Don Mills, perceptions and immigration

Think of Don Mills as a slightly older, wiser version of yours truly – only with an army of pollsters at the ready.

In the past few years, Mills’ focus and mine are starting to converge somewhat on issues such as natural resources development, urban growth and immigration.

His research on attitudes towards immigration in Nova Scotia are timely and instructive.  The number of Nova Scotians saying the province would be better served with fewer immigrants rose from 18% in 2004 to 24% in 2013 and only 28% said the province would be best served with more immigrants.

In my part of the Ivany report, I talked a lot about the importance of immigration from a variety of angles.    I fundamentally believe that the Maritime Provinces are a ticking demographic time bomb.   If you do any kind of scenario planning that doesn’t include some level of immigration, the regional economy will likely slide into sustained economic decline imperiling tax revenues, private business investment and the availability of labour.

The Ivany report called for Nova Scotia to reach at least the provinces’ ‘share’ of national immigrant numbers each year.  That is a worthy objective but will face resistance at multiple levels.

The Mills’ research on this confirmed our need to amp up the grown up conversation with the people of this region.   If the majority of residents think we can close ourselves off to immigration, foreign investment, etc. they will find out soon how wrong they are.

The Maritime economy has sputtered along for decades because of an ample supply of young workers, a mostly low cost environment and a big pile of federal transfers and other federal cash (namely EI payments).  Now that ample supply of young workers is drying up, the cost environment is rising and federal transfers are moderating.

We need an ambitious agenda that has at its core attracting immigrants, entrepreneurs, investment and ideas.  This is the only way to re-balance our demographics and provide the economic foundation to sustainably pay for the cost of public services and public infrastructure.

Otherwise, if you were disappointed with the economic performance of the region over the last decade you ain’t see nuthin’ yet.