Government says population strategy pending

James McLeod
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Kevin O'Brien

Advanced Education and Skills Minister Kevin O’Brien says something should be coming soon — maybe even within a couple of weeks — but his critics say that the government is already much, much too late.

In the 2011 general election, the Progressive Conservatives promised they would work to increase the population of the province.

“We are committed to cultivating conditions that enable families and communities to grow,” the official party platform says. “We will develop a Newfoundland and Labrador population growth strategy focused on creating and improving conditions favourable to in-migration and an increasedbirth rate.”

But nearly 2 1/2 years later, they still haven’t presented a strategy for population growth. All of this comes against the backdrop of a Conference Board of Canada prediction that within a couple of decades, the Newfoundland and Labrador population will shrink by tens of thousands of people, and the steadily aging population will place a massive burden on the reduced tax base.

O’Brien said they’ve been working steadily on their population growth plan, and the final strategy will likely be done by Canada Day.

In the meantime, within a couple of weeks, he said the government will be publishing a discussion paper that sums up what they heard during provincewide consultations held last year. He said it’s a complex job, and it couldn’t have been done in any less than 2 1/2 years.

“I caution people that think that you can throw a strategy together in a year or two and it’s all going to be good. I don’t believe in that. I believe in doing it right the first time around,” he said. “It spreads across many departments, takes in many aspects of government — just to highlight a couple, all our social programs, economic programs and all that kind of good stuff.”

PC party leadership candidate Bill Barry is unimpressed.

“Governments act on a basis that a problem postponed is one solved. So how does government react to a problem? Well, the first thing they do is form a committee and they’ll committee it to death,” he said. “We can’t afford to not engage immediately. Every year that we don’t try to set a plan and policies to deal with the issues, it makes the solution harder.”

Barry, O’Brien and both opposition parties seemed to agree, in general terms, that the solution is a combination of better child care and steady jobs for young people that will convince them to stay in the province. Several people pointed out that the current megaproject economy of Muskrat Falls, Voisey’s Bay, Hebron and so on. Is training young people with skilled trades, but once the project is done, they often move away to find steady work elsewhere in Canada.

On other aspects of the issue, there’s some disagreement. One part of the population growth discussion is about where exactly people live. Barry said he doesn’t believe the government can totally reverse the trend of shrinking rural communities, and should instead focus on expanding the communities that can be saved.

“Is that trend going to reverse? probably not.” he said. “What I’m saying is we can’t defeat the whole trend, but maybe if we’re having a real discussion as to where investments go so we end up with not everybody living on the Avalon Peninsula, how about that for a start?”

Liberal MHA Lisa Dempster said she believes the government can reverse the trend and repopulate rural Newfoundland and Labrador.

“A Liberal government that I am a part of, I will be pushing to see that we create a new economic

development model to stimulate economic growth in rural areas in the province,”

she said. “Our rural towns are bleeding out slowly, but I also believe that health-wise, mentally, we live in the best part of the province. We have the best quality of life.”

Dempster also pointed to child care and jobs as the answer.

So did New Democrat Leader Lorraine Michael. She said big projects like Muskrat Falls don’t do much to stabilize or bolster the shrinking population in the long term.

“The short-term jobs that exist through construction are not the kinds of jobs that will build our population,” she said. "What is their plan for diversification of the economy to come up with permanent jobs that will keep young people here?”

Twitter: TelegramJames

Organizations: Board of Canada

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Newfoundlandand Labrador, Hebron

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Recent comments

  • piyush
    February 21, 2014 - 07:28


  • HarbourMaster
    February 16, 2014 - 14:53

    Where has Kevin O'Brien been hiding? Looks like he is somewhat in charge of population growth ... thought that what was Ross Reid's job? As the demodraphics show females are now having 1.6 children. At that rate we will soon disappear but as a former premier says bulsxxt ! The exodus will continue to the mainland as one blogger says we cannot afford to be paid the lowest wages and have the highest electricity bill. It is becoming too expensive to live here ! Why? It is all about greed. The government is wasting its money on mega projects like Muskrat Falls rather than sharing some of the offshore wealth by reducing taxes. It is allowing a very few to fill their pockets. They are letting developers charge $200,000 for a building lot when we have lots of crown land. They are not addressing the pension liabilty hoping that it will go away and we have way too many politicians and civil servants. And why do we have the lowest birth rate in Canada. It is because families cannot afford to have more children. It is too expensive to live here. The government is not trying to help us out but stick it to us by doubling our electricity bill (as an example).

  • david
    February 16, 2014 - 12:33

    Here's the only population strategy that has ever worked anywhere : an economy with decent jobs for those who want one, and a health care system that is effective in keeping people alive. How about you work on those things, instead of handing out financial bribes for people (without jobs or health care) to have more children? Eejots.

  • SayWhat
    February 16, 2014 - 11:41

    Dear Mr.Barry what is the difference between committees that did nothing and discussion groups that are impotent from the start? Answer..not much.

  • Cloner
    February 16, 2014 - 09:49

    I suppose they could breed more salmon and pollute the rest of the island outside the over pass. What people the chemical infested fish don't kill will fill the hospitals on the Avalon, then we will all be there and people King, Tracey Perry won't have to worry about people being upset at them all the time for not filling all the promises and the lies they have told won't get dealt with.

