Ignore the warning at our peril

Randy Simms
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The Conference Board of Canada issued a long-term forecast last week that predicts challenging times ahead for Newfoundland and Labrador.

In its most recent forecast on population trends, the board reported that our happy province is going to lose a lot of people. The population is projected to decline from a high of about 527,000 souls down to 482,000 come 2035.

Marie-Christine Bernard, an associate director with the board, says this means much weaker economic prospects over the next 20 years.

“I would say it’s going to be a difficult situation for the province,” she said.

This kind of talk does not sit well with some people, especially those making long-term investments in the province. They see such talk as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Take the response from former premier Danny Williams, for example. He labelled the Conference Board report “bullshit.”

St. John’s Coun. Tom Hann did much the same thing.

“I don’t know what the methodology was, or how they did the research,” he said, “but I think they are way off-base.”

St. John’s Mayor Dennis O’Keefe agreed, saying, “I think former premier Williams summed it up very well today for the media.”

I have a problem with this dismissive approach. Labelling the report “bullshit” and discounting it because a Toronto-based organization did the work doesn’t make the report wrong. If the numbers deserve to be challenged then we should do so, and the government of Newfoundland and Labrador should take a lead in that, but it is dangerously naive on our part to simply ignore it because a former premier yells BS.

The Conference Board is hardly an amateur outfit. Those who do this work are experts and they don’t make predictions without significant indicators showing them potential outcomes.

They used available information and ongoing trends, both here at home and abroad, to run the kind of comparisons and simulations needed to come to their disturbing conclusions.

Like it or not, our immigration rate is low, our birth rate is low and we are aging faster then any other jurisdiction in the country.

For three years running we have recorded more deaths than births. Our birth rate is now 1.45 per woman — the second lowest in the nation.

Remember that $1,000 bucks-for-babies program that Williams brought us? According to the Conference Board, we saw a small spike in birth rates for a while, but in 2013 they once again fell back below rates recorded before the incentive was introduced. 

Statistics Canada demographer  Laurent Martel points out that the Canadian population is growing, even without immigration being included. In Canada, we have about 130,000 more births than deaths.

“Newfoundland and Labrador is the only province for which up to now we’ve seen three years of negative natural increase,” he said.

That means more deaths than births.

With a flippant remark, Williams dismisses the report and points to the expanding oil and gas sector as  our salvation. No doubt the oil industry will continue to grow and we will rely on it significantly in the near to long term. But we shouldn’t sit on our laurels and ignore the warning sent our way.

Government after government tells us we have to rely more on immigration to increase the population and we have to diversify the economy if we are to maintain “have” status. We  always seem to be working on a strategy of one kind or another.

Maybe it’s time to move beyond working on a strategy and start implementing one. What we’re doing now isn’t working well.

Advanced Education and Skills Minister Kevin O’Brien says immigration is netting us up to 700 newcomers a year. Is that success?

The government should take this seriously and put together a working group to either challenge the Conference Board findings or confirm them.

Simply labelling it BS and ignoring it is more disturbing than the actual numbers.

Randy Simms is a political commentator and broadcaster. He can be reached at rsimms@nf.sympatico.ca

Twitter: @RandyRsimms

Organizations: BS.The Conference Board, Statistics Canada

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

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Recent comments

  • Just Sayin
    February 17, 2014 - 08:55

    For whatever reason, aboriginal communities are growing in population, despite so much against them. We wish for immigration, from whereever. If only we had not killed off the Beothic, we would by now, perhaps, value them as human beings, and and asset to our province

  • ok
    February 17, 2014 - 00:31

    Make no wonder the population is declining. Who in there right mind would want to come here, live here and have childrennhere? All the comments made here shows how pessimistic NLer's are. What a bunch of whiners. The glass isn't half empty with this crowd it empty and broken never to be filled again. Nothing will ever get done here because we still are a bunch of whining pessimist. Dare not try to build anything or become succesful. If you do you're to be despised , envied and hated. That old question of how do you tell a NL lobster in a barrel of lobsters? He's the one dragging the ones trying to escape, back in. This applies to our culture more than ever lately. Most would rather sit around and wait for handouts fromOttawa than see our own suceed. Shameful.

  • Denis
    February 16, 2014 - 16:18

    I read that article some time ago and it mentioned that Ontario will start their down turn around the year 2047. Unfortunately it looks like NLis first on the list and according to the reports that's no BS.

  • E Ryan
    February 16, 2014 - 15:53

    When I read this at first, I thought it was going to happen tomorrow. However when I read that we have twenty-one years to work on the projection, I didn't tell everyone to come home at once. Maybe another Central Canada ploy.

    • Etta
      February 16, 2014 - 17:10

      How can the projection be "a ploy?" The projection either comes true or it doesn't.

  • Graham
    February 16, 2014 - 15:46

    Danny Williams cant see past the money he hopes to make . As usual the biggest amount of BULLSHIT is coming from the expert BULLSHITTER...Danny Williams himself.

  • JD
    February 16, 2014 - 14:22

    Did Danny , create a housing bubble for his development, by increasing the civil service by 20%. We had too many before , we have too many now. Who will want to move here with the highest heating costs in all of Canada when Muskrat Falls comes on stream ( once again thanks Danny). As for Dennis O'keefe, he ran to Danny when he thought he missed out on a Bruce Stringsteen concert and could not stop singing the praises of Glencrest ( Galaway) even though it is going to cost the city a fortune to service. This is the same man who did a study on George St to make it family friendly and is now doing a $30,000 study to see where they can dump snow other than the harbour. Give me a break. The two D's , Danny and Dennis , Defiant and Dummer .

