By Victor Boudreau
Minister of the Population Growth Secretariat

Since being appointed minister responsible for the Population Growth Secretariat, I have received two pieces of news on this very important file that have made an impression on me.

The first came on my first day as minister responsible for population growth. Statistics Canada had just announced that New Brunswick had recorded its ninth straight quarter of population growth, with the largest first-quarter growth since 1992.

These estimates revealed an important trend taking shape in our province: since the beginning of 2007, New Brunswick has reversed a decades-long population decline and is now growing at a faster rate than any other time in the last 20 years.

Hubert Denis, a senior analyst with Statistics Canada, recently said in The Telegraph-Journal that: “some quarterly results for New Brunswick have been ‘rarely seen in the past.’ International immigration to New Brunswick is on the rise, as the province saw positive numbers in every quarter in 2008.”

In fact, during the last two years, New Brunswick has been the fastest-growing province in Atlantic Canada.

The second bit of news was raised during a briefing with staff from the Population Growth Secretariat: that New Brunswick is still facing significant demographic challenges. Our aging population, shrinking workforce and low fertility rates have combined to form what many experts are calling a “perfect demographic storm.”

Addressing these issues could take years, requiring co-ordinated efforts between the public and private sectors. As with many issues, the government has been expected to take the lead.

Initially, these two bits of news seemed at odds: we face demographic challenges related to our aging population, and yet our population continues to grow. However, as I looked at the work that has been done on the issue by Premier Shawn Graham and Finance Minister Greg Byrne, as the previous minister responsible for the Population Growth Secretariat, it was clear that our government has been taking the lead and our efforts are beginning to bear fruit.

Consider what our government has done since picking up the barely flickering population growth torch from the previous government.

We began by facing the challenges presented by population decline head-on. In fact, in 2006, we committed in our Charter for Change to creating the Population Growth Secretariat, which consists of branches responsible for retention, repatriation, immigration and immigrant settlement services.

The first year after taking office and creating the Population Growth Secretariat, we doubled the budget for population growth activities. In the next year, we increased the budget again by $2 million. In 2007, we released a comprehensive Population Growth Strategy, and we have since acted on most of the commitments in the strategy.

Immigration, one of the pillars to population growth, has been a key priority of our government. We have committed record funding for the province’s Provincial Nominee Program, which allows the province to fast-track immigrants through the federal queue. In 2007-08 these funding increases translated into a 58 per cent increase in the number of immigrants coming in through the program.

The added funding we have directed to promote the Provincial Nominee Program has given our province the ability to target immigrants who want to invest in our province and fill gaps in our labour market.

A good immigration program, however, is much more than simply a head count. A crucial component to being successful is offering settlement services to ensure that, once immigrants come here, they stay.

Our government was the first in our province’s history to create a settlement service branch for immigrants, and we have invested close to $1 million in new funding for services such as language training, business mentoring and orientation to help communities be more welcoming to immigrants.

Just a few weeks ago, our government announced it was investing $258,166 to develop a newcomer welcoming centre in Saint John and another $150,000 for a welcoming centre in the Miramichi. These moves were widely applauded by the multicultural community.

Recognizing the importance of retaining our young people, our government was also the first to set up a youth retention fund ($357,000) to support groups such as Fusion Saint John in doing important retention work in our province.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, we have created the climate for population growth by introducing the second-lowest tax rates in Canada after Alberta and a $20,000 tuition rebate initiative which will arm our population growth team with some of the best selling features it could have.

In a recent article in The Telegraph-Journal, headlined “Workers head east,” Charles Cirtwill, vice-president of the independent Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, said it best: “Over the next couple of years, New Brunswick is just going to leap heads and shoulders above and ahead of everybody.”

There is still a great deal of work to do, but people across the country are beginning to notice our government is getting behind population growth. That is why I look forward to leading these efforts as we continue to grow our population to help us move closer to our goal of achieving self-sufficiency by 2026.

Victor Boudreau is New Brunswick’s Minister responsible for the Population Secretariat. He is also the MLA for Shediac-Cap Pelé.