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Andrea Stack: I’m not interested in the status quo

The night skyline of St. John's is shown in a file photo.
The night skyline of St. John's is shown in a file photo. - Keith Gosse

I have been involved in many discussions recently on how we can grow the economy of our wonderful province. There are many different opinions on this, but one thing most people agree on is that you can’t grow an economy without growing a population. When you look at our demographics it is easy to see the challenges we face. In just one generation, Newfoundland and Labrador has gone from the fastest growing and youngest population in the country, to the fastest shrinking and most aging population. There are solutions, we just need to be open to them.

A colleague recently shared with me the tremendous success Prince Edward Island (P.E.I.) is experiencing. Here are some highlights:

• In July, 2017, PEI’s population surpassed 152,000, an increase of 1.7 per cent over 2016, the fastest growth amongst provinces.

• For the first time since 1967, its median age became younger.

• The number of employed persons on the Island increased 3.1 per cent in 2017, while the unemployment rate decreased to 9.8 per cent, the lowest annual average since 1978.

• Total labour income on the Island grew by 4.4 per cent in 2017, faster than the national average.

• Retail sales grew 7.4 per cent in 2017, the fastest growth in the region.

• Housing starts in 2017 were the fastest growth amongst provinces.

• The Atlantic Provinces Economic Council says “P.E.I. is on a tear.”

To what does P.E.I.  attribute this success? – Immigration.

P.E.I.  has the fastest growing population in the country per capita. This population growth is a result of deliberate effort, and it did not take place overnight. Municipal leaders in the province, who were witnessing their towns’ populations slip away and needed solutions, were critical to the debate and demanded that immigration rules be changed to help attract people to more remote parts of the Island.

As a result of immigration efforts, they now have a very diverse population. The Chinese community is close to 5,000 people.  The local chamber hosts events with simultaneous translation in Mandarin and Farsi. New business start-ups are booming and action is being taken to match retiring entrepreneurs with newcomers to take over their business.

As you would expect, there has been much debate over this issue. There have been challenges, and settlement services need to be enhanced, but the debate in P.E.I.  is affecting retention.  The Official Opposition is pressing the government to do more to ensure newcomers stay.

In our province, there appears to be a hesitation to discuss immigration. With our high unemployment rate a perception seems to exist that immigrants will take our jobs.  Nothing could be further than the truth.  As Dr. Nimish Adhia, professor of economics at Manhatanville College in New York stated during his recent trip in Newfoundland and Labrador, “The presence of immigrants also creates jobs. Immigrants create jobs as consumers, as entrepreneurs, as investors, as workers who complement the skills of natives, as citizens, as taxpayers. … Immigration does not diminish the economic opportunity of natives, in fact it expands it.”

Outlook 2025 showed that we will have 60,000 plus job vacancies by 2025.  You don’t grow a population overnight.  It takes several years to build newcomer attraction and settlement capacity.  And it takes a village as they say.  We can’t leave it up to just the Provincial government.  All parts of the community are needed; from employers to match newcomers with jobs, to our social and faith communities and cultural sectors to assist with integration. 

In 2015, our province saw 1,120 new permanent immigrants while PEI saw 1,190. Per capita, the immigration rate to P.E.I.  was nearly four times that of Newfoundland and Labrador. For every 100,000 people in each province, N.L. saw 212 new immigrants while P.E.I. saw 811.

We must do better if we have any hope of a sustainable future.  We need to enable accredited agents to help recruit and settle people in Newfoundland and Labrador.  An entrepreneurship category for immigrants is a must, something we understand our provincial government is working on.

According to Memorial University’s Harris Centre Population project, we need a minimum of 4,000 newcomers per year to maintain the status quo.

We at the Board of Trade are not interested in the status quo.  We are interested in growing the economy, creating jobs for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, growing incomes and our communities.

Inspired by what we have seen on the “Mighty Island” of P.E.I., we have struck a coalition of groups from the faith community, municipal leaders, construction, automobile dealers, you name it…anyone who is interested in NOT accepting the status quo and accepts that to grow our economy and have a prosperous future, we MUST grow our population.  And with us all working together, we can do just that.

Andrea Stack is chair of the St. John’s Board of Trade

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