By Chris Morris, The Canadian Press

As appeared on page C3

FREDERICTON — The New Brunswick government is setting up an agency to put the brakes on the province’s steep population decline, but experts warn it will take more than glossy brochures to reverse the trend.

The recently elected government of Premier Shawn Graham announced Friday the establishment of a Population Growth Secretariat to retain and repatriate New Brunswickers and recruit immigrants to the Maritime province.

Business New Brunswick Minister Greg Byrne said the secretariat, which will be under his department, will co-ordinate efforts to create more outreach programs and public dialogue on population issues.

He did not have specifics in terms of programs and targets, and he dismissed the immediate possibility of such incentives as baby bonuses to encourage population growth.

“I can tell you we have no immediate plans to pursue initiatives of that nature,” he said, acknowledging that such measures have worked in other jurisdictions, notably Quebec.

Byrne and Graham made it clear they understand the serious consequences of depopulation.

“With fewer people, our revenues decrease,” Graham said. “Employers find it harder and harder to find skilled workers . . . and it becomes increasingly difficult to attract new industries.

“It is having a very profound and very personal impact on our people.”

Thousands of Atlantic Canadians have left the region in recent years for better opportunities and bigger paycheques in other parts of the country.

The Atlantic Provinces Economic Council reports that close to 13,000 Atlantic Canadians moved to Alberta over a one-year period ending July 1, 2006. New Brunswick lost 3,115.

Charles Cirtwill of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, a private think-tank based in Halifax, said the province is sending conflicting signals.

While Graham is promoting the province as a great place to live, Finance Minister Victor Boudreau is warning that a potential $400-million deficit could mean possible tax increases and program cuts.

The province’s already-high taxes on income, sales and property, combined with generally lower wages, are a major disincentive for workers.

“If you start raising taxes in your province, you’re wasting your money marketing it,” Cirtwill said bluntly.

“The reality is people will make their decisions based on whether it’s good or bad for them to move back to New Brunswick, not on whether a shiny brochure makes them feel warm and fuzzy.”

Cirtwill said Graham should tie the population program to such plans as his election promise to make New Brunswick tax competitive within 10 years.

As well, he said the Liberal government should look more closely at programs that encourage larger families.