New Brunswick

Population growth not enough to fuel economy, says consultant

Even though New Brunswick's population is growing at a record pace, economist David Campbell says the province still needs more immigration, more jobs and more ambition.

Until the workforce stops shrinking, New Brunswick's economy will be weak, David Campbell says

Economist David Campbell says that even though the population is increasing, New Brunswick still needs 'more ambition' to attract the workforce needed to strengthen the economy. (CBC)

Even though New Brunswick's population is growing at a record pace, economic development consultant David Campbell says the province still needs more immigration, more jobs and more ambition.

The unprecedented arrival of immigrants and a surge of residents moving from other provinces pushed New Brunswick's population to a record 780,021 in September.

That increase of 6,134 between April and September was the strongest growth since 1975.

While that is good news, Campbell said the province can't lose sight of the fact that the overall workforce in New Brunswick shrank again this year.

Campbell says New Brunswick can't rest on its 'modest population growth' when, according to Statistics Canada, job vacancies continue to rise. (davidwcampbell.com)

If you go back to the 1990s, we only had about 1,500 people on average retiring," Campbell, the former chief economist with the New Brunswick Jobs Board, told Information Morning Moncton. "Now we're up to almost 6,000."

Until New Brunswick finds a way to replace those 6,000 retirees and can attract enough younger workers to fill vacant jobs and allow for future growth, the province will continue to be among the "have-nots."

"If you don't have labour, it's like an engine without oil … and so it kind of seizes up and you're not able to grow your economy."

Campbell said New Brunswick has to keep its population gains in perspective. He explained that the province has passed Prince Edward Island in terms of how much equalization is required from the federal government to help pay for public services.

"New Brunswick now requires more equalization on a per capita basis than any other province," he said.

Retirees must work longer

Campbell said part of solution is to encourage New Brunswickers over the age of 55 to continue working longer.

"Maybe they can be convinced to stay in the workforce on a part-time basis or a seasonal basis to do work — but more on their own terms now that they've retired or semi-retired. I think it's very pivotal these next few years." 

The other part of the equation is to do a better job of matching newcomers with the jobs they want and are qualified to do.

Campbell said there is still room for improvement when it comes to ensuring people "have opportunity."

"If you need taxi drivers go find people that have the skills and interest to be taxi drivers and don't bring in PhDs because if they're working as taxi drivers it's not a stable situation."

Province could use more ambition

As one of the authors of Moncton's immigration strategy, Campbell believes setting "aggressive" targets is part of the success the city has experienced in the first nine months of 2019.

Greater Moncton, Campbell said, is on pace to surpass its goal of attracting 1,900 immigrants this year.

"The whole community is getting together and developing action items and initiatives to make sure that as many of those newcomers as possible can stay and thrive in our community."

Campbell hopes the province will challenge itself and set higher expectations.

Campbell points out that New Brunswick has the weakest economic growth of any province since the recession in 2008, except Newfoundland and Labrador. (davidwcampbell.com)

"Saskatchewan is expecting to grow their workforce by 100,000 between now and 2030. That's net growth. We're expecting ours to grow by 3,200. And they're not much larger than us."

Saskatchewan is projecting the growth based on its oil and gas industry, agriculture and other natural resources.

"They have a very ambitious plan and I'd like to see a little more ambition here in New Brunswick as well."

with files from Information Morning Moncton

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