New Brunswick

Immigration boosts New Brunswick population to record level

New Brunswick population growth is back from the dead and gaining strength, and the province's Progressive Conservative government is giving federal Liberals some of the credit.

New Brunswick’s population reached a record 776,827 people this year

The Saint John Newcomers centre took a group of recent New Brunswick immigrants apple picking last weekend to introduce them to local customs and residents. More than 15,000 immigrants have settled in New Brunswick since 2016, boosting the province's population significantly. (Saint John Newcomers Centre/Twitter)

New Brunswick population growth is back from the dead and gaining strength, and the province's Progressive Conservative government is giving federal Liberals some of the credit.  

On Monday, Statistics Canada released estimates showing the number of New Brunswick residents hit a record 776,827 on July 1, a gain of 5,906 over the previous 12 months.

It's the largest single-year population increase in New Brunswick since 1991 and a revival from the early 2000s when the province stopped growing entirely and began shrinking.

The recent increases are almost entirely due to international immigration.   

"We are seeing more and more people interested in this part of the country," said Mohamed Bagha, who runs the Saint John Newcomers Centre, adding the wave of immigrants into the region has been significant in recent years.

Mohamed Bagha runs the Saint John Newcomers Centre and believes large numbers of immigrants arriving in New Brunswick over the last three years have a better chance of settling permanently in the province, (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

Much of the credit for the growth is going to something called the Atlantic Immigration Pilot project (AIP), a federal program negotiated in 2017 between Ottawa and the former provincial Liberal government of Brian Gallant and then renewed earlier this year with the Progressive Conservative government of Blaine Higgs.

In an email to CBC News on Tuesday, the province said the program was behind much of the improvement in population numbers.

"The Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour attributes much of the success to the government's prioritization of immigration and the implementation of the Atlantic Immigration Pilot (AIP) project," read the statement from the department.

The pilot project gives employers a role in immigration by allowing them to hire foreign workers or recent international graduates for jobs in communities without enough local labour or where skills are in short supply.

In March, Halifax academic Kelly Toughill, who has studied the AIP project, told CBC News companies had identified a wide range of needs and had been successfully searching the globe for people to fill them.

"There's a huge shortage of truckers so people are recruiting from all over the world for that," Toughill said. "I know that the Irvings were recruiting for forestry operations in the Ukraine. Thirty butchers came in from Belgium, butchers from Brazil as well. All over the world."

Kelly Toughill studied how New Brunswick employers have been using an experimental immigration program and found they had hunted around the world to fill jobs in the province. (CBC)

Included in New Brunswick's growth numbers this year are a number of workers from Ukraine hired by Group Savoie to settle in Saint Quentin and work in the company's hardwood products manufacturing plant. Other Europeans hired by J.D. Irving Ltd. have settled in Chipman to work at the company's sawmill there.

Workers hired under the special program are eligible for expedited permanent residency in Canada and program backers believe it helps improve the retention of immigrants because they are immediately tied to a local job.

Bagha said he believes both that, and the fact so many immigrants are now arriving at the same time, raise chances more will stay and put down roots.

"When there is a mass of newcomers, it allows them to be friends with other newcomers. It creates that sense of community," he said.

Between the arrival of Syrian refugees in New Brunswick in 2016 and the introduction of the AIP program in 2017, New Brunswick's population has expanded by more than 16,000 in the last three and a half years.

In 2015, the year before those changes,  the province had grown by just 254.

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