(or how to avoid the crisis)
I live in a retirement town, so I don’t need to be told that New Brunswick is heading off a demographic cliff. But don’t take my word for it, our politicians and civic leaders have been aware of it for years.
Not only is our population in a holding pattern (growing at just a half a percent), it’s aging faster than most other provinces. Our most educated youth are still leaving for greener pastures.
Immigration doesn’t seem to be keeping pace with our need for skilled workers, either. New Brunswick attracts less than half the national average, and well over 30 percent of our immigrants leave after 5 years.
And by next year the birth rate will be exactly level with the death rate, so there’ll be no extra help from the province’s bedrooms.
Of course aging populations are dramatically more expensive to support, which is not good news for New Brunswick’s overloaded provincial budget, since seniors contribute fewer tax dollars but require more service support and health care dollars.
There are other important downsides. With Canada’s population growth rate outstripping New Brunswick’s, we have less representation in Ottawa. And with our lower tax revenues, we’re increasingly dependent on federal transfer payments—covering 40 percent of provincial expenditures—which are now jeopardized by our diminishing political clout.
And there’s one other looming problem. Rising fuel costs are going to impact New Brunswick’s rural and small town residents who rely on commuting to larger centres for jobs and supplies.
So. Do we need some kind of 12-step population program? Yes? Well, let’s get started.
The province needs to accelerate its rural development plans, allowing some communities to die, increasing economic development for others, offering more support to larger centres, and working more closely with the other Atlantic provinces to build on regional strengths. The question becomes, does the province encourage retirees to move closer to centralized services or leave them to retire in harder-to-service rural locations?
New Brunswick needs to bring its energy policies into the 21st Century. It needs to partner with Newfoundland and Nova Scotia on the Churchill Falls tie-line, and, with federal support, begin to provide incentives for U.S.-exportable green power (wind, tidal and solar). We need to start investing in creating tomorrow’s energy industry jobs today, not tomorrow.
Our seniors provide two valuable assets: a great store of skills and knowledge and a test sample of a huge worldwide market. The province should begin an innovation incubation program aimed at developing and manufacturing new products and services for the seniors market. These include new world travel services, mobility and security devices, on-line seniors’ learning, architecturally-designed modular retirement homes, in-home products for the handicapped, even seniors’ active-wear.
Forget one-size-fits-all. Ideally, early to mid-retirement housing is affordable, efficient, retains its value and offers great access to amenities and natural aesthetics. Coastal New Brunswick is ideal for this market. Aging seniors, on the other hand, need more assistance. They need smaller units in group communities located close to hospitals, care workers, urban amenities and quiet green spaces, which the province’s three major cities can easily develop with some careful planning. And what to do with all the old legacy housing vacated by seniors? This is a real immigration marketing opportunity for the province—provided it works on the entire economic development equation.
Five: knowledge transfer.
As more seniors leave the workforce, the province will face knowledge gaps that these same seniors can fill. We can integrate them into the community college system as mentors and create private companies to market their services as both part-time instructors and workers. Once organized these skills also become exportable.
Six: staged retirement.
We need to encourage younger seniors to work with older seniors (and vice versa) in all vocational and social aspects of the community to provide retirement advice and support for the province’s aging citizens, including succession planning, knowledge transfer, diet, fitness, health care and more.
Seven: health, fitness and nutrition.
Here’s a major youth-seniors partnership opportunity. From organic market gardening to in-home fitness and life-extension programs, this is the leading edge of an “aging with grace” growth industry.
Eight: sports, recreation and the arts.
New Brunswick already does this quite well, but would benefit by taking it to the next level: as a marketable, exportable industry. Genius, creativity and skill don’t quit at age 60 (though markets far too often do).
Nine: increase immigration.
The province must push for increased immigration that includes entrepreneurial seniors as a part of family immigration, especially in southern and eastern Europe, and build multicultural welcoming systems to retain new immigrants in-province.
It’s time for the province to develop two national campaigns: “Come back to New Brunswick, rediscover your eastern frontier,” and “Enjoy lifelong work and the thrill being alive in New Brunswick,” both under the umbrella concept of “New Brunswick: it’s a new country.”
Eleven: create a forum.
It’s not difficult or expensive to build and promote a new website in which relocation opportunities in New Brunswick can be explored. This would include discussion blogs, listings of businesses for sale, links to job opportunities and real estate and overviews of New Brunswick communities, cultures and activities—and what newcomers might expect to find here.
Twelve: one-time stimulus funding.
In an Atlantic provinces joint venture, appeal to the federal government to set up an “Atlantic Population Growth Fund” to encourage innovators, youth and new immigrants to take advantage of all the East has to offer.
Don’t care for my twelve steps? Why not create your own—and encourage your provincial government to do the same. The more of us working on the future, the brighter it will be.