Confusing urbanization and NB’s northern challenge

Most people, even smart folks, put down what is happening in Northern New Brunswick to a kind of natural urbanization – a migration to the big cities where the work is.  They look at Brazil or Kenya and think that is what is going on here.

The truth is that Canada’s rural population has been rising steadily since 1971.   It’s up by well over a million people in that time frame. Sure the urban population has grown considerably faster but it has not been at the expense of rural population decline.    Even New Brunswick’s rural population is up since 1971 – by around 70,000 persons.

In addition, northern New Brunswick has urban populations.   In fact, there are about 70,000 people in Northern New Brunswick living in areas Statistics Canada defines as urban.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  New Brunswick’s lack of urbanity is primarily due to the fact that its urban centres have not attracted immigrants in any substantial way for decades.   If you look at Ontario, its urban growth is not due to rural decline.  It’s due to urban growth rates outpacing (by a large margin) rural population growth.

Northern New Brunswick’s economic problems are not a demographic issue or a natural migration to the ‘cities’ or any other baloney.  It’s problems – just like NB as a whole – are based on a lack of imagination.  In the 1850s, the Chamber of Commerce in the City of Pittsburgh set up a team whose mandate was to promote Pittsburgh as a place for new investment.  They had a team of folks trying to convince companies to invest there.  Deliberate attempts to foster economic growth -led by both the private and public sectors – has been going on for centuries.

Our approach in Northern New Brunswick has been trying to squeeze blood out of a turnip.   We take an area that has lost its large, anchor companies – while it is shedding investment and people – and hope that by injecting a few public dollars in local firms they will create enough new economic activity to overcome the loss.  Wrong.

For those in the three slightly larger urban areas (Fredericton is only about 20k or so larger than Bathurst – a rounding error in Toronto) who think we are in some kind of inevitable urbanization where notherners move to the south – get ready.  If current trends persist,  after the north has emptied into the south, the south will empty into the rest of Canada.   The folks in Toronto (such as Richard Florida) will say this is an inevitable urbanization – just like those in Moncton say about the Bathurst migration to that city now.

Urbanization is key to New Brunswick’s economic future – I have said this for 20 years.   But it doesn’t have to come by a couple of slightly larger urbans cannibalizating the population of slightly smaller urbans.

Let’s focus on growing NB.   Let’s focus on attracting immigrants and investment.  Let’s allow each region of the province to focus on its strengths and invest in those strengths and then let’s promote this place far and wide.   Sure certain areas will grow faster than others.  Sure, some areas will continue to shed population.   I know of very few examples where all regions within a province or state are growing strongly (Alberta is one example, however).

Let’s have this conversation.  Let’s talk about the reasons why migration happens.  Let’s’ pontificate long and hard about all the social and demographic issues but let’s not confuse some faux urbanization excuse with New Brunswick’s real long term problem – a systemic lack of business investment.

13 thoughts on “Confusing urbanization and NB’s northern challenge

  1. I agree…to a point. Again, investment doesn’t NECESSARILY need to be foreign. A kid in a Bathurst High School invents the next facebook in their spare time and all of these conversations will immediately vanish.

    Bathurst has had TONS of business investments, in fact Bathurst Mines was the only thing that kept New Brunswick in the black for several years. Campbellton has fewer people now than Oromocto, a suburb of Fredericton, yet how much foreign and provincial money has poured into its mill? Edmunston is the same, foreign direct investment in that ‘city’, per capita, per GDP, per anything, is probably greater than in ANY southern city. Their largest employer there hasn’t paid any taxes in over a decade.

    So they have LOTS of FDI, they just don’t have any DIVERSITY. Fredericton has government AND the univerisities. Moncton and St.John have tons of different industries, although still predominantly blue collar.

    I agree about the ‘anchor’ industries, but when even Canada is having a hard time finding investment (96% of FDI since free trade has been foreign companies buying canadian companies, NOT ‘investing’ in new enterprises) its a hard sell to think that RIM is going to set up in Bathurst if it only does X, Y or Z.

