marie-Christine Bernard, associate director for the Conference Board for provincial forecasts, said the board looks at economic data, demographic information, and forecast economic developments to come up with the numbers.
Its report has not been finalized, and is not publicly available, but the board says that by 2035 the population of the province will drop by more than 40,000 to around 482,000.
“If you consider the factors that we now have and that we now know, this is the forecast that we came up with. The fertility rate in Newfoundland is quite low, if not one of the lowest in Canada,” Bernard said. “There’s already more deaths than the number of births in Newfoundland right now.”
Williams dismissed that analysis.
He said as long as the province has a strong economy, fuelled by oil and natural resource development, then people will move here to work and live.
“We need to create a good environment for a place for people to work and live, but you know, we’ve got all the right assets here,” he said. “By way of an example in the offshore, our basins out there — the seismic work that’s been done in the offshore — is three times the size of the North Sea. That’s how big these potential basins are. It’s equivalent to the size of the gulf of Mexico. We’ve only drilled 207 wells out there; in the North Sea, Norway and Britain have drilled 5,500 wells.”
Bernard acknowledged that population levels are closely tied to economic prosperity, and more offshore development could mean a change in population forecast, but she said based on the data and the forecast model the Conference Board uses, the board is seeing a drop in population in the long term.
“I agree with him there’s a lot of projects, there’s a lot of momentum in the oil industry. There’s also some potential for additional projects to be developed,” she said. “We look at the longer term. We know that the population is aging in Canada and more so in the Atlantic Provinces.”
Williams was speaking to reporters Monday following an announcement about his 2,400-acre real estate development in Southlands.
The project will include as many as 5,000 new residential units in the St. John’s region.
“I’m putting my money where my mouth is, because we’re going to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on this project out here over the course of life of the project, and I wouldn’t be doing that if I didn’t believe in Newfoundland and Labrador,” he said.