John Ibbitson writes about how the How the Maritimes became Canada’s incredible shrinking region.
After decades of declining fortunes, the Maritime provinces now find themselves trapped in what one observer describes as “a perfect storm” of economic and demographic decline.
The cause of that storm is no mystery; governments have been grappling with it for years. “Everyone knows what the problem is,” says Peter McKenna, head of political science at UPEI. “It’s just that no one knows what to do about it.”
But the real problem is the makeup of the population that remains. Every year – due to a weakening economy, a dearth of immigrants, and a population reluctant to face these problems – there are fewer workers to pay taxes and more old people in need of government services.
The trend may seem familiar – “going down the road” to find work is a Maritime tradition – but the tipping point is approaching rapidly, says Marco Navarro-Génie, president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, a conservative think tank located in Halifax. “We have an economic crisis on the horizon,” he says.
Who will pay for the health care of a population with so many seniors and so few workers? Who will purchase the houses going up for sale? Who will buy the new cars, the appliances, the children’s clothing – all the things that families need when starting out? How far will children have to be bused to the few remaining schools?
Such a future can have only one outcome: slashed health care, education and other social services; ever greater departures by anyone able to escape the vortex; rural towns that become ghost towns; growing provincial deficits and debts, along with steadily reduced credit ratings that will increase borrowing costs.
Mr. Ivany foresees a future in which “we have dramatically altered our immigration patterns … we will have increased productivity, we will be trading at considerably higher levels, our resource sectors will be getting more wealth even out of what we currently harvest.”
Marco Navarro-Génie isn’t so confident. He believes that the entrenched conservatism of the region will frustrate innovation. As much as he loves his new home, “people don’t want things to change … things are fine the way they are.”
But things aren’t fine and, unless Maritimers act boldly to arrest their decline, Mireyne MacMillan and thousands of others will keep going down the road, leaving an increasingly older society in their wake.