Nova Scotia needs more babies and young come-from-aways.
Ian Munro, director of research for the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, says otherwise there eventually won’t be enough people to pay for the services we enjoy — everything from paved roads to health care and schools.
Statistics Canada released 2006 census figures Tuesday that show Nova Scotia has the second-highest proportion of seniors in Canada. The data showed 15.1 per cent of Nova Scotians are 65 years old or older, up from 13.9 per cent in the 2001 census. Guysborough had the largest proportion of seniors in Nova Scotia at 21.5 per cent and Halifax the lowest at 12.1 per cent.
Nationally, 13.7 per cent of the population was made up of seniors.
“We are going to have more and more people over 65 who are retired and will be consuming more public services like health care,” Mr. Munro said in an interview. “At the same time, we will have fewer people that are in the workforce generating income, generating tax revenue to pay for those services.”
Mr. Munro said Tuesday that some other parts of Canada have been offering baby bonuses and other fiscal incentives to “make the math more attractive to have additional children.”
According to Statistics Canada, only 16 per cent of Nova Scotians were under 15 years old, the second-lowest proportion in the country after Newfoundland and Labrador.
In 2005, then-premier John Hamm suggested Canada take a page from Caesar and give tax breaks to encourage people to have more children. The premier said such a measure could help boost declining population, as it did for the Roman Empire, which lasted another 300 years.
Premier Rodney MacDonald said he’s open to ways to encourage Nova Scotians to have more kids. He said his government already has taken some steps — from investments in sports infrastructure to an increase in the basic personal tax exemption to investments in companies such as Michelin — to encourage people to stay in the province and raise their families.
He said there has already been a 66 per cent increase in the number of immigrants coming to Nova Scotia in the past number of years, but even more are needed.
“We need to significantly increase that,” said Mr. MacDonald, who wants the number of immigrants to jump to 10,000 people a year from about 2,500.
The premier said the immigrants who have moved here have been from various age groups, but Mr. Munro said the age profile of immigrants in recent years has mirrored the resident population and did not really alter the province’s demographics. He said Nova Scotia should look at retaining foreign students once they graduate as another way of strengthening the workforce.
After that, Mr. Munro said, Nova Scotia then has to ensure its workforce is productive by providing quality education, competitive tax rates and adequate infrastructure to encourage businesses to invest here.
“One hopes that if we start making smart moves in all of these different areas that overall we can address this problem and not find ourselves in a real bind 10 or 20 years down the road when I’m ready to retire,” Mr. Munro said.
New Democrat MLA Howard Epstein said public services will be covered either directly from the federal government, in the case of old age security pensions, or indirectly through equalization and Canada Health and Social Transfer payments to provinces for things such as health care and education.
What Mr. Epstein worries about is a shortage of employees and a lack of economic opportunities for young Nova Scotians. He said the provincial government should focus on the university and community college systems in Nova Scotia and fostering an entrepreneurial spirit among graduates.
“I think people should be encouraged to think about starting their own businesses,” the Halifax Chebucto MLA said Tuesday. “This would keep bright, educated people here.”
Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil also called for Nova Scotia to grow its economy so young people will stop leaving rural Nova Scotia for other provinces. He said while it’s great when large companies come into the province, there are already smaller businesses that just need a bit of help to stabilize and grow.
Saskatchewan had the highest proportion of seniors at 15.4 per cent, followed by Nova Scotia’s 15.1 per cent. Prince Edward Island was third at 14.9 per cent, followed by New Brunswick with 14.7 per cent, British Columbia, 14.6 per cent, Quebec, 14.3 per cent, Manitoba, 14.1 per cent, Newfoundland and Labrador, 13.9 per cent, Ontario, 13.6 per cent, Alberta, 10.7 per cent, Yukon, 7.5 per cent, Northwest Territories, 4.8 per cent, and Nunavut, 2.7 per cent.