Nova Scotia’s Plans To Accommodate Growth Are Inadequate

The most distinctive proposal in the Progressive Conservative election platform was the goal to reach a population of 2,000,000 by 2060.

The spring budget address said, “We know Nova Scotia’s population has been growing by about 10,000 each year over the past few years. But we need to step it up. We have set an ambitious long-term population growth target of two million people by the year 2060.”

That would require annual growth of 25,000 people. Recent results are approaching that level and voters should expect the province to have an integrated plan to grow the necessary services. It does not.

In presentations last week to the Public Accounts Committee, Karen Oldfield, interim CEO of the Health Authority, stated that the planned expansion of the Infirmary campus will replace the decaying Victoria General facility but does not provide for population growth.

On that matter they are working with a projection which has the population reaching 1,083,300 in 2035. This appears in the 2022 budget documents, but is at odds with the minister’s text.

Any estimate should be viewed with caution because things can change dramatically. During the decade before numbers began rising in 2015, the population remained virtually level. Even then, pressure on the health care system would have been building because the average age was increasing.

The estimate of population in 2035 used by the Department of Health implies an average growth of 6,200 people per year. The government has provided the numbers but declines to disclose the methodology by which they were reached. They are certainly out of step with the budget address and recent experience. It likely to be a vast understatement.
There are three important factors driving the growth:

  1. Provinces have received increasing power to attract immigrants through provincial nominee programs that enable employers to recruit foreign workers. These programs provide focused responses to labour shortages in areas such as health care, construction, and transportation.
  2. The federal government has increased immigration goals, reaching 405,000 last year and heading for 431,000 this year. It has bipartisan support. Nova Scotia has 2.6% of Canada’s population and has been receiving more than that share of new immigrants — 13,800 on the 12 months ending June 30,2022.
  3. After many years during which the Maritime provinces lost population to Ontario and the West, the process has reversed. The most recent 12-month report recorded 14,079 more people moving to Nova Scotia from other provinces than movements in the opposite direction. Less expensive housing, accessible open spaces, and charming communities should continue this trend.

Population growth in the first half of 2022 is 17,600. That included some arrivals that had been delayed until this year by covid, but the full year number is still likely to exceed 25,000. The full year number for 2021 was 20,600.

To project an increase of 20,000 per year from 2023 on is arguably cautious. It would result in 1,267,000 in 2035, more than 180,000 above what is projected in the budget.

Of course, Health is not the only department that should be planning for growth.

Education needs to ensure that there will be enough teachers and enough new schools and classrooms. The Halifax Regional Centre forecasts a cumulative 7% increase over the decade ending in 2031. The actual increase in 2022 is greater than the total growth forecasted for the subsequent nine years. The projection is less than a third of the growth that will happen if annual provincial population increases average 20,000.

Municipal Affairs and Housing needs to provide municipalities with estimates of the growth they should anticipate. Public Works will need to consider expected pressure on highways and needs for other public infrastructure. Labour, Skills and Immigration must identify future needs in trades and professions.

We are far from having an integrated plan. The province should highlight its forecasts of population growth for at least ten years. It should be updated frequently, particularly to test whether the recent acceleration will continue.

One thing is sure. If we continue to plan to use woefully low estimates we will perpetuate the unacceptable stresses on our health care system and a broadening range of other government services. The low predictions currently being employed will become self-fulfilling.


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