FREDERICTON – The selling points are many: a wealth of outdoor activities – such as hiking, fishing and hunting – and plenty of rivers, lakes and friendly folks.
The cities have a small-town feel, and congested commuter traffic is rare.
Certainly there are a plethora of positive aspects when it comes to living life in New Brunswick, elements the reigning Liberals are trying hard to sell in their efforts to lure expatriates, immigrants and workers to the province.
But is that enough to repatriate New Brunswickers and attract new residents, especially when competing against other provinces and countries?
For Greg Byrne, the minister responsible for the population growth secretariat, lifestyle is a key part of the message when marketing the province.
“We’re a caring province. People know their neighbours and they can depend on each other. People talk to each other walking down the street,” said the Fredericton-Lincoln MLA. “When you look at what we have to offer for lifestyle, it’s a big seller.”
That’s the pitch Byrne makes on his repatriation missions, most recently to Ottawa and Toronto.
He promotes everything from safe neighbourhoods to the lower cost of living.
“That’s what people are looking for,” he said. “For us, it about getting that message out.”
That branding message is a main cog in the Liberals’ plan to boost the population by 100,000 over the next two decades, including the goal to add 5,000 souls by 2015.
The population now sits at 751,250, according to Statistics Canada.
In addition to marketing and branding, Byrne said those goals will be met through the development of family-friendly workplaces and more funding for immigrants and multicultural services.
And the need to attract new workers will likely grow as proposed Saint John energy projects develop.
An estimated 33,000 jobs could be created if plans for a second oil refinery and a second nuclear reactor proceed as expected.
George Maicher, president of the New Brunswick Multicultural Council, says marketing the local lifestyle is central to steering immigrants to New Brunswick – instead of big centres like Toronto.
“The province is not as well known,” said Maicher, who immigrated to Canada from Germany 40 years ago. He notes there are provinces in European countries with populations in the millions.
“We cannot really expect people to know something about a place that has 750,000 people,” he said.
The key, according to Maicher, is to show that life in New Brunswick is less complicated than in other parts of the country: less time commuting and more time for social activities.
But promoting quality of life has its limits, contends Charles Cirtwill, of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, a Halifax-based think-tank. The lifestyle factor just sweetens the deal, he says. The real meat is in having available jobs.
“It might be nice to sit back and relax in New Brunswick, but relaxing while paying higher taxes and not having a job is a little less attractive,” he said.
While branding may work well in attracting immigrants, expatriates need more concrete reasons to return, says Cirtwill. He proposes a matching service between local employers and ex-pats.
“Far better to tell them that the reasons they left have now been solved,” Cirtwill said, “because clearly the quality of life wasn’t enough to keep them here in the first place.”
Leigh Lampert personifies that cold reality. The Moncton native now works in Toronto as an immigration lawyer.
That hasn’t stopped him from preserving his Maritime roots. He is a founding member of East Coast Connected, group that promotes business and social connections between Toronto and the Atlantic provinces.
Still, a return home seems unlikely – he has a good job and his wife is from the big city.
“Here I am talking about how I’d move back (for) the quality life,” he said, “but in fact I probably wouldn’t.”