Learning from Obits

My wife pointed out yesterday the obituary of a woman we knew from church.  She was a nice lady and lived a long and seemingly happy life.  But as I read the obit it was amazing to see that every brother, sister, child, grandchild – everyone mentioned did not live in New Brunswick. It was two paragraphs of Toronto, New York, California, on and on. 

Curiosity about that has driven much of my thinking about economic development for the last 20 years.  Why do places like New Brunswick chronically shed people – not for a few years or a few decades but for generations? 

It matters even more these days because 40-50 years ago the natural birth/death rate was tilted significantly to the birth side which compensated for the out-migration.  Now the birth/death rate is about 1:1 so we are going to either a) keep our young people, b) attract migrants, c) attract immigrants or d) a combination of all of the above.

Of course I am compelled to reiterate that I am not advocating efforts to force people to stay in New Brunswick.  I even chafe at those grants to keep new graduates in the province.  I think more, not less, New Brunswickers should spend time outside the province (I did and it was a great experience).  

I also think that we need to attract talent from across Canada and immigrants – this type of infusion I think would help a lot.

But in the end if the economy can’t sustain its local population, it’s hard to imagine it will be able to sustain immigrants (hence the significant out-migration rate among new immigrants to NB). 

Once in a while I will ask people in their 70s and even 80s about this and the usual response is a shrug.  “That’s just the way it’s always been in New Brunswick”.

Hence my curiosity.

7 thoughts on “Learning from Obits

  1. Keep in mind MOST advanced industrial economies have shrinking populations. One bonus on that-teenage pregnancy has been up for the last five years!:)

    The one recent switch has been France, where it seems VERY aggressive ‘parental support’ programs have increased the population-even without immigration.

    On the immigration file, the province latest missive has been to ‘clamp down’ on loans given to immigrants, although they have also done away with the three month waiting period on medicare. But imagine telling a new immigrant “welcome to the province, sorry, you’re SOL if you get hurt in the first three months”. When you are actively competing with provinces with large markets, large immigration services, and established immigrant communities-that don’t help.

    On that subject, on CBC the other day they were talking about how the government’s ‘welcome to canada’ information is refusing to point out same sex marriage. To attach this to Richard Florida’s tactic, NB can push for the ‘gay immigrant’ demographic and resolve two issues in one swoop:)

  2. I was wondering about how the U.S. states that are closest to New Brunswick rank in terms of attractiveness for business and found this very interesting table: http://www.cnbc.com/id/25501959/

    One of the most striking observations is that Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine rank well in terms of education and quality of life (and relatively well in the “business friendliness” category), but the overall relative position of the three states is in the bottom 10 (out of 50). The major factors for the low ranking include: cost of business, workforce, transportation and access to capital. I would sum it up in one word: geography.

  3. There’s something weird about this.

    I was born in Quebec and raised in Ontario. My family is scattered across the country. I’m married to someone who was born in Colorado and raised in California.

    That’s not unusual. That’s the norm. People don’t live in one town, or even one province, any more. Nobody expects to, nobody wants to. It is strange and in my view backward to expect your children to stay home.

    That doesn’t apply to everyone, of course. A good number of people don’t move away. But a good many do, in a normal information-age society.

    This is key: what makes or breaks the future of a region is whether it can retain its people. Nobody can. It is whether it can attract good people to replace the ones that left, and whether they can mix well with the people who have remained.

    Look at any of the great economic regions: they weren’t built by people who grew up there, they were built by people who selected the region and made it what it is. New York, Silicon Valley, and in Canada Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver – all of these regions boast about attracting people.

    New Brunswick, by contrast, discourages them. It has a poor track record in attracting immigrants. Economic policy (tax breaks, policy, etc) tends to favour incumbents, discouraging competitors. Etc. (four pages of examples elided).

    It’s not a matter of ‘supporting your own people first, then the immigrants’. That’s a very backward way of looking at it. The immigrants support the locals. You are successful ONLY IF you attract people – there isn’t some intermediate stage of locally-based success you reach first.

    New Brunswick needs to attract and value people from outside the province. It’s going to have to let its people go, to encourage them to travel the world and tell people about their beautiful homeland. It’s going to have to give people equal opportunities, even if they’re from “away” (and it’s going to have to stop saying “away”). It’s going to have to, in a word, grow up.

  4. The reasons immigrants choose a region isn’t much different than the reasons people choose to STAY in a region. It’s true the knowledge workforce is mobile – but I know a lot of scientists in this region, most are looking for work elsewhere because there simply isn’t enough work HERE. One woman I know is looking for a faculty position, she’ll be giving up her entire family-which has gone through a fair bit recently, the home her child knows, and her husband’s very desirable income.

    And that’s because faculty positions, even here in southern ontario, are like the lottery. Again, that’s a problem all across Canada, not just New Brunswick. Yet the research needing to be done is almost limitless, and we have a population where a LARGE percentage of the population doesn’t even have post secondary education. It SHOULD be enough to make you look at Europe, even Cuba, and think that perhaps our tax system ought to cover that as well.

