Population plunge prediction gets a rough ride

A dire warning that Newfoundland and Labrador's population is set to make a dramatic slide is being met with skepticism, including an outright dismissal from former premier Danny Williams.
Danny Williams does not believe a prediction that Newfoundland and Labrador's population is poised to drop over the next two decades. (CBC )

A dire warning that Newfoundland and Labrador's population is set to make a dramatic slide is being met with skepticism, including an outright dismissal from the former premier who introduced a cash bonus for new parents.

"In my opinion, it's absolute bullshit. That's the simplest way I can put it," said former premier Danny Williams, reacting to a Conference Board of Canada projection that sees the province's population falling from 527,000 to 482,000 by 2035.

The Conference Board of Canada said deaths are outnumbering live births in Newfoundland and Labrador, and immigration is not strong enough to counter the demographic trend.

Williams, whose government introduced a $1,000 bonus to new parents and to those who adopt, said he cannot accept the projection as credible.

Williams on Monday launched the latest phase in a massive residential development called Galway, which will see thousands of new homes built in the southwest corner of the city limits.

"I'm putting my money where my mouth is, because we're about to spend hundreds of millions of dollars out here over the life of the project," said Williams, who noted that the population of the province has climbed steadily in recent years, after hitting a low of about 508,000.

Freefall after 1992 moratorium

Newfoundland and Labrador's population went into a freefall in the wake of the 1992 moratorium on northern cod, at the time the largest fishery in the province, with many young adults moving to other provinces to start families.

Williams said the prosperity that much of the province has enjoyed through the oil industry should continue for years to come.

"There's a lot of oil out there. It's a matter of finding it," said Williams, adding that 207 wells have been drilled so far in Newfoundland's offshore industry, in fields that are estimated to be at least three times the size of the North Sea where 5,500 wells have so far been drilled.

"If we continue to grow our economy here, we make it a good place to live and work, we'll have young people back here," he said. "We need to create a good environment here."

'Way off base'

The Conference Board report was raised at St. John's city council during Monday evening's meeting.

Rob Greenwood of Memorial University's Harris Centre said it is very difficult to turn around a declining birth rate. (CBC)
"I think they're way off base," said Coun. Tom Hann, who believes the economy is powerful enough to continue a positive trend in population growth.

But Rob Greenwood, executive director of Memorial University's Harris Centre, said Newfoundland and Labrador has some tough demographic problems.

"I think the trend is really obvious," he said.

While some people have moved back to Newfoundland and Labrador to work and there have been gains with immigration, Greenwood said, "But for the most part you have baby boomers that are getting older and fertility rates that are getting lower."

Statistics Canada reports that Newfoundland and Labrador has the lowest fertility rate in the country, at 1.45 children per woman. The national fertility rate is 1.61.