The new age of aging, stagnation and outmigration


New Brunswick has the oldest population in the country. Half of Canada’s population is now 40 years old or older. And the aging baby boomers are accelerating these trends. Even so, Canada’s population is not aging as quickly as other G7 countries like Japan, Germany and Italy, for example.

Since 2011 New Brunswick’s population has declined by a half a percent, down about 3000 people; so we’ve essentially lost a small town. According to the government of New Brunswick, the outmigration of youth adds to the difficulties of sustaining aging populations, especially when life expectancy is still increasing. Today in the province, nearly one-fifth of the population is over the age of 65. And New Brunswick is the first province in Canada to experience negative population growth since 2006.

Way back in 2013 the NB government put out a discussion paper on the problem. It opens with this: “The number of seniors (over 65) expected to increase dramatically over the next 25 years, coupled with low birth rates and significant youth out-migration, it is imperative that government continue to implement proactive population growth efforts.”

Its solution is to focus on attracting Francophone immigrants to the province, I guess because the population loses in the French-speaking north of the province are greater that in the south. I doubt this “strategy” will work. Other than cheap real estate and lots of rocks, water and trees, what would attract fluently bilingual young people to move to our remote dying towns with poor economies? Maybe a great ad campaign?

Over the next 35 years 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities, according to the UN. Call it the ‘great urbanization’. Meanwhile, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization says that food production will have to rise by 70 percent to feed the world’s growing populations.  It notes that the number of people who are chronically hungry crossed the one billion mark in 2009. So, while world’s (mostly urban) populations expand, especially in Africa and Asia, populations in places like New Brunswick, including small cities like Saint John and Bathurst are likely to flatline or shrink.

So there’s a collision of trends. Western populations are aging and shrinking. Asian, African and Latin American populations are young and growing, comprise 70 percent of the world’s population and sit on 70 percent of the world’s natural resources. Aging and stagnating Western populations represent about 30 percent of the world’s population, controlling the other 30 percent of the world’s natural resources. These numbers help explain the U.S.’s staggeringly huge investments in weapons and globally-deployed military forces. These trends are directly tied to a half century of Western affluence and consumption, which has seen the world’s wealthiest 16 percent consume 80 percent of the world’s natural resources.

New Brunswick is just another, relatively small natural resource supplier to the world. We refine oil, cut wood, grow potatoes, harvest seafood, and raise fish for export, leaving behind toxic air, glyphosate sprayed clearcuts, replanted monocultural forests, dying and over-fertilized soils and watersheds, scraped out seabeds, polluted oceans, using increasingly mechanized methods of extraction and processing. And a stagnating economy. That’s an impressive achievement.

For all that, the New Brunswick government has been cashed-starved for the last half century. Between 1971 and 2017 there have been only 7 years with budget surpluses. The province’s current net debt is over $14 billion, or $18,000 per person. That, of course, makes supporting a shrinking, aging population somewhat challenging. It is also interesting to note that the two wealthiest New Brunswick families alone have an estimated combined net worth of $14.25 billion—the bulk of that wealth taken directly from New Brunswick land.

I used to joke that New Brunswick is the future of Canada, the Canada in which the most abundant natural resources are gone, public debt is high, the population is aging and relatively poor, and a handful of wealthy families and multinational corporations control the remaining resources.

None of this is news, of course. Successive generations of New Brunswick politicians have beaten the same drum in every election. And yet the culture persists. What we need is a complete rethink.

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