    But I would definitely want to see what is meant by ‘urban’ and ‘rural’. Virtually every small town I’ve checked in the census has seen its population rapidly dwindle. Maybe cottage towns are turning into a new ‘rural’, or rural areas closer to the cities are being developed, but it would be interesting to see that rural/urban growth rate by years (1971 was a long time ago). For the life of me I can’t figure out how this blog stating that cities are growing and urban areas are growing jives with your frequent theme of New Brunswick population drops. There’s SOMETHING wrong with that math.

    And come on, by the logic attributed to Florida, by definition people will eventually leave ALL smaller cities to go to larger ones, meaning the world would eventually have only ONE city. I’ve not gone through everything Florida has said, but I certainly doubt he’s said that eventually Canada will consist of only Toronto. Enough with the potshots, you make good points without putting down other people’s ideas. Did he stiff you on a bet or something? Come on, Al Hogan at least DESERVED it.

  2. David, you make a couple statements that need some clarification. In the opening paragraphs you point to statistics showing rural NB’s population growing by 70,000. This is all in the context of debunking a false argument that says urbanization is happening at the expense of urban areas everywhere, and particularly in NB. The end of your post, however, makes several assertions that Northern NB is “emptying” into the cities.

    I’m trying to reconcile these two seemingly contradictory statements – both of which are true. We know many stories of Northern NBers moving to the city for opportunity, love, and everything in between. Cities are increasingly the engine of economic activity, in large part because of the benefits and energy immigrants bring. Moncton can count the Acadian community among the (internal) immigrants driving its success over the last two decades. Isn’t this an example of one city’s advantage at the expense of rural areas?

    Can we reconcile this by showing where rural population growth is happening? My hypothesis would be that people are moving from one rural area to another rural area, with the later being closer to a larger city. They still live in what Stats Can defines as a rural area, but it’s so close to this larger city that to define them as rural is missing the point. If this is the case, than urbanization is happening. The problem is the statistics, not the analysis.

  3. I also think that the statistics may be a bit misleading. Urban areas typically attract a ring of sub-urban rural population around them. Though defined as rural, they are an effect of urban development.

    But the main point still holds. The growth of cities like Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver was not as a result of rural depopulation. They attract immigrants, become stronger in their own right, and actually feed development out into their rural hinterland.

    So I am in agreement with the main argument of this column. New Brunswick needs to look hard at immigration per se, and *not* immigration as migration from rural to urban areas, and not even immigration as repatriation of people who have left the province. None of these will do anything to address the major economic issues of the province.

    I remember my wife saying, after Katrina, that New Brunswick should have reached out to people from New Orleans, letting them know that there is a home here for them. When you look at other regions suffering natural and civil strife – Bangladesh, Sudan, etc. – there are people who would find New Brunswick a paradise. Why can’t we create a subindustry in this province specifically designed to attract and adapt immigrants?

    People always say, “well you need the jobs before people will immigrate.” But the attraction of immigrates *creates* the environment in which these jobs can be created. With the *current* population, there is almost nothing that can be done to simply create jobs – your labour pool is effectively that 10 percent of NBers that are unemployed. Because, how attractive is NB to a company if, after it locates here, it has to somehow figure out how to *import* labour? Why not just locate where the people already are.

    The immigration comes first. The jobs come later. That’s why we have to talk about immigration in NB.

  4. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. New Brunswick’s lack of urbanity is primarily due to the fact that its urban centres have not attracted immigrants in any substantial way for decades.”
    >> Well, I have said it before and will say it again (and again, and again…). New Brunswick’s lack of urbanity is primarily due to politics, politics, and more politics (i.e. subsidies, subsidies, and more subsidies; or, in the case of Atlantic Canada, “federal transfers, transfers, and more transfers).

    “Let’s have this conversation. Let’s talk about the reasons why migration happens.”
    >> David, we should probably talk about the reasons why migration does not happen.

  5. I have blogged several times on the fact that the rural population growth in Canada is in communities that are within the influence of an urban centre. My point about comparison is that Bathurst or Edmundston are small urban centres far closer in size to Moncton or Fredericton than the latter are to Montreal or Toronto.

