The surge in Nova Scotia’s population is good for many reasons

The “Ivany Report” on Nova Scotia’s future was released in February 2014. It was officially titled “Now or Never, an Urgent Call to Action” and began with words of alarm:

“The evidence is convincing that Nova Scotia hovers now on the brink of an extended period of decline. Two interdependent factors — an aging and shrinking population and very low rates of economic growth — mean that our economy today is barely able to support our current standards of living and public services, and will be much less so going forward unless we can reverse current trends.”

The data in support of that conclusion was undeniable. Immigration hovered around 2,500 people per year with poor retention, while the province was a net loser in movements between provinces.

Fifty pages later, the report’s vision for 2024 had this hopeful summary:

“We will have become a province that our own skilled and ambitious people feel no necessity to leave, that people who have left in the past are able to return to, and that other Canadians and international immigrants will want to come to for the excellent quality of life and economic opportunities.”

Two targets to be achieved by 2024 were a net gain of 1,000 working age persons per year interprovincially and 7,000 immigrants per year. There were 17 other goals, but population growth was and is the essential core.

Happily, the growth rate in 2021 was more than double what those goals would have required by 2024. Nova Scotia is getting a larger share of a larger national total number of immigrants, reaching over 10,000 in 2021.

More of the international migrants are arriving with jobs already secured, thanks to the provincial nominee programs. They can be a crucial source of new workers in key areas such as health and construction.

The increase in the first quarter of 2022 was bigger than last year’s first quarter, which might suggest an even larger number this year.

Almost 10,000 more Canadians moved to Nova Scotia than left for other provinces in 2021. Toronto and outlying areas experienced earlier and larger increases in house prices than Nova Scotia. That attracted covid-weary Ontarians, especially those who could work remotely.

Likewise, people from Vancouver and Victoria, which already had sky-high prices, could sell there, buy something nicer in Nova Scotia, and have a lot left over to upgrade their lifestyle.

The benefits from population growth go well beyond the number of people. The average age of Nova Scotians was among the highest in Canada and still growing until recently.

When people pass age 65 they contribute less in the way of income taxes and cost more to support, particularly in health care and social services. The baby boomers are almost all retired; Canada’s median age is 15 years higher today than it was in 1970.

The new arrivals are much younger — last year 41% of those coming from other provinces were between 20 and 34. The median age of Nova Scotians had been the second highest in Canada and growing, but between 2016 and 2021 it remained constant and is now decreasing.

Nova Scotians are supportive of the growth. Narrative Research reported last August that 86% believe immigration is important or critically important to the province’s economy. Across the Atlantic region, support for immigration has increased by 6% since 2018. Younger residents, post-secondary graduates, and those earning more than $50,000 per year are the most enthusiastic.

Amid all that good news, there are headwinds we should worry about.

The real estate market in Toronto, which had been red hot through 2021, has softened considerably. There were 42% fewer sales in June 2022 than the same month a year ago. Prices have been sliding for three months and can be expected to drop further as inflation-fighting increases in interest rates continue.

Prospective sellers will be less confident about the time needed to sell their house, or the price they can expect. Halifax’s market has slowed to a lesser degree, with prices up 9% in the past year and remaining stable in the last few months. Inflation and rising interest rates add to people’s uncertainty.

As covid becomes part of our new normal, Nova Scotia no longer has a distinctively superior approach and outcomes. Interprovincial increases in Nova Scotia’s population slipped a little in the first quarter compared to 2021.

Perhaps the greatest concern is the shortages in two key areas: housing and health care. Many seasonal residents would like to be here permanently but cannot find a family physician. Immigrants to Canada will be less likely to choose Nova Scotia if other provinces have more accessible health care and available housing.

Until health care wait lists shorten and home building catches up, the influx of new Nova Scotians will be at risk. The Houston government’s frequent announcements on these files will take time to bear fruit; this week it was more money for non-profits for affordable housing and more seats to train nurses.

A brief gentle easing in the rate of growth would not be all bad, but the long-term goal of reaching two million Nova Scotians should be maintained.


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