It would be a great thing if we could find all of the brain power, skill and energy that’s left this province, and drag it all back here.
But until we make some fundamental changes, there’s no way it’s going to happen.
People will leave for opportunities that — as a nearly broke province, with a high cost of living — we can’t match.
So the province’s latest survey on what it can do to entice people back here, complete with the dangling offer of a chance at a $300 travel voucher, may well solicit information.
But not information we can actually afford to act on.
The guts of the survey, as you might expect, are about why people leave, and what would make them come back. Strangely enough, though, the lists of questions are almost exactly the same.
Here are the proposed answers about leaving:
Why did you leave Newfoundland and Labrador? (Please check all that apply)
Relationship: Follow/be near spouse/partner
Relationship: Follow/be near children
Relationship: Follow/be near parents
Relationship: Follow/be near friends
Employment and school-related: To take a job
Employment and school-related: Change of career
Employment and school-related: Better employment opportunities
Employment and school-related: Entrepreneurial opportunities and support
Employment and school-related: Transferred by my employer
Employment and school-related: Job security
Employment and school-related: Recruited by a company outside the province
Employment and school-related: Increased access to professional networks/support systems
Employment and school-related: To attend post-secondary school/better educational opportunities
Quality of life: Better government services (health care, education, public transportation, etc.)
Quality of life: Availability of quality child care
Quality of life: Affordable cost of living
Quality of life: Health and well-being (including better work-life balance)
Quality of life: More leisure/cultural options
Quality of life: Safety and security
Quality of life: Better weather
Quality of life: Live in a larger and more diverse place
Other factors (please specify)
So the province’s latest survey on what it can do to entice people back here, complete with the dangling offer of a chance at a $300 travel voucher, may well solicit information. But not information we can actually afford to act on.
There are only a few factors that are different in “What, if any, factors would influence you to return to and stay in Newfoundland and Labrador today or in the next few years?”
There’s the blunt answer “Nothing,” atop the reasons you might have for returning.
Lopped off the bottom are “better weather” and “live in a larger and more diverse place” — presumably, because the government can’t possibly do anything about either of those.
But many of the questions about whether or not you’d return are also far beyond what the government can do anything about; the government can’t make your company transfer you back to this province, nor can it make you follow your partner back here. It can’t necessarily offer you a better educational opportunity or a better job.
As a scoping document, the scope is pretty tight; the primary reasons that the survey will ultimately come up with for people moving back will almost certainly fall into the “quality of life” area — the same thing successive governments have tried to boast about as an enticement for years. Which makes the current study seem a little facile.
Are there ways to bring Newfoundlanders and Labradorians back? Sure there are — but keep in mind, it takes a lot to make people leave, and even more to bring them back, especially once they’ve put down roots and made a life elsewhere.
Pay more competitive salaries, especially in the private sector.
Having a captive workforce, trapped by geography, that you can pay less for has helped business here, but hurt employees.
Recognize, foster and support young talent.
Make hirings based on what people know, rather than who they know in the local community. (Anyone who says that rampant nepotism isn’t alive and well and a crippling problem in the hiring market here is either ignoring the problem, or lying to themselves.)
And governments have to do that when there’s money to support their actions.
And right now, in case you’ve forgotten, there isn’t any.
Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 39 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org — Twitter: @wangersky.