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Shrinking population bad news for Atlantic Canada's policy makers

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AMHERST, N.S. – Declining population is going to place tremendous pressure on small, rural communities across the Maritimes.

Mario Levesque, an assistant professor of political studies at Mount Allison University, said rural communities are emptying out.

Mario Levesque, an assistant professor of political studies at Mount Allison University, said rural communities are emptying out.

 

“It’s presenting a big public policy challenge for governments at all levels,” Levesque told  CumberlandNewsNow.com. “As communities lose population it’s going to get harder to maintain the level of service that they have.”

Statistics Canada released population data from its 2016 census on Wednesday and it doesn’t paint a nice picture. While Nova Scotia’s population as a whole increased between 2011 and 2016, the increase was just 0.2 per cent. New Brunswick’s dropped by 0.5 per cent.

For many towns, the data indicates a shrinking population. In Amherst, it means a drop of 3.1 per cent from 2011, while in Sackville, N.B., where Levesque is based, the drop was 4.1 per cent.

RELATED: Amherst's population shrinks

“It’s about jobs,” he said. “People are leaving in pursuit of jobs. The challenge is finding a way to create jobs that will keep people there, or attract new people.”

Sackville, he said, has lost three foundries and a large marketing firm, while Amherst has also lost many manufacturing jobs over the last decade. The same is true elsewhere.

“This should be of big concern for government,” he said. “It’s nice to have people come back (when they retire), but as we age we consume more health services. It almost doubles in the cost per person. As we get older, complications are more complex and treatment more intensive. It’s great we’re living longer, but it does pose a challenge to government. We need to get more jobs and more young people, but it’s hard to develop those jobs and keep them here.”

Unfortunately, he said, there isn’t much towns can do themselves to create jobs other than work to create an environment favourable to economic development.

Levesque said he’s impressed with what Amherst did last year in preparing financial, demographic and infrastructure projections for the next 10 years.

“They are light years ahead of others on that,” he said.

Realtor Rod Gilroy said Amherst’s demographic profile is changing, as are home styles.

“There are lots of new multi-family units coming on and most younger buyers are favouring new construction,” Gilroy said. “There is a definite shift from homes built in the ’70s or ’80s that have not been substantially updated.”

He said he’s seeing people, mostly retiring baby boomers, cashing in large sums of tax-free money on their homes in Ontario and British Columbia and retiring back east.

He said new jobs and industry would go a long way to attracting a younger demographic.

AROUND ATLANTIC CANADA

 New Brunswick's population declines, despite growth in larger cities

St. John’s population dips below national growth rate

Rural N.L.’s population decline continues

Nova Scotia population up slightly, growth concentrated in Halifax, South Shore

 Cape Breton population continues decline

darrell.cole@tc.tc

Twitter: @ADNdarrell

 

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