In one, Saint John’s population would plummet by nearly 6,500 over the next 25 years, net job losses would total about 2,600 and the average annual employment growth rate would hover around zero.
In the other, new employment opportunities would climb each year – peaking at about 33,000 in 2012 – and the permanent population in Greater Saint John would increase by nearly 16,000.
Two visions of the future for the province’s largest city could not clash more starkly.
These two colliding visions, prepared by the Benefits Blueprint team, are reliant on how the province’s emerging energy boom unfolds.
The building of a liquefied natural gas terminal and pipeline, refurbishment of the Point Lepreau nuclear generating station and construction of a new potash mine are underway. Two further potential projects include the Eider Rock refinery and construction of a second reactor at Lepreau.
While the documents focus on Saint John, Dave Hardy, a member of the Blueprint team, says effects of the boom would ripple throughout the entire province since other regions will be involved in the supply, management and service side.
The grim picture of decline, which accounts for the projects that are currently under way, represents the future over the next 25 years if the potential projects fall through.
Even with the LNG facilities and the Lepreau refurbishment on the go, the population of the Greater Saint John area – including Grand Bay-Westfield, Hampton, Quispamsis, Rothesay and St. Martins – would see no growth, remaining essentially stable at about 122,000. A sharp decline, from about 68,000 to about 61,500 would be seen in the city of Saint John, largely attributable to the outmigration of youth to Alberta.
The number of jobs would initially rise from about 62,900 in 2007 to 66,300 in 2013, with much of the growth in administration and management sectors. But numbers would then plummet to 60,300 by 2031. And from 2014 and beyond, average annual employment growth rates would fall to zero or below across the board.
“This decline will be observed throughout all industry sectors and will be the result of not having any major investment project or significant change in the local economy on the horizon that will generate and sustain economic growth over the long term,” the report states.
But the doom and gloom scenario is not what the Blueprint team is planning for. If all projects go forward as expected and spur new investments in the province, the team paints a far rosier picture of the future.
Consistent increases in direct, indirect and induced employment would be seen every year for the next 25 years, with those numbers skyrocketing at the peak of the boom: 25,000 new jobs in 2011; 33,000 in 2012; and 31,000 in 2013. Indirect and induced employment, such as suppliers and retailers, would be bolstered across the province.
Population numbers in greater Saint John would also leap by about 7,500 in the first four years of development; 5,200 between 2012 and 2016; and 3,200 between 2017 and 2021.
The potential is there for the entire province to benefit from Saint John’s growing industries through increased demands for goods and services to fuel the boom, said Charles Cirtwill, a public policy expert with the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies.
“The boom is going to trickle out into the communities surrounding Saint John,” at least as far as Moncton and Fredericton, but even beyond to northern communities, he said.
“The vast majority of New Brunswickers can expect to see some sort of impact from this.”