Thursday, January 22, 2015

Notes on Newfoundland and Labrador

My post earlier this week about the inevitability of large-scale out-migration from Atlantic Canada, overlooked the remarkable economic growth of Newfoundland and Labrador. Etienne Grand’Maison and Andrew Sharpe's July 2013 paper for the Centre for the Study of Living Standards, "A Detailed Analysis of Newfoundland and Labrador's Productivity Performance, 1997-2010: The Impact of the Oil Boom" provides a good overview of the offshore oil development that, according to Statistics Canada, made the traditionally poor province one of the richer in Canada. The Conference Board of Camera rates GDP per capita on par with that of Switzerland. This wealth, something lacking elsewhere in Atlantic Canada, is an asset.

Sudden prosperity has definitely helped the province's demographics. As data collected in the 2011 census makes clear, while Newfoundland and Labrador has an older population than the Canadian average, from 2006 it actually experienced some positive growth, on the order of 1.6% between 2006 and 2011. In all Atlantic Canada, only Prince Edward Island experienced more rapid growth. This helps deal with the province's issues. (The blood donor shortage I mentioned in a June 2010 post might not get much worse, much more quickly.

Fertility in Newfoundland and Labrador, while having recovered from its nadir in the 1990s, is still somewhat below the Canadian average. The underlying demographic dynamics, as noted by then-premier Kathy Dunderdale to the CBC, are arguably scary.

Newfoundland and Labrador's population peaked at 580,109 in 1992, the year the federal government declared a moratorium on much of the cod fishery around the province.

The population hit a low of 506,330 in 2006, with Statistics Canada putting the count in December at 513,555.

Despite some modest growth, Dunderdale said the province needs to do much more. In 2007, then premier Danny Williams introduced a $1,000 incentive to parents for each newborn, with an additional $100 for each of the first 12 months of life or adoption.

Newfoundland and Labrador once had one of the highest birth rates in the country, but has for decades seen declining enrolments in schools, particularly in rural areas. In 1986, Newfoundland and Labrador had almost 104,000 students between five and 14 years of age, with that number cut to just over 53,000 last spring.

The latest census found that Newfoundland and Labrador trailed the other provinces with the lowest percentage of young people.

A 2012 CBC essay goes into more detail about how the decline of the school-age population was accompanied by a redistribution of the population, with the school-age population of the capital of St. John's and its census metropolitan area growing while the school-age population outside was collapsing.

The November 2007 regional population profiles created by the provincial Department of Finance seem to hold out, more than seven years later. The population of St. John's and its area is thriving; the remainder of the province is decaying. The observations of a friend's essay I noted in February 2013 remain true.

[The Newfoundland fisheries] existed for centuries and employed thousands of people, with many more engaged in processing, exporting and transporting the catch.

Then it got overfished. It collapsed in the early 90s, and it crashed hard: in some areas, stocks declined 99% over 50 years.

The fisheries have been under a moratorium for exactly 20 years now. There has been no improvement. Instead, the ecosystem is changing: invasive species are moving in, predators are devastating the remaining populations, and there is little to no evidence of a recovery. The Newfoundland fisheries are, for all intents and purposes, dead.

Large numbers of Newfoundlanders refuse to accept this. They demand that the fisheries be re-opened, as if the fish are merely hiding: the second a boat hits the water, the cod will come leaping out of the surf by the thousands, eager to be caught.

Others have accepted that the fisheries are dead, but insist that the jobs need to find them: they’re going to sit tight and wait for the government to find an industry for each and every teeny, tiny dot on the map. Even the towns with only a dozen residents. Even the towns accessible only by sea. Even the towns without reliable electricity or running water.

The hinky thing is that the young people seem to get it.

Economic prosperity might halt out-migration. It might even attract a substantial number of migrants, even non-Canadian migraqnts. One thing that it can't do, at least not without unrealistically high levels of investment in Newfoundland outside of the St. John's area, is reverse the depopulation of what is now the province's hinterland. There may be exceptions--I noted on my own blog in June 2010 the apparent success of outlying Fogo Island in attracting a certain number of cultural tourists--but can singular exceptions like Fogo be made to apply to the entire island? I suspect not. Newfoundland and Labrador may be doomed to become a Greater St. John's with scattered regional centres, the outports of old which once supported a vibrant fisheries-based economy and culture being, with exceptions, emptied.


CB said...

I wonder for how long the oil in NL will last. Being reliant on a natural resource that is going to be depleted within the next 20 years or so isn't a sustainable model for the future either. The pull factor from ever growing Toronto will only increase further I guess.

Randy McDonald said...

Alberta is the bigger draw, right now. Whatever the destination is, it generally is not in Atlantic Canada.

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