The population of Newfoundland and Labrador continues to dwindle, and without intervention, that will have a drastic impact on the economy, governance and overall quality of life.
According to the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council’s (APEC) latest report card, the population of this province dropped by 0.2 per cent this past year, the lone decrease among provinces in Atlantic Canada.
For more than 15 years, Memorial University’s Harris Centre has been working to find proactive solutions to issues in the province, and that includes a declining population on both the island and in the Big Land.
The Harris Centre’s Population Project is just such an initiative, and it works with researchers at MUN to inform plans for change for communities, governments and industry.
“Led by Dr. Alvin Simms, we looked at functional economic regions and subdivided those into five groups,’’ said Robert Greenwood, director of the Leslie Harris Centre of Regional Policy and Development at Memorial University.
“Those included (the Halifax Regional Municipality and St. John’s metro), small diversified urban regions such as Corner Brook and Truro, N.S… For the most part, Newfoundland by and far has the most small, isolated communities.”
Greenwood is also a member of the APEC board.
According to the APEC report card, Prince Edward Island is leading the country with the fastest population growth at a rate of two per cent per year. Between 2016 and 2018, Nova Scotia’s population grew at 0.8 per cent annually — the fastest pace since the 1980s. New Brunswick trails Nova Scotia with an annual rate of 0.5 per cent, but this is still the highest rates for New Brunswick since the early 1990s.
Greenwood used Trepassey, located on the Southern Avalon as a sample community.
He pointed out that prior to the cod moratorium in 1992, Trepassey was a vibrant, thriving fishing area. When fishing was king, the community and others along the Southern Shore prospered. Once the fishery dried up, the communities became little more than rural cul-de-sacs, essentially retirement communities for those who went away to work and then moved back.
“There are no silver bullets here. If you think of these areas as regions, the municipal structure is not suited to that in Newfoundland,’’ he said, referring to the need to share regional services.
Greenwood said, however, that the vast majority of rural communities are located in catchment area with services that include education, health care and economic development.
The total number of babies and preschoolers in the Atlantic region shrunk by 18 per cent over the last two decades; the number of school-age children (ages 5 to 19 years) declined by 24 per cent, and the number of potential students for post-secondary education (ages 20 to 24) fell by 12 per cent. In contrast, the number of seniors increased by 65 per cent. Atlantic Canadians in their 70s are currently the fastest growing age group, followed by those in their 80s.
“Fertility rates have dropped around the world, and Newfoundland (and Labrador) is no different,” Greenwood said. “Canada, as a whole, has shown a great decline, and if it wasn’t for immigration, we wouldn’t be able to keep things stable. (Immigrants) will go to where there are good-paying jobs.’’
A reduced outflow of people to Alberta since 2014, combined with increased international migration, have been key factors behind the improved population dynamics in the Maritimes. However, with an aging population, the number of deaths now exceeds births across the region, except in P.E.I.
While there has been a noticeable turnaround in Atlantic Canada’s population growth rate, one trend has not changed: its population is older than the rest of Canada and continues to age faster. With more than 20 per cent of people aged 65 years and older, there are now more Atlantic seniors than children and teenagers.