Population continues to move from rural to urban areas of N.B.
By 2030 APEC says half of Atlantic Canadians will live in six biggest cities
More New Brunswickers are opting to live in urban areas of the province, according to a report from the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council.
Atlantic Canada's six largest cities, which include Moncton, Saint John and Fredericton, now have 47 per cent of the region's population compared with just 40 per cent of the population in 2000.
Rural areas are also having difficulty attracting and retaining newcomers.
The council estimates that 80 per cent of immigrants coming to Atlantic Canada opt to settle in one of the region's six major cities instead of choosing more rural areas.
The council projects that by 2030 over half of the region's population will live in one of the six major cities, which will have consequences for both rural and urban areas.
Fred Bergman, senior policy analyst with APEC, said the shift from rural to urban living can take away much needed resources from rural areas.
"That sometimes takes the income with them, because now they have a job in a city," said Bergman.
"That takes their spending with them, because now they're living in the city, so they're more likely to spend in that community … It takes their household investment with them as well. Maybe they're investing in starting their own business and they decided to locate it in an urban area because they figure there's a larger target market there ... a lot of that economic activity basically goes with them when they move."
Margot Cragg, executive director of the Union of the Municipalities of New Brunswick, said the demographic concerns have been well known for years and municipalities of all sizes in the province have started to work to address them.
She cites McAdam's $1 land program and Chipman's success in attracting newcomers as success stories for smaller municipalities.
That doesn't mean urban centres are free from feeling the negative side of the changing demographics.
While attracting new residents is often a boon to a city, it can bring difficulties as well.
"Do we have enough housing to meet their housing needs," asks Bergman.
"Do we have enough services to meet their program needs? … How do we deal with transportation links?"
Out migration from rural areas has stabilized somewhat because of COVID-19 and the struggling oil industry in western Canada.
But even if that continues, the council estimates rural Atlantic Canada will need to attract at least 4,500 newcomers a year to support economic growth.
Bergman said it's important to make rural areas attractive both for people living in them now, and for newcomers.
It also means the infrastructure has to be in place.
"It's making sure that we have access to rural broadband, that's fairly high speed so that they can run their business or work from home as well as take advantage of e-commerce if they're buying goods and services online, which we've seen an uptick in during the pandemic," said Bergman.
Cragg said municipal reform is key to addressing the issues raised in the report.
With files from Information Morning Fredericton