  6. I don’t think its fair to say that Toronto has NOT grown because of in-migration from rural areas. It has grown because of BOTH. Toronto is a huge beacon for people all over Canada. There are tons of kids that head for Toronto as soon as they get finished High School, partly for jobs, partly for excitement, partly, face it, for some people rural areas or even the maritimes just isn’t their cup of tea. Its even almost impossible to make a career in the Arts in Canada, and Toronto or Vancouver or Montreal is about the only places where you’ve even got a chance.

    Some here make it sound like immigration is some instant panacea, and thats not true. It takes HUGE resources to support immigration. You should see the services offered here now at the REGIONAL level that most provinces don’t offer at the provincial level. Even libraries here are basically drop in centres for immigrants and librarians are basically trained as outreach workers for immigrants.

    It’s also worth noting that immigrants tend to have HIGHER levels of poverty than the general population, so the idea that millionaire immigrants are dying to get into Canada simply isn’t true.

    I DID hear an interesting story from the university here, in that one of the professors got increased lab space not because of his research, but apparantly he’s a main connection with China in recruiting. It wouldn’t have dawned on me that a prof would have that in his job description, but there it is. Like I’ve said numerous times, although you really have to see it to experience it, you’d swear you were in China walking around this campus. That’s one way of getting more immigrants, and more educated ones. However, again, there seems a real population explosion of young white guys with dead end jobs-and thats not a recipe for long term stability.

    And again “With the *current* population, there is almost nothing that can be done to simply create jobs” is completely wrong. The guys at RIM and Facebook didn’t get rich by pitching their products around Waterloo or Boston. The computer creates a WORLD wide customer base, its easier than ever before to get product to virtually anyplace in the world. Even Lee Valley from Ottawa now ships worldwide. That’s that ‘defeatist’ attitude that basically thinks NBers are too dumb to be able to compete worldwide. Just because they haven’t done so, doesn’t mean they won’t. But in order to build a Facebook or RIM, first you have to know something about computers and the internet, and thats not how to USE them, but how to CREATE with them, which isn’t really taught ANYWHERE (even at university, programming is largely taught as how to develop pre-existing programs).

  7. “The immigration comes first. The jobs come later. That’s why we have to talk about immigration in NB.”

    I don’t buy that. Why do immigrants choose AB or ON over NB? It’s because those areas have economic opportunity. Economic growth creates investment capital and that spurs more growth. Growth creates investment opportunities (attracting more investment capital) and it creats jobs. Immigrants with money to invest will go where the chances of profit are greate – growing economies. Immigrants seeking jobs will go where job creation is greatest. The ROI on attracting immigrants to NB will be low because we lack the economic opportunity to attract and hold them here.

    If your goal is to attract immigrants, then you create economic opportunity first. We will not attract many immigrants until the economy starts creating opportunities for them – right now those opportunities are few and far between.

    “But the attraction of immigrates *creates* the environment in which these jobs can be created.”

    What evidence is there for that? Darn little.

    NB needs investment capital and to attract that we need R&D innovation. We need to accept that the ship can’t be turned around overnight and that progress will be slow. The infrastructure we need is a vibrant R&D environment. That will slowly create high-wage jobs and that, in turn, will attract immigrants and ex-pats.

    ” If current trends persist, after the north has emptied into the south, the south will empty into the rest of Canada. ”

    That is the essential point. And one that has to be drilled into the thick heads of the self-satisfied burghers of Moncton and Freddy Beach.

  8. On immigration: News today is that Canada is lowering its immigation target for next year by 5% andby 20% for skilled immigrants. It’s because recently immigrants are cluistering in large cities and not integrating as well as they used to-economically and socially. We needn’t resort to cut-backs as a national response however. The media has been reporting that we can’t retain new immigrants in NB because of the Charter.

    I think this is a lazy assumption. I was at a policy seminar at Queens a few years ago and the subject of recent experience with immigration and the declining rate of successful integration was being studied. A factor is that most immigrants to Canada pool in three cities and associate within their own national groups. Canada is now actually reducing the intake because of this less successful integration record.

    Clearly many would integrate more successfully if they went to smaller centres, but the federal authorities can’t get their heads around this because they don’t think regionally and because of the Charter mobility rights. I spoke with the Assistant Deputy privately on the concept of having agreements to expedite immigrants on condition that they commit to a certain location for a period of time. He admitted that the Charter has never been tested on such an arrangement – surely a restriction ‘reasonably justified in a free and democratic society’. The Department simply didn’t, at that time at least, have the ‘balls’ to test it.

