The provincial government is asking Islanders living elsewhere to consider coming home. It’s a start, even though it’s only for the month of August and offers few workable solutions.
It encourages Islanders living away to share on social media why they wish to move back to P.E.I.; and those living on the Island to tell stories about why they think friends and family should move home.
The government, UPEI and Holland College conducted a survey, asking expats, students and visitors why they left and what could encourage them to move back. Most left for employment and an astonishing 80 per cent have an interest in moving home. The Island lifestyle, a better work-life balance and family were key attractions.
In the past two years, P.E.I. job numbers have seen significant growth with employment is at an all-time high. Yet, it hasn’t solved out-migration or high unemployment concerns. Most survey respondents said employment-related reasons were the main roadblocks keeping them from moving back. And barriers remain such as access to health care, high taxes and low wages. Easing nostalgia won’t pay for food, rent, a mortgage or a car.
There are obvious reasons why out-migration continues to be a problem – too few jobs that appeal to young, well-educated and ambitious Islanders. And so, hundreds of our youngest and brightest leave each year for Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia and elsewhere.
Serious solutions for affordable housing are also needed to help bring Islanders back home – more than mom’s home cooking and socializing after work or on weekends with former school chums and childhood friends. Repatriating Islanders is a key part of the provincial government's population action plan launched in 2017 with the goal of increasing P.E.I.'s population from its current 152,000 residents to 160,000 by 2022.
The government has found success with immigrant investor programs – the increasing Island population is obvious proof. Just think where this province would be today without these newcomers, their investments, their vitality and creation of new economic opportunities. It would be a breakthrough if government could develop as successful a program to retain Islanders or bring them back home.
There was an interesting example in the announcement on this latest repatriation campaign. A former Islander who did come home after travelling and working elsewhere, said that P.E.I. has changed and moved beyond the images of quiet, pastoral settings and red dirt roads.
She said her best piece of advice, if you’re moving home, is to change your mindset. When she came back, she only thought about what P.E.I. could offer her, “but when I realized what I could offer P.E.I., my whole world opened up.” What a refreshing observation, which hearkens back to the challenge issued to Americans by JFK in his 1961 inauguration address. The province needs more ex-pats like her.
This new campaign, while well-intentioned, is lightweight and fails to address real issues. Offering a one-way plane ticket home for homesick Islanders to enjoy sandy beaches, golf and lobster this summer doesn’t solve the real economic challenges they will face.