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BLAKE DOYLE: Population growth has become a coffee-shop subject

Barriers to immigration are appropriately reducing, acceptance is improving and a recognition for the contributions newcomers are making is now appreciated. SUBMITTED PHOTO
Barriers to immigration are appropriately reducing, acceptance is improving and a recognition for the contributions newcomers are making is now appreciated. SUBMITTED PHOTO - The Guardian

I always love fall harvests on the Island bringing with them the smell of fresh earth and the change in weather. One annual activity I enjoy with the kids is apple picking from local orchards. The ripest and juiciest fruit is often the hardest to get, and by default the lowest hanging is often the first plucked.

Population growth has become a coffee-shop subject that can lend some volatility. Prince Edward Island has been disproportionately successful in reversing the tides of demographic pressure by welcoming newcomers to participate and contribute in our Island culture. While initially a sensitive subject, almost universally the necessity of immigration is clear and accepted.

Immigration is not new to P.E.I. as our First Nations have witnessed successive waves of settlement. Barriers to immigration are appropriately reducing, acceptance is improving and a recognition for the contributions newcomers are making is now appreciated. This was not always the case as trailblazing newcomers persevered isolation and persecution. We have matured in our thinking.

While immigration remains a significantly measurable driver in recent population growth and projected acceleration, it is not the only determinant of population increase. As communities are faced with economic mortalities, there is a clamor to participate in the present wave of vitality, engagement and enthusiasm. Perhaps critical ingredients of a flawed recipe.

The days of baby bonusing are behind us, and with these the subtle establishment policies to encurage larger families in support of growth. Today, families are smaller, resulting largely from financial and time constraints and we have turned to the growing global populations to support our multigenerational deficit.

For 100 years our mobile population has been migrating to the “New England States”, “Out West for work”, “away to University”, “the big cities”. While it takes twenty years to make a twenty-year-old, it takes only a few years to push them from our shores. Outmigration is a constant. Our in-migration, or repatriation, by measure is a failure.

There is reason universities hold alumnus events in big cities where successful alumni have made their fortunes. Islanders have a connection to their roots.  Generally, all want to return. Only a sacred few, however, are afforded the opportunity and are generally stifled by economic factors.

If you consider net interprovincial migration (Canadian residents moving between provinces), there are only four provinces that experience a positive inter-provincial attraction.  But only two with a statistically significant number of migrants, Ontario and British Columbia. (Alberta lost 15,131 residents to other provinces last year).

Prince Edward Island has a share of challenge. A missed opportunity is providing the environment and encouraging elastic repatriation of those who have been forced or enticed to leave. Over the last nine years, there have only been two, insignificant, periods where we did not lose more residents than we gained. In fact, over these nine years our Island actually exported 2,646 residents to other parts of Canada.

It’s easy to target the ‘successful Islanders’ in a big center. They can be identified and celebrated, and they are generally not coming back except to visit. But what of the legions of workers driving other economies? Are they catalogued and communicated with? The dislocated that want to return and can’t see a path home despite the skills and experiences they have gained ‘from away’?

Stable population growth involves pillars like the legs of a stool. Focusing exclusively on one dimension, the stool will topple. Considering all elements of population growth in measure is the surest approach to ensure continuity and permanency.

Blake Doyle is The Guardian's small business columnist. He can be reached at blake@islandrecruiting.com

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