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This election cycle, there has been a lot of articles, commentaries, op/ed pieces, etc. about the complex fiscal, demographic and economic challenges facing New Brunswick.   Even my stuff has been increasingly shrill (cough, cough).

The problem is that it is hard to translate this to retail politics.  As long as people have a job, a reasonable income, etc. they are not too concerned about issues of debt, NB Power’s long term health, the aging population, etc.

And we do have fairly low unemployment for New Brunswick standards.  If you realize that the unemployment rate is biased upwards structurally in New Brunswick because of our seasonal industries, it is really very low in absolute terms (assuming folks in seasonal jobs are not ‘really’ unemployed – they are just waiting for their job to start up again).

There are pockets of high unemployment like the Miramichi but most of the talk about job creation is not tied to current need but to the realization that our economy needs to create more wealth to pay for public services.    And and equally pressing reality that for everyone New Brunswicker about to leave the workforce (60-64 years old) we have 0.9 about to become workforce age (15-19).  The chart tells the tale.  In 1971, there over 3 people aged 15-19 in New Brunswick for every person aged 60-64.  Now there is less than one-to-one and this is projected to get much worse by 2020. 

Ratio of Workforce Entrants to Exits – New Brunswick
Number of persons aged 15-19 per person aged 60-64)


 The following chart shows the percentage change in this ratio over the forty year period.  It actually improved a few years in the 1980s but since the late 1990s, it has dropped steadily.

Ratio of Workforce Entrants to Exits – New Brunswick
Percentage Change in the ratio – year over year

We need the jobs, but unlike Hatfield, McKenna and Lord, we will have to stop the out-migration and start attracting far more people as well.

This adds another degree of complexity to our economic development efforts.  It was one thing in 1995 to go out and tell UPS, Xerox, IBM, Exxon, etc. that we had lots of available bilingual workers.  It’s quite another to go out and tell companies that if they set up here (or expand here), people will move here for the jobs.

So back to my original point – people are right to be ratcheting up the tone of things because it is worse today than it was 10, 20 or 30 years ago on a variety of fronts.

But the public doesn’t really feel it yet.  We haven’t had to cut public services.  We haven’t raised taxes (we’ve lowered them).   The low spread between young and old populations actually drives down unemployment so we don’t feel that as acutely as before. 

And the tiny attempts at cuts or changes during Lord and Graham were met with swift negative reaction.  I still remember the small consolidation of hospitals under Lord’s time.  People were livid.  The Upper SJ River Valley has more beds now and more services than ever before but because they have to drive 15 minutes further to get to the hospital – angry.  Same in the Peninsula.

It’s going to be tough times but it’s not all bad.  We live in Canada and no matter what happens to the provincial fiscal situation, our essential public services are protected.  Worst case scenario, people leave – move to Alberta.  Tens of thousands of senior citizens are moving to Kelowna and the temperate B.C. climate in that area.  This is Canada – people can come and go as they please.

I think that the main point is there are some folks who want a better future for New Brunswick.  New Brunswickers – for the most part will be fine whereever they end up (comparatively) but New Brunswick – the place – has some tough times ahead.

5 thoughts on “Message amplitude

  1. It’s pretty hard to get people ‘excited’ about the topic of labour shortages when the unemployment rate is so high-and not higher because most of the people who lost their jobs have gone out west.
    In other good news, with global warming then New Brunswick may get as balmy at least as BC:)

  2. ” This is Canada – people can come and go as they please.”

    Yes and no. If you are retired or near-retirement, you have to have a certain amount of disposable income to relocate to one of those attractive retirement areas. So as the senior NBers with funds move away to get better services, etc, they leave behind those with less money. Consequently the population gets not just older, but poorer. In turn, that means less tax revenue for the province; more service consolidation results.

    As to out-migration, that has been a decades-long problem; falling birth rates and the inability to attract immigrants has increased the impact of that out-migration. We no longer have the young people to ‘spare’. Its really a continuing trend, a downward spiral with predictable consequences.

    I think you are right wrt the political implications. As you say, unemployment is not too bad for the bulk of the population and many have learned to live with fairly low expectations. Thus there is less desperation than perhaps there should be around the debt and other fiscal issues. People seem to recognize that debt is a problem, but resolving it thru tax increases or service cuts is not yet seen as necessary. At the same time, there does not seem to be an appetite for a real change in our approach to economic growth. Will we ever smarten up? Perhaps 2-3 NDP members in the legislature would stir things up a bit and at least get some more discussion going.

  3. “with global warming then New Brunswick may get as balmy at least as BC:)”

    Yes, with predicted sea level rise, Moncton may have its own Parlee beach – Miami North. Get out yer shades and flower-print shirts.

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