By Rob Linke

As appeared on page A1


Moncton, Riverview and Dieppe may crow about spectacular growth but most New Brunswick communities will face sobering reminders Tuesday that they’re shrinking.


Statistics Canada is scheduled to release the results of the 2006 census Tuesday morning. The figures are widely expected to tell a familiar tale in New Brunswick – one of people leaving home. They’re leaving from rural areas for the cities, from the north for the south, and from everywhere to Canada‘s larger centres and booming West.


Population trends don’t turn on a dime, and StatsCan already reported last June that New Brunswick‘s population had fallen nearly 2,000 people to 750,504.


The decline is typical of this region. A study by the Atlantic Institute of Market Studies counted nearly 13,000 Atlantic Canadians who had moved to Alberta in the year ending July 1, 2006. With numbers like these, it’s no wonder Premier Shawn Graham included population growth as a major plank in his campaign platform last fall.


The provincial government has created a population growth secretariat to bring immigration, repatriation, retention and settlement services under one roof. The secretariat officially opens in April. Its resources are expected to double after Tuesday’s provincial budget. Graham has set a target of attracting 5,000 immigrants a year by 2015.


“We are being hit by a demographic perfect storm,” Graham told the legislature last month.


“More people are dying than are being born, too many people – especially skilled young people – are leaving and we are not attracting new Canadians at the same level as other provinces.”


The secretariat knows the latest census numbers are not going to be the most positive thing, said spokesman Brendan Langille. He conceded the numbers could even be demoralizing. The only choice is identifying the problem and meeting it head on. Langille called the goal of 5,000 immigrants a year a major challenge but “definitely do-able” if the right resources are put in place.


Manitoba has proven that a small province of 1.1 million can do it by attracting nearly 8,000 immigrants a year recently. Its goal is 10,000 a year in 2007.


For Moncton, the first census in which Stats Can treats the community as a census metropolitan area will undoubtedly be cause for celebration. The population has been on the upswing for several years, fuelled primarily by the arrival of new residents from rural and northern New Brunswick.


In January, the Financial Post publication Canadian Demographics 2007 predicted Moncton would have 130,000 people by later this year, compared to 126,000 for greater Saint John. The Moncton area’s growth rate outstrips any other contenders in Atlantic Canada and even the national average, said the report.


Saint John may well face another decline in population even though the local economic development agency Enterprise Saint John unveiled a population growth strategy a couple of years ago. But that was never seen as a quick fix, said EnterpriseIs CEO Steve Carson.


“It’s pretty early days in terms of turning the ship around,” said Carson.


No matter what the numbers are, a decline will play out in different reactions in the coffee shops for sure.


“But it’d be much harder to take without the plan we have and without the tremendous signs we’re seeing that we’re poised to see some significant growth,” he said. 

Carson pointed to billions of dollars of investments in energy projects, which are expected to draw in thousands of workers during construction, as the encouraging sign things are turning around.