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Russell Wangersky: Survey will tell us what we already know

The government is surveying ex-pats in an attempt to find out what might entice them to move back to the province. —
The government is surveying ex-pats in an attempt to find out what might entice them to move back to the province. — 123RF Stock Photo

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.

Russell Wangersky
Russell Wangersky

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 russell.wangersky@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky.

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