Solutions for an aging society

(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.

One: location.
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?

Two: energy.
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.

Three: innovation.
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.

Four: housing.
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.

Ten: promotion.
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.


  1. Twelve Tweets to the future? But as I have always said ... "Ideas are cheap ... you can find hundreds in a case of beer. Then try to implement them in the morning." I see no leadership in the Maritimes that is capable of leading such a charge.

  2. Note from another retirement haven: We could benefit from #3.

  3. More comments from Facebook...

    Donna Ross: Love all of the steps, but have to agree with Art. We need new leadership.

    Gerald McEachern: Who am I to disagree? (Though I think I missed my 140-character limit on a few, Art.) The real question is, I guess, why is the "leadership" issue so difficult out here?

    Donna Ross: Because "that's the way it has always been done". Silly - you knew that.

    Art MacKay: Right Donna. Take a good look at the quality of our political leaders through the years ... I'm sure Wikipedia has a list if you can't remember. Many individuals have tried to implement good ideas like yours in the article and many individuals have been cut off at the knees through the years. Fear, jealousy, stupidity, corporate control ... who knows ... or dares to say?

    Donna Ross: All of those come back to fear, Art. Fear of losing what you have, or fear of not getting what you want.

    Art MacKay: I think fear of losing power.

    Art MacKay: And apathy from the inability to affect change. Many of my successful colleagues have never returned to "this place".

    Donna Ross: That's sad, but I sure understand it. I have been here less than 2 years, and I feel pretty beaten up. Enthusiasm that I once had in spades seems to be waning. Too bad, because I have so much to offer! :0)

    Art MacKay: Ahh Donna... I'm sorry. I guess our NB motto should be "Only the dumb survive!"

    Donna Ross: Nah, I'm a scrapper at heart - and damned stubborn. I'll keep working at changing things. The first thing I'd love to see go is the ridiculously prejudiced use of the label "from away".

    Art MacKay: So am I and they didn't get me for the first 30 years or so in biz here. Unfortunately, they "work the streets" ... the most destructive and demeaning technique available since it often turns myth into fact and it is damn difficult to counter. Oh and I'm "from here" and the maximum damage was done by "from aways". Strange ehh?

    Neil MacEachern A lot of the recommendations are well placed, esp. in NB, but apparently the ageing isn't happening as fast as we think. This article re: health care in the States indicates some interesting points.

    Gerald McEachern: Neil, the U.S. is not like Europe and other "developed" nations. It has a positive population growth curve and a private health care system, two factors that skew it in a different direction from countries such as Germany, Italy and Japan. China, also, will soon be facing the same demographic challenges. As for NB, the aging demographic trend is daunting.

  4. Yes the 12 Steps point to the right orientation. But as always I will throw in a new thought like a wrench in the machine! The local future is global and vice-versa. Glocal. A local region must see itself primarily as a hub of excellence on the global network... at least in this phase of Civilization. I see the new HackerLab and FabLab orientations as the beginnings of what local region-hubs of excellence can do to help the global re-think, re-design, re-engineer revolution of global Energy-Economy-Environment systems. This is like the global networked Lunar Society of Birmingham out of which many amazing notions of the Industrial Revolution sprang. If local regions try to resist the global network effect - their young people will leave - since those regions are doomed. Young people are leaving Iceland, Ireland, and Greece, now, because those regions could not fight the global network effects of the Bond Market and the global banking cartel networks. Only a global network or regional communities can now resist and transform the globalization driven by corporate cartels. This I call NR... Networked Regions, as opposed to UN, United Nations.

  5. I think I already directed attention to the need for pan-Atlantic regional development in Steps One and Twelve (and everything in between would also help). And yes, globalization is an ongoing force, but relocalization will also become a necessity as the fossil fuel tank drains down.

  6. Hi folks, this coast has more than it's fair share of aging and immigration and the only damn thing happening here is building and more building. Not bad for me economically as I am in the interior finishing business, however that is little consolation for the social ails spawned by the speculation run amok. It seems like the entire province is under the spell of speculative markets. Can you believe it, four houses sold last week for 3.4 million that would have sold for about 750,000 the previous month. These units were purchased by prospective immigrants seeking to move their money from their Asian homelands, most notably China. We are witnessing what many here believe is the gentrification of Vancouver city.

