Selling the uncomplicated life

From a recent TJ column:

I wrote last week about what my father-in-law calls the “uncomplicated life” New Brunswickers enjoy by choosing to live in this province.  Many of the little things we do every day without complication can pose a big challenge in a large urban area.

I got a firsthand refresher on this fact recently while dropping my daughter off at York University in Toronto.   On a Sunday afternoon we spent 90 minutes in a massive traffic jam and then waited in a long queue to find an available parking spot at a local mall.    Later than evening, friends of ours who moved to Toronto a few years ago regaled us with stories of how hard it is to live and get around in Canada’s largest city.

Traffic, crime, regulations, managing the cost of life and even something as simple as going for a walk can be more complicated compared to a place like Saint John or Fredericton.

For many people the hustle and bustle of Toronto or Vancouver is just part of the package. They are willing to put up with the complications of living in a very large urban centre in order to reap the benefits.  However, there is evidence some those living in Canada’s largest urban centres would consider living and working in smaller cities such as Saint John, Fredericton and Moncton.

After writing the column last week, I received several emails from readers who concluded we should use the uncomplicated life to our advantage and try and convince folks living in large urban centres across Canada they should move to New Brunswick.

One lady suggested we should encourage Torontonian and Calgarian Boomers and recent retirees to leave their high cost, high stress environment behind and move to the bucolic Fredericton region.

Another told me we should convince professional and small business owners who could base their business anywhere in Canada to move to New Brunswick.

According to Statistics Canada, there are nearly 400,000 people who worked from home and live in the Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver metro areas.   For many of them, because they work at home, that could just as easily be Saint John, Moncton or Edmundston.

In fact this is already happening. According to Statistics Canada, between 2006 and 2012 every single year more people moved from Toronto to Moncton than vice versa.  While the numbers are not large it clearly shows a reversal of the historical out-migration at least for the Moncton metropolitan area.

We can also look to Saskatchewan as an example. After running an aggressive advertising campaign meant to convince people from Ontario to move to the prairie province, the number moving there jumped from around 1,500 per year in the early 2000s to over 5,000 in 2013.

Whether they come from Toronto, Vancouver or Bucharest, if New Brunswick could grow its population by a few thousand people per year it would provide a sizeable boost to the province’s gross domestic product (GDP) and tax base.

Not surprisingly there hasn’t been much talk of ‘attracting’ anything to New Brunswick during this election campaign. Stumping from town to town around the province promoting a platform of attracting people, entrepreneurs, investors and big national or international businesses would be a sure fire way to lose votes.

There is a longstanding unease in this province about anything “from away” and many politicians find ways to exploit unease for political gain.

But whether we like it or not we now live in an open society where people and investment flow freely. New Brunswick is already runs a huge trade deficit in people, investment as well as trade in goods and services.

We need to get over our fear of “from away” and be open to attracting businesses, investment and people and not worried these inflows will erode the uncomplicated lifestyle we value here in New Brunswick.


David Campbell
An economic development consultant based in Moncton