Atlantic Canada has the oldest population in Canada and the region’s workforce is expected to decline sharply between now and 2035 due to the growing wave of retiring baby boomers. A new Conference Board of Canada report suggests Atlantic Canada needs to successfully attract and retain more immigrants to improve the region’s population growth and economic outlook.
Ottawa, September 25, 2017— Atlantic Canada has the oldest population in Canada and the region’s workforce is expected to decline sharply between now and 2035 due to the growing wave of retiring baby boomers. A new Conference Board of Canada report suggests Atlantic Canada needs to successfully attract and retain more immigrants to improve the region’s population growth and economic outlook.
“A smaller labour force and aging population could have negative consequences, such as weaker economic growth, difficulties for provincial governments to cover social services, the decline of rural communities, and a weaker voice for the region at the federal level” said Kareem El-Assal, Senior Research Associate, The Conference Board of Canada. “While immigration alone won’t solve Atlantic Canada’s demographic challenges, it is an important piece of a multifaceted strategy to strengthen the region’s economic standing.”
- Atlantic Canada’s aging population, coupled with its low birth rate and outmigration, is resulting in weak population and labour force growth, which is hampering its economic growth.
- At the same time, health care costs are expected to rise due to population aging.
- Immigration is a major part of the solution to spurring population and economic growth to ensure a prosperous future in Atlantic Canada.
In 2016, 19.5 per cent of Atlantic Canada’s population was aged 65 and over, compared with the national average of 16.5 per cent. Moreover, the number of deaths exceeds births in all four Atlantic provinces. Some parts of the region are also seeing high numbers of people leaving due to weak business investment and high unemployment rates. Population growth in the region is expected to remain flat through 2035.
As baby boomers leave the workforce, Atlantic Canada’s labour supply growth will be limited and economic growth will be constrained. At the same time, the aging population will increase government spending on health care. The Atlantic provinces already spend more on health care on a per capita basis than the national average, with Newfoundland and Labrador spending the most in the country.
The Atlantic region also has the smallest immigration population and the fewest number of newcomer arrivals amongst the Canadian provinces. Historically, the region has had higher unemployment rates and its small immigrant population has made it a less appealing destination for newcomers compared with other parts of the country. According to the 2011 Census, Nova Scotia had the largest immigrant population in the region at 5.3 per cent, significantly lower than the national proportion of 20.6 per cent.
Despite the region’s immigration challenges, however, Atlantic Canada has many strengths that can make it appealing to prospective immigrants. The region’s immigrant unemployment rates and wage gaps are low, and wages are nationally competitive. Moreover, immigrants who stay in the region tend to earn more than those who leave.
While the region is attracting more immigrants and retention rates have improved, current immigration levels will not be enough to compensate for the number of baby boomers set to retire. To foster improvement, the Atlantic region needs to better ensure that immigrants and their spouses find jobs in their fields, international student employment barriers are addressed, and welcoming communities continue to be developed. Atlantic Canada can also look to brand itself better to prospective immigrants and focus its attraction efforts on groups of immigrants likely to remain in the region.
The report, Immigration to Atlantic Canada: Toward A Prosperous Future, provides immigration policy suggestions in four areas to assist the region’s efforts to boost immigration:
- Raising public and employer awareness about immigration benefits to Atlantic Canada;
- Promoting life in the region to prospective immigrants to highlight why they should settle in the region;
- Attracting immigrants who are most likely to stay in the region;
- Prioritizing temporary residents by addressing the challenges that may hinder their transition to permanent residence.
The Conference Board of Canada will be hosting its 4th annual Canadian Immigration Summit in Ottawa on May 30-31, 2018. Each year, this major event convenes hundreds of immigration thought-leaders from across Canada including ministers, government and business officials, and settlement services providers.