An associate professor at Memorial University says Newfoundland and Labrador's economic growth depends on immigrants.

Tony Fang of Memorial University's economics department told CBC's Central Morning that the province's slow population growth — just one per cent between the censuses of 2011 and 2016 — should be a cause for concern.

'In order to sustain our economic growth and population growth, we need people to fill the jobs, especially in some skilled categories.' - Tony Fang

"That one per cent doesn't appear to be bad, between the 2011, 2016 census, but if you compare it to the national average, it's much lower," he said. "The national average is five per cent."

Newfoundland and Labrador's slow population growth will have "profound implications" for the labour market and economy, said Fang.

Deaths outpacing births in N.L.

He pointed out that, since 2011, deaths in the province have outpaced births, and Newfoundland and Labrador is experiencing a net loss of population through interprovincial migration. That means without immigrants the province would have seen its population decline.

Immigrants will be key to the province's financial future, he said.

"In order to sustain our economic growth and population growth, we need people to fill the jobs, especially in some skilled categories," he said, citing the high-tech sector, oil and gas industry, and higher education as key areas.

"Immigration actually plays a very important role to fill the gap."

Immigrants are needed not just to fill the jobs but to stimulate the economy themselves, he said.

"They come here to spend, to consume, to invest. They're also bringing new ideas to stimulate creative industries, help with international trades … I think it's very important for the future of the province to look more seriously about the population growth and decline, and how that may affect our economic growth in the future."

Province needs to do more

The province is showing signs of tackling the problem, said Fang, pointing to the Atlantic growth strategy launched by the East Coast provinces last year to increase population, and that the provincial plan is to increase its immigration quota from 1,500 to 2,200 by the year 2022. 

"But we need to do more," said Fang, who said immigrants make up 1.8 per cent of the population. "We do have a lot of room to grow for this province, in terms of population."

He said attracting more immigrants can be done.

"With the appropriate policy measures and all kinds of incentives that can be provided by both provincial and federal governments, and with concerted efforts from community organizations, I would be very optimistic for future population and economic growth for the province."