Bleeding the patient is not the solution

In light of the NWT effort to attract New Brunswickwers to the high wage jobs in that part of Canada, I thought this would be a good time to remind everyone that encouraging out-migration is not the answer to our economic woes.

It has been a curiosity to me why New Brunswick politicians and government bureaucrats have tiptoed around this issue.  We had nearly 20 straight years of  net out-migration and it was hardly mentioned in a serious way (there were opposition politicians thundering about our ‘greatest export’).  Premier Lord’s Prosperity Plan – published after the 2001 Census which showed New Brunswick had the first decline it is population (Census period) since Confederation – never even mentioned population.

A number of folks told me there were folks in the policy space quietly arguing for more out-migration.   If more folks from Miramichi move to Fort McMurray it will be good for them and good for the province.

So, a little wink, wink, nod, nod – let’s export our surplus population, re-equilibrate around a lower level of population and things will be easier.

‘Cept it never is.

Take the issue of federal transfers.  At the insistence of the Ontario Premier one big part of the federal transfer system in Canada was migrated to a per capita model (according to some costing us $60 million a year) – meaning that if you gain population you get a lot more and if you lose population you get less.  There is some logic to this but in reality you can’t just ramp up or down public spending based on population levels.  The road exists – if there are a thousand people living on it or one.  It still needs to be plowed.  You still need power poles.  You still need to fix potholes.

In addition, there is evidence that out-migration tends to be the more educated and the more skilled.   So, implicitly encouraging migration is reducing your overall skill level and entrenching even more solidly the problems you were meaning to fix (there are still 110,000 people on EI even after nearly 20 years of net out-migration – just on a lower base of population).

Finally, the idea that migrant workers would send back money from the west – better than nothing – I think has to be considered sub-optimal by most rational people.  There are people who don’t mind this but breaking up families for months at a time is not the best.

I don’t fault the NWT for trying to persuade NBers to move out there but I hope there is no one in NB that really thinks this is a solution.

We have too much infrastructure, too many hospitals, half our schools are way below capacity – we need a boom in population not more decline.  We need to fill in the infrastructure with people.