On May 31, 2017, AIMS President Marco Navarro-Génie appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration to discuss demographic and economic challenges in Atlantic Canada.

Below is the text of his presentation: 

Mr. Chairman and Honourable Members of the Committee,

Good afternoon: I am grateful for the chance to appear before you on behalf of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies today. Merci de cette opportunité de comparaître devant vous.

Alarm bells have been sounding about the declining population of Atlantic Canada.

The region ages rapidly, adding to the pressures of economic decay.

Without higher productivity, fewer people means a shrinking economy, greater fiscal burden, rising costs of certain economic scales. There is no significant population growth, but healthcare and education costs keep rising.

Atlantic Canadians are proud of their cultural achievements and place a premium on them. Economy is often placed behind cultural concerns.

That will have to change for the sake of economy and culture alike. Theatres, parks, schools, hospitals and festivals may all be more important than money. But we need wealth to sustain them and maintain all these.

The same can be said of immigration.

The Atlantic Institute for Market Studies favours and supports greater immigration. We need more people.

But we are concerned that without correcting public policies that have set the region on its current path, and without removing obstacles to more vibrant economies, retaining immigrants will continue to be difficult.

The question needs closer scrutiny, and it is currently under study at our Institute.

We know that the population challenge in the region is caused by a decline in natural growth AND the outmigration of the native, largely young resident population.

This young segment flees in search of economic opportunity that they do not find here.

Hoping that the immigrant population will stay and solve our population challenges while the native residents continue to leave is no strategy for demographic renewal. The haemorrhage must be contained.

People emigrate in search of prosperity for themselves and their children. They often willing endure immediate sacrifice for the sake of future prosperity for their children.

Unfortunately, future prosperity in Atlantic Canada is in question – and a significant portion of the demographic challenge is tied to economy stagnation.

The region’s economies are the most taxed in the country; we have labour laws that are often hostile to businesses and investment; energy is unnecessarily expensive; we prohibit economic activities such as hydraulic fracturing that are lawful elsewhere, while our children leave for employment in the very economic activities that we ban here.

Governments, with the exception of NB, have bloated public services that act as economic ballast and impede effective change; we have a paternalist economic populism from political leaders that keeps spending monies we do not have and will not have, adding to greater fiscal uncertainties.

Someone told me that Nova Scotians are friendly but not welcoming.

In this realization, we have sought to make immigrants feel more welcome, and these are good developments.

But this alone will not increase immigrant retention.

It’s the economy!!!

The region needs to right its economic ship – a feat onto itself when we have a federal government determined to continue to spend more than we have.

Atlantic Canada needs a policy regime that encourages private economic growth, reduces government and its spending, eliminates the ample diet of subsidies, becomes more competitive, reduces barriers to trade and commerce across provincial borders, and becomes the most desirable place to invest.

Tinkering at the edges to attract more people and investment will not do when we have to compete with the rest of the world.

With immigration in mind, our recommendations are that the federal government encourage entrepreneurship and productivity in the region through the following policies:
– Slowly reduce equalization payments while gradually letting provinces keep all of the HST revenue
– Set a legislative framework to allow Atlantic provinces to create a small number of free economic zones within their boundaries
– Encourage Atlantic regional governments to join the New West Partnership
– Encourage Atlantic regional governments to abandon retrograde business subsidies.

And if we need to attract more immigrants, let’s attract more American immigrants to Atlantic Canada.

With much economic and political uncertainty south of the border at present, it is time to explore the opportunity that highly-skilled Americans may want to move north under the right conditions.

The federal government should assist by making the process of immigration as simple as possible.

I will conclude by rearticulating the point. Without a solid economic ground onto which we can welcome more of the badly needed immigrants, current immigration policy will not be as successful.

Without it, Atlantic Canada may continue to be simply an initial training ground to new Canadians and their revolving door entry into the country.

Merci de votre attention. Thank you.