By Salman Dostmohammad
AIMS on Campus Fellow
The release of the 2016 census data revealed a big problem for Atlantic Canada.
Unless the region improves its demographic situation, provincial tax revenues will decrease and this will place downward pressure on governments, forcing them to act in one of the following scenarios:
- A need for raise taxes for citizens to keep the same level of service,
- A need to keep taxes the same but lower the level of service offered, or
- A need to borrow and increase the debt to provide more services to less people.
Raising taxes and or increasing the net debt of the provinces will compound Atlantic Canada’s problems and do little to reverse its fortunes.
To offset this problem, the region should be working to attract newcomers and entice them to stay. And people will only stay if there are opportunities for them and their families. Creating more jobs is the sort of opportunity that newcomers need, and more of them. Students also need jobs and there is a rich potential of talent available here. Over 80,000 students choose to study in the region. Many of these students would like to stay after graduation but leave simply because the opportunities are not available to them.
The goal of the Atlantic Growth Strategy is for the federal government and the Atlantic provinces to co-operate on shared priorities. The strategy consists of a series of programs aimed at creating jobs and growing the economy and is based on five priority areas: skilled workforce/immigration, innovation, clean growth and climate change, trade and investment, and infrastructure. The strategy is aimed at being an employer-driven program.
In January 2017, federal and provincial leaders met in Wolfville to discuss the strategy and announced a number of pilot projects. One such initiative is an immigration pilot program that will initially accept 2,000 immigrants and their families. This is a sizeable number for the region. The first stage of the program will begin this month when Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada will start to accept permanent resident applications for Atlantic Canada.
The response thus far on this strategy has been favourable. The Charlottetown Guardian calls the program “a new hope”. And Finn Poschmann, CEO of the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council (APEC) wrote, “Every once in a while, governments get something right.”
The strategy aims to offers temporary foreign workers in the region with a path to permanent residency. This will be a big incentive for them to want to stay. The strategy will also involve new immigration programs for new graduates. This is beneficial because a big challenge for new graduates is finding employment in the region.
My next post will explore further details on the immigration pilot program.