  9. I’ll again mention the story of a chinese friend here. She came to Canada for one simple reason-her child got into University in Waterloo. She came to be with her kid. She was trained in science, but she had NO idea what the economic opportunities were here. One thing about immigrants is that if they DON”T have money, they have no trouble finding somebody to live with through the local chinese churches.

    But again, each year how many kids graduate high school and college? It takes ONE person to build a product that can expand into an industry. Its really selling kids short to say that there’s no chance ANY innovation will come out of the province and it really needs people from other parts of the world, who for some reason know something, or have something special in their DNA that will make them more innovative than NBers.

  10. ” She was trained in science, but she had NO idea what the economic opportunities were here.”

    But where would she have CHOSEN to go otherwise? Not someplace where jobs in her line of work were scarce.

    “…it really needs people from other parts of the world, who for some reason know something, or have something special in their DNA that will make them more innovative than NBers.”

    No one is saying that. Neither GNB nor the feds nor the private sector have invested enough in R&D here. Without that investment the amount of R&D is reduced and the amount of innovation is reduced. That decreases the likelihood that products arising from innovation will be produced. That lack of investment hinders NBers ability to produce innovative products themselves and also hinders our ability to attract both outside investors and other innovators.

  11. The point is that the ‘otherwise’ is irrelevant. She wouldn’t have come to Canada at all. Once her children were done school she went to Taiwan because she was approaching retirement age and she couldn’t afford to retire in Canada.

    Again, Richard, YOU weren’t saying that, but read the other comments-like the one I quoted, and its clear they ARE saying that, I’m just saying it without the politically correct filter. Its quite obvious that IF every student that graduated high school or university started some kind of programming or internet development company that would go a LONG way to developing a new industry in the province.

    I ‘sort of’ agree with the last paragraph, but again its misleading. Investment is only one side of the coin, you guys are still talking about an economy of ten years ago. It MAY be that there simply isn’t enough to invest IN, within the province. We have numerous examples that when investments DO arise, they find investors. The Beausejour health centre hasn’t exactly been crying for money, when a researcher there said he had a remotely viable ‘product’, he said that he found private investment within weeks. They recently brought in another researcher and pointed out that the money is there, but bringing researchers to the region is hard.

    So where is the evidence that R&D within the province has been denied funding? In the internet world you can invent a killer app for an iphone and make a million dollars. How many kids out of high school, or even university, have any idea how to make an app? Or even THINK to make one? Thats innovation that needs to be done at the public school level, that’s why I keep saying that its EASY to gripe about the lack of outside forces that can make life better, its MUCH harder to go about building the ‘infrastructure’ that would make such investment possible-meaning people.

    Just to back that up, recently I did a quick crunch of the dept. of education numbers, which shows that New Brunswick spends about $6500 per student. Here in Waterloo, for example, the region spends $10,500 per student. That’s getting VERY close to double the education spending.

    So again, here’s the challenge: go find me ANY R&D project in New Brunswick that has NOT been able to find funding. In short,the solution to the problem of ‘lack of R&D’ is to take what people are in NB, and get them innovating, or at least THINK of innovating. That requires two things, first, mainly looking at the universities and community colleges (who I don’t think offer ANY courses in development), and second, opening up the funding from government sources and tailoring them. I think I mentioned weeks ago the guy from Guelph who runs an online pharmacy with millions in revenue. They asked about government funding, and he said he had NONE. In fact finally his company started with 10 grand from his dad to build the software, and took off from there. No investor would touch him, and he said it took government a month just to reply to an email.

    David has pointed out how many tech companies arose from NBTel, and there are numrous ones in the health field. Which means from looking at history, the best bet-all things being equal-is to NATIONALIZE as many industries as possible. Now what does THAT say about the economy. I guess I could have said it easier: “if you build it (products), they (investors) will come”. But in many cases on the internet economy, you don’t even NEED it.

  12. On this topic-check out The Daily Show last night, with Harvard economist Edward Glaeser, pushing his book “The Triumph of Cities”.

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