Topsail-Paradise MHA Paul Dinn says the government needs to be more ambitious on immigration targets, while Advanced Education, Skills and Labour Minister Bernard Davis says Dinn is cherry picking his numbers.
During question period Tuesday, Dinn said that last year the province brought in the fewest immigrants in the country.
“We have a lot of outmigration. We need people here working, we need people here providing a tax base. We have an aging population and we have to bring in some skills and one of the ways is immigration,” said Dinn.
“We’re really not making any progress in the way of bringing in immigrants.”
Davis says the number was smaller than the rest of the country, but 1,525 immigrants coming to the province in 2018 was a 25 per cent increase over the year before.
The average immigrant intake in the Maritime provinces in 2018 was 3,784. Davis says the immigration office set a smaller immigration target in part due to cuts to the office in previous years.
“We had to start on sort of a bit of a deficit from that perspective. The office of immigration was cut by 50 per cent before we got here. We set a target that was achievable, a five-year target, a five-year plan. We’re in year two of that plan and we’re seeing the fruits of that labour come to fruition right now,” said Davis.
The current immigration target is 1,700 newcomers to the province by 2022.
“We know we need more than that. As a province, our median age is something like 46, and our immigrations, the median age is somewhere around 29. So, it’s really, really important that we help with the demographics of the province,” said Davis.
Davis says while the initial number may be small, a 51 per cent retention rate for Newfoundland and Labrador is second among the Atlantic provinces.
Dinn says the retention rate is fine, but there’s no substitute for more immigrants in this province annually.
“If you do the math, 51 per cent retention of 1,000 as opposed to another province with a 25 per cent rate of 4,000, which is the better rate?” said Dinn.
“You can crunch those numbers all you want. Retention is key, there’s no doubt about it, but if you’re talking actual numbers, that’s where we’re lacking.”
International migration is one thing, but interprovincial migration tells another story.
In 2017-18 this province lost just over 3,600 people, who moved elsewhere in the country. About half of those went to Alberta, with the rest dispersed throughout the country. In 2016-17, the province lost 1,430 people to inter-provincial migration.
The 3,600-person loss of population through inter-provincial migration in 2017-18 just about wiped out gains in population through inter-provincial migration from 2008-09 to 2014-15. The average annual intake of population over that period was 641, with a high mark of 1,877 in 2008-09 and a low mark of 30 in 2010-11.
Davis says the answer to increasing migration to this province from the rest of the country comes down to jobs.
“Employment is one of the big obstacles that force people to move, but not the only obstacle. There’s other opportunities for people to leave our province,” said Davis.
“The people that do leave for employment, we’re reaching out and saying we’re open. We’ve got a lot of opportunity for people to avail of employment here with good, meaningful jobs.”