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BLAKE DOYLE: Canaries of the community mine

Canaries are a time-honoured protector of miners who would often carry a cage of birds into the depths of mines. If methane or carbon monoxide was present, the sensitive canaries would detect it before it could affect the miners.

Our communities are in need of canaries. Many have recognized the demographic tide that is sweeping their boundaries. Some look to amalgamation, some look to immigration, some chose to ignore the issue. What is occurring in every facet of our economy is an aging. With the aging comes transition and, if poorly managed, a loss of knowledge capital, experience and wisdom. Signals are school enrollments, religious congregation shifts, business closure, or political boundaries and participation change.

Blake Doyle.
Blake Doyle.

Change is not necessarily a negative, but it must be evaluated. Demographics are not something that can be quickly remedied, but population forecasts can indicate the health of our communities. Just as with canaries for miners, we can also consider upcoming provincial and municipal elections as harbingers of pending change.

The first test comes this fall through municipal elections. A quick evaluation of declared councillors and mayors choosing not to reoffer is both a loss of continuity as well as an opportunity for renewal. Approximately 50 per cent of the population will be under new mayoral governance. While indicating change, it also could indicate a reflection of demography.

Companies and even our local governments will lose vast repositories of invaluable insight; and few are well prepared for this enviable transition. The P.E.I. population of those 45 and older has increased 21.9 per cent since 2007. In the last year the population of those aged 65 and over has increased by 3.6 per cent in Kings County, 3.6 percent in Queens County and 2.4 per cent in Prince County.

Changes in working population stresses our labour infrastructure. If not properly managed a career of knowledge can disappear with retirements. Some organizations are conscience of this, is your organization or government service provider managing this inevitability?

As business owners, or politicians (first municipal, closely followed by provincial then federal), observing the miners and the canaries they carry. Recognize these changes and accept that policies must be adapted, not just for the current electorate/ clients but also for your future clients and constituents. Make policies and strategies that encompass not just the present, but the future as well.

The those declaring their intention not to reoffer, the citizens thank you for your contributions. To those vying for new positions, may your revitalization also bring enthusiasm to address the challenges that accompany an aging workforce and sourcing solutions in an environment of constraint resource.

Walk carefully, and bring a healthy canary.

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

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