Complacency still one of the bigger risks to Atlantic Canada's resurgence
You don’t have to be Captain Obvious to know the demographics of the Atlantic Canada population have fundamentally shifted in the past 40 years. In 1982, the median age in NL was only 25.8. Now it is 47.8. The median age in Manitoba is still only 37.8. In demographic terms that is a huge difference.
There are now considerably more 55+ in the workforce now than under the age of 30 - whereas 40 years ago it was the exact opposite. Also, the workforce situation was a lot more precarious in those days. The unemployment rate in 2019 in NB and NS is 42% lower than it was in 1982. The participation rate in Nova Scotia in 2019 was actually higher than the national rate whereas in 1982 it was six percentage points below.
We are far more financially comfortable now. A person in their 70s now was born at a time when the average household disposable income (income after taxes and savings) was a small fraction of the national average (look at NL). Now, the region is within 10 percent of the national level (and with lower housing costs). And, of course, over that same period income has risen strongly across Canada (even adjusted for inflation) - so this chart is saying this region saw household disposable income grow faster than in the rest of the country.
So it is fair to say a population that is mostly young, financially and job market precarious will have a different outlook on life than a population that is mostly older, financially and job market stable (or outright retired) - the current situation.
The good news is that it seems most people across the region understand our current situation and are mostly supportive of government efforts to renew the population through immigration and mostly supportive of economic development efforts. I think the latter is more uncertain as NIMBY concerns are far more apparent circa 2022 than they were circa 1982 for the reasons cited above, and others.
I have talked to a lot of folks on Main Street in the past few years and I would say that mostly people as they eventually pass on do not want to leave their communities worse off compared to when they were coming of age. And this is the biggest issue across Atlantic Canada. Are we entering a period of optimism and community renewal or are we heading towards a stagnant economy and evermore population decline?
Let’s not be complacent. There are green shoots here. Governments seem to get it. They are talking up big plans (listen to the Insights conversations with the premiers here). But we need board-based public support. When the politicians coming knocking on your door - ask them what the plan is to renew the population in your community? If you are in a growing community, ask what the plan is to support the retention of newcomers?
Normally we don’t spend a lot of time fretting about those poor old entrepreneurs but these days maybe we should. If you want to keep getting your pet groomed (ours has a three month wait list), get serviced by a dentist (ours has a 10-12 week wait list), have a plumber come to your house (we waited weeks), eat at locally owned restaurants, get your hair cut by a locally owned barber shop, etc. we will need a new generation of entrepreneurs. 40% of them are over 55 and will be retiring soon.
Ask your kids (strike that, grandkids) if they have an interest in owning their own business one day? Entrepreneurship should be taught in schools and encouraged as just another career path like becoming a nurse or an accountant.
Let’s not be complacent. It’s pedal to the metal time. Twenty years from now we will look back at the decisions made now.