    We have heard that Municipal networks in the western world have begun strategic development of a policy framework in support of this goal through the one size fits all solution for urban and regional traffic logistics. This is playing out on the ground as a comprehensive plan to permanently toll all bridges in the future as opposed to short term toll leases to subsidize the construction of new bridges. Needless to say the implications for the movement of people and goods are dire. The cost of goods landed at the port in Vancouver and indeed the rail terminus for a substantial portion of goods shipped by rail, will have additional costs attached to them that can't be eliminated by simply shopping elsewhere. As well the free movement by large segments of the population will be severely restricted by the additional costs of entering and exiting the city. It seems the trend in the 20th century of suburbanization as a way to escape decaying infrastructure and housing stock in the urban areas has been supplanted by emerging trends that seem to be a move to increased means of fortification of urban centers coupled with institutional policy development that at least, in effect, if not by design, tend to prop up the barriers to free movement of all citizens. Now I am well aware that this could be viewed by some as paranoia on my part and I am the first to admit that I am very alarmed, however I am weary of having my worst fears materialize. If only reality was less spectacular than our imaginations I would just wait for these feelings to pass... anyways, the senior population is perhaps the most negatively impacted by these events as culturally and demographically diverse urban neighbourhoods that were once ideally suited to "aging in place" are swallowed whole to make way for homogeneous gentrified neighbourhoods. I mean this is being done on a scale that makes poverty a new growth market. Poor people by virtue of their material reality are squeezed into areas of deteriorated infrastructure and services where they subsidize speculation with, usually over inflated rents and hence unearned profits for landowners. Like a beacon of light the poor and marginalized illuminate the pathway to the next speculative urban renewal projects that will gentrify their home and force their migration to the next decaying urban area. Seniors, working poor, and children are the most severely impacted by these policies born of a race to the bottom mentality. Well I think I've run out of rant this morning but

  7. The Asian invasion isn't something we've much experienced out here, Cathy. But, globally speaking, the Far East is the new Old West, so there'll be a lot of cultural displacement going on as these two cultures collide and merge.

    And there, as here, the poor always take the biggest hit. (They're the ones always standing on the edge of the apocalypse...)

  8. Hi from the interior. Well I know only what I read and from what I read you can have all the steps in place on a clean sheet of paper but with out cash to proceed you only have art work. Not dissing art I think that nothing is feasible with out some venture capital.
    For example I am working with 2 other retired guys who have come back from the brink of boredom to add their wealth of knowledge to the engineering field. They only want to work 3 days a week as they have been to the dark pit and were released and want nothing to do with a career. Been there done that. I am sure that the smile on our faces has to do with being useful and yes mentors to the younger guys.
    The in charge group that would rather be in charge of a rotting stump than relinquish power can be beaten. That is out bid them for a future that will aid us all. Seems people are willing to invest in any old crap so why not set up investment companies whose goal is to develop the eastern maritime region as per the 12 steps. That maybe a worth while use of the money earned on our over used resources building F35 and war ships and everyday plastic stuff.
    “New Brunswick, where you can add value to your money by spending it wisely”
    Oh well as some one mentioned thoughts are cheap.

  9. NIce to hear about your engineering friends. Motivation is a wonderful thing, especially when money isn't the main motivator. There's a huge satisfaction that comes from being useful, relevant, making a difference.

    You're probably on to something with the small venture capital idea. Big venture cap money gets a 20% to 30% annual return these days, I hear. So they only fund the "go big or stay home" plays. Small investors who aren't in it for the raping could make a real difference, especially on the new innovation side, and even better if they were able to offer 'hands on' mentoring like you and your friends could.

    I really agree that it's a hell of a lot better than building war machines for the federal government. That military production approach is about regressive as it comes (and is the only thing holding the US economy together at this point...but I guess that's what a world cop needs to do to stay on top of that total loser game).

    Any yes, thoughts are cheap, but you certainly can't go too far without good ones...


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