Nova Scotia’s Population Will Grow More Slowly In 2023. Good.

This space has, since 2010, argued strongly for population growth and has celebrated the successes that have been achieved. Nova Scotians might be wondering if we now have too much of a good thing.

Meaningful increases began in 2016 and have grown ever since, further accelerating in the past two years. For the twelve months ending October 1st, 2022, the population grew by 32,566. Each of the main factors points to a slower pace for 2023 and beyond.

The October 1st numbers included an increase of more than 7,500 non-permanent residents. Most of that was a return of international students who had been attending classes remotely, an increase that will not recur in 2023. Many of the rest were Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion, arrivals that will lessen in future. Some hope to return when fighting stops.

About 14,600 immigrants are included in the October 1st numbers. This was inflated by arrivals that did not make it in the prior twelve months because of covid-related travel restrictions.

Nova Scotia received 12,900 more Canadians from other provinces, especially Ontario, than the number of Nova Scotians who went the other way. Real estate here was very attractive compared to Toronto or Vancouver, and the growth in remote working opportunities made the move both profitable and pleasant.

This is likely to slow down in 2023. According to CMHC only 1,348 rental units were added in the 12 months ending last July. That does not include most student or seniors housing, but was far short of the need for new arrivals, resulting in a spike in rents for new apartments. Meanwhile real estate prices have weakened in Ontario, reducing the attractiveness of moving east. And Nova Scotia is becoming notorious for the difficulty in finding a family physician.

The Office of Immigration and Population Growth estimates that the full calendar year number will have been higher than the 32,566 reported in October. Their ongoing goal is to have growth of 25,000 per year.

Given the likelihood that all three major growth sources will decline this year, the 2023 number is likely to be much less. In many ways that would be a good outcome. We have serious shortages in housing and access to health care, and will have fallen further behind on both counts in 2022.

The pace of new housing unit availability should improve. CMHC reports 8,400 units under construction last summer, of which 1,400 were single family homes. This is still not enough. To provide housing for 25,000 people requires completion of 10,000 units per year. More than that will be required to ease the very tight rental market.

Immigration contributes to the problem and to the solution. New arrivals through November 2022 included approximately 365 people in skilled trades, transport, equipment operators and related occupations.

Likewise, Nova Scotia welcomed approximately 530 healthcare workers in the same period. Of the 530 there were 30 doctors and 270 nurses. That is useful but amounts to fewer than two workers per thousand additional people.

Nova Scotia employs 16 nurses per thousand people. Canada has 2.8 doctors per thousand people, at the low end of the range for OECD countries. Nova Scotia’s 2022 growth will have added the need for 520 nurses and almost 100 doctors.

The government is doing a lot to address the shortages in health care and housing but is falling further behind. In the short term it needs to adjust the population growth program.

  1. The annual goal should be temporarily reduced to 15,000-20,000, with further interventions if needed to ensure a number below 25,000. That might mean, for example, pausing the advertisements in Ontario that have been a success in attracting people.
  2. More of them need to be workers in health care and construction trades. Employers in those sectors should get priority in applications to the Atlantic Immigration Program, which is a pathway to permanent residence for skilled foreign workers and international graduates from a Canadian institution. More financial incentives may be needed.
  3. The rent control cap is scheduled to come off at the end of 2023. That should occur, but gradually. In today’s very tight rental market an abrupt removal would result in double digit increases for many if not most tenants. Increasing the cap by 3% in 2024, plus 4% in 2025, and additional 5% increases in subsequent years should allow housing supply to catch up, so that caps become unnecessary.

Older readers will remember Yogi Berra, a renowned baseball catcher, manager, and coach with the New York Yankees. He had a knack for contradictory sayings that got your attention.

One of them explained that destinations can be a victim of their own success if their seats are all taken: “Nobody goes there anymore. Its too crowded.” Let’s hope that it never applies to Nova Scotia.


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