  • Harry
    February 16, 2014 - 08:59

    Mr O'Brien, In migration isn't the answer to our problem, first we have to take care of our people, Do understand what's unfolding in our town's and city concerning foreign workers? for some reason foreign workers get more hour of pay, any over time to be work, is giving to the foreign worker first. In other words our tax dollars are being use again us. Please explain this reason. Is the government hoping our young men and women will become involve with those foreigner, and started having babies to populates our province? Mr Barry on ( Feb 06/2014 you were ask a question by Mr David Boyd of Twillingate) What do you say, Mr Barry? Sir I read your answer to his question, I have to say your answer was coming out of both side of your month, One part for the people, and the other part for you. Sorry sir you won't be getting my vote, for as I'm concern, straight forwards question require straight forwards answer, Lisa my dear, Lets go back a few month's to June 24/2013, Concerning the Liberal leadership race, The only person who came forward, at that time who wanted to build the economy for the people was Charles Murphy of corner brook, now its look like the Liberal are taking a page from his funny, the man they said no too. Now wanted to use his ideas. .Lisa here my question to you, and the rest of your party, where do the liberal stand on Muskrat Falls? LOL...Can't answer its. just as I thought. More wind.

  • Dianne
    February 16, 2014 - 08:15

    @ Jay, Yes Lisa is as stupid as she sounds. That one of our problem, electing people who don't understand the issue of their district. Can we stop the flow of the people from our rural community, the answer is yes. But first we need a leader who can see past their nose. And if anyone think the liberal are the one the answer is no. That statement also a ply to the PC'S and the NDP's.

  • Ambrose
    February 16, 2014 - 06:25

    Just what I needs on a sunday morning , Good laugh from the Zebra party. Lisa explain to the people how is the Red Army going to build our economic, Just give us one plan, Back in 2011... Jim Bennett said the Liberal had a plans concerning the fishery, as of to date still nothing, Now Mr Ball put Sammy Claus in has fishery critic , Sammy is giving us the same song as Jim did. All Mr Ball talk about is Bill 29. As for the Muskrat Falls project your party is gone into hiding. Ye are just to chicken hearted to make a comment on that project.

  • John
    February 15, 2014 - 23:25

    Does anyone have an answer for this one. Traditionally, places that are booming, people move to live there. Al l the jobs, prosperity and money drives the flow of people to a place. Saskatchewan, also in a boom, has increased its population to 1.1 million-the highest it has ever been. It was at one million for decades but went up 100,000 in the last ten years. There is plenty of other examples including Toronto in the 1980s , Calgary in the 1970s, ..etc. all were booming and people moved there. Why not NL? Another question why such a low birth rate. Usually prosperity drives that up but we are not seeing that in NL either. Why not? Anybody?

    • yo mama
      February 16, 2014 - 08:43

      The young ones are too busy with their faces buried in cell phones and tablets to worry about such minor nusiances as life and their futures.

    • JD
      February 16, 2014 - 08:56

      John: Traditionally, Newfoundland has had a Mercantilism type government that is different than anywhere else. We ship out as much of our resources as possible and only import as little as is basically necessary. It's a system that has always left us dependent. The median wage for men in the province is $30,500 and the median wage for women in the province is $20,800. The median age is 38.

    • Brett
      February 16, 2014 - 09:37

      Because we're not booming. If you really look at the figures we're limping along at a rate slower than the booming areas. Also - would you move to an area that's up 6.5% one year then down 3% the next (gdp) up 4.5% one year then down 2% the next? How can you ensure you can provide for your family with all that variability. Also - it's not as if when we have a "down year" the gov't has a surplus or there are lots of opportunities. So basically - locals think it's booming here, but it's not even close.

    • saelcove
      February 16, 2014 - 11:03

      Because it cost a fortune to get on or of the island

  • We're Broke.
    February 15, 2014 - 20:17

    What young person would stay in NL knowing that practically all of their income will have to go toward paying for an over-inflated mortgage and a light bill that will be at least double what you would pay in another province? Who can afford children? The tradespeople who have $300-400 thousand dollar mortgages will be in for a terrible shock when the construction boom ends. EI won't cover their bills. They'll be leaving then, too. The rate payers of the province will pay 100% of the MF project. Oh, really? Where is that money going to come from? Who will be able to afford to live here under the crushing burden of bills and government taxes ? KD called the demographics scary before the MF project was sanctioned. Who did she think was going to pay the bill for MF? She was probably counting on the federal govt. to eventually have to take the hit for much of the $5 billion loan guarantee amount- letting us off the hook for at least that amount of the cost. $10 billion dollars financed over 50 years? Can we can handle that with our "scary population demographics"?

  • Corporate Psycho
    February 15, 2014 - 18:34

    Two and a half years and O'Brien thinks this is okay? What happened to Danny's $1000 baby deal? Did a Danny avail of the bonus?

  • Jay
    February 15, 2014 - 17:37

    Is Lisa Dempster as stupid as she sounds, or does she think the people in her district are that stupid? No government is going to reverse the trend of emigration in rural/isolated communities. It is not a simple matter of "jobs and child care" and it is not unique to this province. The vast majority of younger people simply do not want to live in these places anymore because there's nothing to do. That's why they're moving. Governments since Confederation have thrown token amounts of money at these rural communities to buy votes and give the appearance of doing something to re-vitalize these places, but nothing works. For years, a heavily subsidized fishery kept people in these areas stamped up, but for numerous reasons that's not an option anymore. Lately, we've gone to useless tourism projects, pretending that's a feasible industry. In reality, it's nothing but a waste of money, other than the votes it buys. What we really need is a politician who has the courage to take these communities off life support, and allow reality to set in, but unfortunately that's not going to happen. By the way, Ms Michaels, do you have any plans to diversify the economy? I've been looking for an excuse to support the NDP, but your ongoing pompous whining would turn a horse from his oats. Please get off your perch and try to add something positive to the province.