    As mentioned the other day, in the sciences its expected you do grad work and post doc at different labs, otherwise it looks suspicious, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be in the same region. Like the above, my family is spread across the globe, but not a single one of them wouldn’t move back to New Brunswick if the opportunities were there. At Charles’ website he had a picture of the walking trail in Fredericton, and there were HUNDREDS of people out enjoying the weather and the trails. On the weekend here the ONLY public barn was having a hayride and ‘outdoor festival’ and there was almost nobody there-and this is a city twice the size of Fredericton with a proximal population four times the size. The jazz festival here in Waterloo has been going on for years, and its usually lucky to have three hundred people there.

    I think the above’s claim shouldn’t be that the province ‘favours incumbents’, but rather favours SOME incumbents. And again that’s no different than Canada. I was researching the CBC story about the closing of the only hog processing facility on the east coast and discovered that virtually ALL the continent’s grain processing is now done by only SIX companies. We simply have an economic model that ‘favours’ the largest ‘incumbents’, and New Brunswick is no different in that regard-it just has a larger incumbent with fingers in a lot more pies than most small (or large) provinces.

    But I would be interested in seeing those four pages of examples above, exactly WHAT policies does the province have that so favours incumbents over others? Business wise that certainly isn’t true, in Bathurst there’s a legal problem because a Quebec demolition company is being locked out by an american demolition company. Virtually EVERY mining company is ‘from away’, and Saskatchewan Potash pretty much OWNS a good percentage of the literal ground beneath your feet. Irving, of course, is now ‘from away’, and Molson was welcomed in with open arms. I remember years ago when Charles Leblanc was still on good terms with many MLA’s, when he started griping about Quebecers working at the Legislature he was told to “shut up, Quebec does a ton of business here”. So I’d even argue the opposite.

    On the landowner front, policies make it pretty much impossible for NBers to even own extra property. My parents owned a duplex in Fredericton for several years, the only way it made any money for them was by the loss they could claim on their taxes from their ‘real’ jobs. Meanwhile, being fairly active in residential rights, I know that a VERY substancial portion of all apartment and housing complexes are owned by Albertans.

    Finally, for anonymous, I wouldn’t use the word “Geography”, I would use the word “demography”. The simple fact is that this is the least populated region of the US, apart from the midwest, which also ranks fairly low. Vermont certainly isn’t that far from New York, and much of New Hampshire is a suburb of Boston. But like Canada state lines are artificial lines-if New Brunswick was JUST Moncton then conditions wouldn’t be nearly so bad as the blog maintains, even if New Brunswick were JUST the south, it would actually look not that bad, going just by statistics.

    Sorry thats so long, but they were interesting comments, in the end, while there are some immigration policies that need special attention, the ‘needs’ of newcomers are much the same as those who live in the area. Once people have a decent income then they move into cultural needs, and even in the small cities of NB there are fairly active cultural groups. IF the province wants to bring in people, OR keep people-the facilities need to be there. Again, my two cents is that if you want R&D you need to CREATE R&D. That means medical schools, vet schools, technology colleges (not Microsoft Word), research institutions, and the commonality to all of them-FUNDING for education (do I need to add the reminder that NB funds education at the LOWEST percent of its budget in the east coast?)

  5. “It’s going to have to let its people go, to encourage them to travel the world and tell people about their beautiful homeland.”

    Well, I think the first part of that is taken care of. NB does not have a problem in letting people go; the problem is providing opportunities that allow them to stay, let alone attract immigrants. NB is so desperate for jobs, any jobs, that many policies that should be about R&D, education, investment with long-term job strategies are instead all about short-term jobs. Such jobs will of almost always be aimed at locals (who vote) rather than potential immigrants (who don’t vote locally because they aren’t here to vote).

    We saw yet another example of this a few days ago when GNB announced that a satellite campus of NBCC was being setup in Minto. Now NBCC is building a new campus at UNB – that means shared resources, which is good – and Minto is no more than an hour from that new campus. So why a satellite in Minto? Makes no sense except that GNB is closing NB Coal; Minto is getting NBCC govt jobs to replace the NB Coal govt jobs, except that most of those employees (and most of the students) will commute from F’ton. Dollars that should be spent on developing excellent education and research facilities are instead being used to save a politician’s job.

    NB’s problem is not that we are discriminating against immigrants; NB’s problem is that there are not enough good business opportunities here to attract immigrants. Provide the opportunities and immigrants will come, whether NBers welcome them or not.

  6. “That’s just the way it’s always been in New Brunswick.”

    A typical response of an older mayor in a small NB town (my native town) for such things as tourism brochures/policy as well as the lack of an economic plan or policy. Usually dome at the end of every debate.

    Surprisingly though was the recent response from two younger councilors to such a comment when they said: “doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the right way.” touche

    You know, we really need more young bloods in there questioning the defeatist establishment that’s been around passing the same old slogans along for decades.

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