    • B
      February 17, 2014 - 02:07

      "Dummer"???!!

  • Aub
    February 16, 2014 - 12:36

    The fishery (not the fish) is gone. The oil will not last forever. The population is naturally declining. People are continuing to move west for better job opportunities and better pay. Now we have Wabush Mines shutting down with a loss of 400 jobs, and it goes on and on. It's easy to see how the overall population of NL will drop.

  • John Q Public
    February 16, 2014 - 12:20

    Two thumbs up Randy! Danny Milliams (a "play on his richness...lol) quite as premier just as things were about to turn sour. The guy is now demonstrating that he is nothing more than a spoiled egotistical rich "kid". God help us if a future leader of this province "employs" Dammy Milliams as an adviser.

  • Robert
    February 16, 2014 - 12:20

    Amazes me how people will jump on Randy Simms Rants as some how they are gospel. That somehow he must know more then especially Mr. Williams. I do think that the topic needs some serious discussions and if that is Mr. Simms objective then that is a good thing! But as in the past what he holds out as facts is far too much like those who would condemn our seal fishery.......'just enough truth to make it all believable'! That our population is in decline can be said of anywhere else in Canada without immigration. I have said for many years that Newfoundland "must" find an effective way to keep/attract immigrants to our shores. I am thrilled to see that the recent labor shortages are being resolved by foreign workers. And for anyone to suggest "having more babies" is the answer is very close to being criminal!

    • Guy Incognito
      February 17, 2014 - 07:40

      Amazes me how many people continue to cling to Kind Danny's word as gospel

  • Paul
    February 16, 2014 - 11:37

    Thank you for some words of wisdom at least someone publicly acknowledges the seriousness of the finding. It is nice to see a public figure not afraid to stand-up to Dan and his wrath because you must realize he will be out publicly criticising you soon on this article. Just like the little scrum you had a little while back with him on the open line. lol This is a prime example of NL’ers problem we are not all free thinkers. Williams says BS so it must be and they all start jumping on the band wagon. It is very depressing to see how a lot of us always follow one person to the slaughter. We will never be free thinkers or what we can be if we continue to listen to the voice of one and don’t accept finding or criticism. Come on we don’t have to worry about population decline because Dan says so? Lol sheep to the slaughter... If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter. “George Washington”

  • saelcove
    February 16, 2014 - 10:52

    Williams has a hate for Ontario any time he talks of ontario in the past he always said upalong poor little man

  • Brett
    February 16, 2014 - 09:46

    Oil extraction is not growing. We are actually pulling less out of the ground annually and have been for a number of years. We are too small to build multiple GBS's at the same time and hence we can't actually get critical mass. I think we should allow some structures or more pieces to be built away so that we can actually increase the amount of work done here eventually and pull more people to the province instead of just having enough labour to do one project every 5 years. Also - did anyone read the population report from the summer created by the province where they talked about immigration? It was a farce. The province looked at immigrants and thinks they're all refugees. Quite frankly I want the millionaires from asia to come here not the refugees. You can't promise immigrants a do nothing lifestyle of relaxation. You're living and providing for your family, not on vacation. They don't promote MUN as a big draw, but it could be used that way. They push cracked sidewalks with kids playing street hockey in hand me down clothes and swing sets with weeds all around while kids use them. Or how about the model boat building and rughooking a ship (maybe it was cross stitch)... Who cares, that nonsense is not why you cross half way around the world with your family to live. You move for opportunity and the future. To provide for your family. To give your children opportunities. Too many people need to grow up, take a good hard look at the situation and stop trying to delude themselves and actually work towards solving the issues.

  • Marshall Art
    February 16, 2014 - 09:37

    Put yourself in Danny William's place. He's building a small city and now he's told our population is going to decline. NL is the only province that's had more deaths than births over the last three years. That's not bullshit, that's a simple fact. Danny Williams obviously just doesn't want anyone to tell him that.

  • david
    February 16, 2014 - 09:23

    "....No doubt the oil industry will continue to grow....." Actually, there is a whole lot of doubt about that. Finding economic offshore oil fields is probably the most technically challenging, expensive, and risky industry on Earth. It is not a "given" whatsoever. Obviously, any producing oil field is a depleting asset which, exactly like a mine, gets closer to its end every day it produces. Just offsetting normal decline is a challenge.....the concept of continued "growth" only comes after that difficult task. And the only people who have any say in whether the oil industry will "continue to grow here" are industry executives in Calgary and Houston..... not Newfoundland politicians. So,. in summary, these could very well be the best days Newfoundland will ever see from oil. That's just the way it is. And it fits the Conference Board report conclusions quite well.

  • Crazy
    February 16, 2014 - 08:25

    Who in their right mind would listen to Danny Williams, Just look at the mess he left us in. He said KD was the right person for the job in the beginning, Now he is say Tom Marshall is the right man, How many more bad decision do Danny have to make, before we open our eyes up.

  • Corporate Psycho
    February 16, 2014 - 08:17

    Williams has huge commercial interests at stake. Of course he will call it crap. O'Keefe thinks hitching his cart to Williams will make him look good. Try again Dennis.

  • Guy incognito
    February 16, 2014 - 06:49

    You said it Randy. despite what some naive people still believe, Just because king Danny says it's so doesn't make it automatically true. And Why would I care what Doc says about this? He knows about population prediction models now? Is he a statistician in his spare time now that he solved all John's' problems? Sad state of affairs.......