By Campbell Morrison
As appeared on page A5

The shrinking population in Atlantic Canada will alleviate rural poverty as long as the government gets out of the way, a Senate committee studying the issue heard Thursday.

Charles Cirtwill, the acting president of the Atlantic Institute on Market Studies, told the committee that the demographic shift will mean that there will be jobs for all those who wish to work, including those in rural settings.

“This is actually good news for the poor. This demographic change will improve the opportunities for the people who have been the least engaged, who have received the least benefit from our economic boom,” he said.

“The next 20 years offer a staggering opportunity to change their lives.”

But the government should facilitate the change in the economy rather than try to manage it, he said.

“Government can’t pick the ways that this is going to happen. We can’t pick the opportunities that are going to work or not work. We can’t pick winners and losers. The transition is already happening,” Cirtwill said.

“People are taking advantage of this and, quite honestly, the role of government is simply to facilitate what is already taking place.”

The committee is about to begin travelling to hear from witnesses and will be in New Brunswick on Feb. 21.

Cirtwill added that the policies of the past 20 years have been aimed at managing high unemployment during a period of labour surpluses, but now the country is entering a period of labour shortages.

“A labour shortage is a poor worker’s best friend,” he said because it pushes up wages.

By 2020, he predicted, there will be 80,000 fewer workers in Atlantic Canada.

“With a zero unemployment rate comes a severe disruption in the economy,” Cirtwill said.

“Goods don’t get made, crops don’t get picked, products don’t get delivered. People who don’t work now will have to work.”