The limits to migration

I have been thinking a lot lately about the limits to migration.  With the revelation that the federal government has been asking Atlantic Canadians what it would take to get them to move out of their communities to where the jobs are, I wonder if there are ultimately limits to this approach?  Atlantic Canada has already gone from among the youngest regions in North America to one of the oldest in just 40 years – if we stimulate even more out-migration – what will happen?

Even within the region, I wonder about the limits to intraprovincial migration.  Some migration makes sense to recalibrate things – I have always maintained this – but eventually every region even within a province needs an economic rationale for existence – and I don’t think retirement community will pass the grade.  It would be interesting to see the results of a study showing what it might look like if you turned the whole region of Northern New Brunswick or southwest Nova Scotia or Cape Breton into a retirement community.

It shouldn’t be that hard to model.  Just extract what is left of the core industries – fishing, forestry, the rump of manufacturing – and the workforce and then cost out what kind of tax revenue could be expected against the cost of public services.  These regions would still need hospitals, roads, police, other infrastructure and a service-based workforce for what would be left of retail and personal services.

Of course the radical alternative would be to take Smallwood’s approach in NL back in the mid 20th century with the small outports and just shut them down.  I don’t know the logistics of this – shutting down whole communities and even regions.

As you know, my preferred option, is to have a viable economic foundation under provinces and under regions within provinces.  It’s not necessarily about population size but it is about having an economic rationale for the existence of the community/region in the long term.

As the charts below show, at least using population as the main indicator, Atlantic Canada hasn’t performed very well in the past few decades.


6 thoughts on “The limits to migration

  1. It would not be surprising if the Conservatives came up with an additional incentive to get unemployed people to move to jobs – mobility program. I think they should, instead, give better incentives to job creation within Atlantic Canada. You have a position on this issue?

  2. I think we have to focus on economic development but it seems to me we have to be more intelligent about the approach. Just giving out money to firms that create jobs hasn’t had much impact. I would rather figure out a strategy for how to foster sustainable industries – forest products, mining, certain manufacturing, ICT in the cities, ports, etc. and then make public investments meant to stimulate private sector investment.

  3. I remember the din about six years ago maybe, when a similar claim was made in Great Britain about Scotland-just turn it into a retirement and golf resort. It’s a shame that we really can’t expect such a cry from this, but you never know. It took that six years plus two more and now Scotland is having a referendum on whether to secede from Great Britain.

    I think the best bet would be in transportation. Its unfortunate that whenever NB gets some money, plunk it goes onto highways. High speed rail has really had a HUGE impact on, well, almost EVERYWHERE its been implemented. It would probably even improve the really lousy rural education scores, and would certainly solve those busing problems.

    In my experience people would FAR rather live in rural areas, but simply don’t have the choice, and gas is still relatively cheap. But like trade regulations that make local industry practically impossible, those are things that are unlikely to change. So lets hope that New Brunswickers will start waking up before there really is NOTHING left of the province. People should start with the conservative MP’s of the province, I’m not even sure if they’ve been asked about this, let alone raked over the coals. We KNOW that people have been leaving rural areas in DROVES, so to see a federal government say something like “hey, what could we do to help you leave?” should light a bulb over people’s heads- they do NOT want to ‘help people leave’ (people HAVE been leaving-for decades). They want to MAKE them leave.

    And if that doesn’t make you sit up and get angry-well, see you at the next geriatric golf tournament.

  4. By the way, in case you aren’t a CBC listener, a very interesting program on ‘As it Happens’ talking about the federal changes to the labour act. Harper is shortening the length of time in which a company has to advertise for local workers before it brings in temporary workers from other countries. They are also changing the pay scales so that trade workers no longer require set wages. In other words, according to a carpenter being interviewed on the show, a company can simply advertise jobs for a low rate which nobody would work for, then bring in foreign workers at that minimum rate.

    It also means that bidders on government contracts can bid at that rate, so as the guy was saying, how on earth is anybody who pays decent wages ever going to compete? And that ends up driving out your workforce to places west, while the workforce IN the province is essentially made up of temporary workers from Honduras.

    That was on Fridays “As it Happens”, check out the podcast. I mention it not only because it aligns with this blog, but also because apparantly up to now no media even NOTICED the change in huge omnibus budget bill.

  5. @mikel Has high speed rail ever been successfully implemented in an area as sparsely populated as the Maritimes? High speed rail is so successful in Europe because they have the population density to support it.

  6. I should have been more specific, I didn’t necessarily mean high speed to ALL the places. For example, if you have high speed to campbellton, it would be crazy to extend that to Tide Head.

    However, public transportation within regions has always been pretty sore. I went to school in Fredericton from Oromocto, and there has NEVER been decent public transportation, even though the market clearly supported it. This is because of the transportation monopoly, and that single player never decided to put one in (one bus a day at supper time was plenty they said). Meanwhile, when we were going to university many of us from oromocto were happy that bank’s opened their first cash machines-because during the winter that is often where we slept.

    In Switzerland, for example, its not ‘high speed’, but it is ‘constant speed’ and FREQUENT, and there really is no population density to support it. Even in ireland and most of europe you could find buses going at least four times a day to places with populations no larger than New brunswick towns.

    And like I said, how many people would LOVE to zip up to Mount Carleton to do some stargazing or just whatever. FIRST you build the transport, THEN comes the population.

    But the whole point is moot. NB doesn’t even have DECENT public transportation let alone high speed. And Fredericton, Moncton, and Saint John are perfectly happy to grow their populations and would fight any attempt to build infrastructure that would see their population decline-and the job would be hard enough as it is.

    But yeah, that was my mistake, high speed rail tends to support suburbs, and then its branched by other public transport. But right now you can’t even take a train virtually anywhere, and hardly a word has been said where for four months nobody could even take a bus!

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