By Jeffery Simpson
As appeared on page A1
When Krissy Arbuckle graduates from university this spring, she’ll move away from Halifax for the first time in her life. She doesn’t have much choice. There aren’t enough decent-paying jobs in her home province to make sticking around possible after she racked up $31,000 in student loans during five years at Mount Saint Vincent University.
“It’s definitely frustrating and discouraging,” Ms. Arbuckle, 26, said in an interview Tuesday. “If you’re Nova Scotian and you’re graduating, you’re either going to Alberta or Korea.”
An exodus of people searching for work is a major reason why Nova Scotia is lagging behind the rest of Canada in population growth, the 2006 Statistics Canada census indicates.
The province’s population increased by just 5,400, or 0.6 per cent, from 2001 to 2006. The number of Canadians grew by 5.4 per cent, to 31,612,897 from 30,007,094, over the same period, Statistics Canada said Tuesday.
Halifax Regional Municipality’s population jumped 3.8 per cent to 372,858 but still trailed cities in the rest of Canada. Other metropolitan areas with more than 10,000 people grew by 6.9 per cent on average.
“The reason why Halifax is not growing as fast as the rest of the nation is the loss through interprovincial migration,” Hubert Denis of Statistics Canada said in an interview.
“It is growing but at a slower pace than the other metropolitan areas in the country.”
Mr. Denis said most of Halifax’s population growth was through its birth rate and those who came from other countries, while many residents of rural Nova Scotia also moved to the capital.
“Everywhere in Canada the rural areas are growing slower and losing population while the urban parts are growing faster.”
Mayor Peter Kelly said he’s happy Halifax held its own, mostly by keeping the lion’s share of the province’s immigrants.
“Nova Scotia brought in more than the other three (Atlantic provinces) combined,” he said. “Immigration is playing a role, migration from other municipalities is playing a role.”
Still, people left Halifax in droves.
“People are coming in but there are more going out,” Mr. Denis said.
The availability of quality work is the major reason, he said. And Ms. Arbuckle can attest to that.
“The jobs that are available when I look around Nova Scotia I’m either way under-qualified for because I only have an undergraduate degree or you’re part-time minimum wage working at the mall, working in fast food,” she said.
“Making $8 or $9 or $10 an hour when I have to pay $400 a month on my student loan doesn’t seem like a viable option.”
Ms. Arbuckle plans to teach English in South Korea but many of her friends are heading to Alberta, which recorded a 10.6 per cent gain in population, the highest of any province.
Charles Cirtwill of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies said the census highlights the grim truth about living in Nova Scotia.
“We haven’t created an environment here that encourages people to stay,” Mr. Cirtwill said.
“We talk about these wonderful advertising campaigns where we’ll put some billboards out in Alberta and that sort of thing. But the fact of the matter is we don’t have the opportunities, our taxes are too high, our services are not up to par.
“The harsh reality of that is that people choose to go elsewhere.” Other cities offer a diverse range of work and a critical mass of immigrants, making it easier to attract others, he said.
But Nova Scotia hasn’t yet hit on a formula to make moving to the province worthwhile, Mr. Cirtwill said. It relies on emphasizing its quality of life, while forgetting that in order to take advantage of that, certain standards of living are necessary.
“You’re seeing people come, give it a try for a couple years and then go away because they’re just not seeing what we promised them.
“You have to have the ability to raise enough money to put food in the mouth of the family that you’re raising here.”
While Halifax’s population grew, other towns in the province experienced substantial declines. Antigonish lost 10.9 per cent of its population, which dropped to 4,236 from 4,754.
Antigonish Mayor Kay Chisholm blamed the loss on a trend toward smaller families and the lure of working in Alberta. She said it shouldn’t have the same impact on her town compared with other parts of the province because the drop in numbers is offset by the influx of 4,500 students at St. Francis Xavier University every year.
But most of those students likely won’t linger for very long in Nova Scotia.
“Easily three-quarters of the people that I know who have graduated in the last three years are not in Nova Scotia right now,” Ms. Arbuckle said.