No Regular Joe wants to haul up and go, but that’s exactly what they’ll do from Newfoundland and Labrador until at least 2043, according to Statistics Canada.
Population projections from Statistics Canada show that Newfoundland and Labrador will be the only province in the country to shrink in size from now until 2043. The statistics agency ran a number of high-, medium- and low-growth scenarios for the province. The data shows a worst-case scenario of 429,400 people living in the province by 2043, with the most optimistic scenario being 501,500 people. In 2018, 525,400 lived in this province, according to the agency.
In any scenario, the population will also continue to age, as the baby boomers get older and the fertility rate of the province remains low.
In 2018, the median age of the province was 46 years old. The average age could increase to as much as 54 years, according to the projections. Retirees will also become a larger portion of the population as time goes on. Those age 65 or older made up 20 per cent of the population in 2018. By 2043, the oldest demographic could be as much as 35 per cent of the population.
Rob Greenwood, executive director of the Leslie Harris Centre, says the numbers aren’t surprising, as similar models have projected long-term population decline since at least the 1980s.
Greenwood says there are opportunities to adapt to the reality of a smaller-scale Newfoundland and Labrador – and industries are already on board.
“In agriculture, the fields are as full as they ever were, but there’s far fewer people working at it. It’s high productivity, major machinery, far fewer farming communities, and so from an economist’s perspective, it’s a productivity success story. But it means significant social and community adjustment,” said Greenwood.
“The same can be said for fishery, forestry, mining, oil and gas. We have a situation where these industries are not employing the numbers they used to, and we don’t have the people we used to. What it means is the people we do have, have to be very well trained, college-educated, university-educated, depending on the nature of the job. We’re going to see a lot more digitalization, remote operations, automation.”
Greenwood says politicians need to change their perspective toward preparing for the new reality bearing down on the province.
“In some ways, politicians are the victims of the system. I’ve seen the enemy and it is us,” said Greenwood.
“The boomers are still a big bulge of the population. They’ve played the game they were taught to play and they worked and they built houses and they got a pension … and now they’re being told they need to change. Most feel that they played the game, so leave me alone. Some pressures the politicians are under, especially on the regional and rural front, are really hard nuts to crack.”
Greenwood says regional government is going to have to be part of the future to help small municipalities that are getting smaller adapt.
“The political will to move forward on that will respond as people in communities realize, holy cow, we don’t have enough people to support a municipal council in our area,” said Greenwood.
“We don’t have enough people for the volunteer fire department, for the local minor hockey.”