Liberals say adding 6,000 more people over last mandate proves their record, but others question ambitious goal

FREDERICTON – Proclaiming population growth as one of the items that went well over the last four years, the Liberals promised yesterday to add another 12,000 people to New Brunswick’s population over a second mandate.

Liberal Leader Shawn Graham said his government had a track record of success with population growth, having added more than 6,000 people within their first mandate after years of population decline.

Between January 2007 and this past April, New Brunswick’s population grew by 6,000 – four months late of a self-imposed government benchmark of adding 6,000 new people that had been spread out over two years.

Still, the Liberals chalked it up as a success, reversing nine straight quarters of population decline (about 4,300 people) in New Brunswick.

Adding 12,000 people to New Brunswick’s population by 2014 would increase the province’s people count by 18,000 over when Graham introduced his government’s population growth strategy in 2007.

With 18,000 people, another 7,000 people would have to be added to the province’s population in one year in order to meet the government target set three years ago of a total population growth of 25,000 people by 2015.

The Liberals said the 2015 target was still achievable because adding 12,000 new people to New Brunswick’s population over the next four years would be a minimum target and not a maximum.

The Liberals’ ultimate goal is to add 100,000 people to the province by 2026.

New Brunswick’s population in April (when last reported by Statistics Canada) was 751,273.

The Progressive Conservatives said they had doubts yesterday about the Liberals’ population growth goals. The Tories say information from NB Power and the Department of Finance peg population growth to be more modest, and they’re inclined to believe those two sources.

“(Graham) can’t fool the people in the department, obviously, but he hopes to fool the rest of us,” said PC press secretary Tyler Campbell.

The New Democrats said they doubted the Liberals’ goals as well, questioning how much influence they truly had on growing the population by 6,000 during their first mandate.

“You just can’t say that because something happened in the jurisdiction you control, that it was you who did it,” said Dominic Cardy, the NDP’s campaign manager.

Cardy said recent immigration policies being made flexible at the federal level was likely the main reason why New Brunswick’s population increased during Graham’s governance.

An outside report released in November from the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS) suggested that New Brunswick’s population might plummet to 666,700 people by 2046 – a loss of 79,000 people from 2006 numbers, or a 10.5 per cent decrease (making up about 1.6 per cent of the nation’s estimated total population in 2046).

The projections from the AIMS report largely assumed that current fertility levels and mortality rates would continue, acknowledging that migration numbers were difficult to forecast.

Graham said he could counter all those criticisms and suggestions with a solid plan in place over the next four years to add at least 12,000 new people. He said it included another goal of achieving 80 per cent retention of immigrants in the province.

The Liberals said they’d do this by launching support on the ground to mentor immigrants, as well as partnering with post-secondary institutions to encourage foreign students to settle in New Brunswick post-graduation. Graham said the government would also work with the federal government to encourage a speed-up in immigration processes.