Losing out best and brightest, illiterate, over-taxed, bankrupt….. Folks, relax

A friend of mine used to call me “Dr. Doom” as on these pages I routinely expose some fairly challenging economic and demographic data.  A role I will continue to play.

But the reason I expose this data is not to mire folks in doom and gloom but to encourage us to rise up and address our challenges as communities and as a province.

The problem is that we can get lost in this negative narrative and this can lead to exaggeration and hyperbole.  So, following from some of the blogs and social media posts I have read just in the last few weeks,  here are a few ‘facts’ for you to digest:

“We are losing out best and brightest” – My research and that of Dr. Haan does confirm that those who move away have on average higher educational attainment levels than those who remain in New Brunswick.  But that doesn’t mean all our “best” and “brightest” have left.  A small province such as New Brunswick will have a fair amount of folks who want to leave for a variety of reasons.  Did you know there are only 15 geological engineers in New Brunswick?  25 denturists? 25 physicists and astronomers? 35 archivists? Only 25 actors and comedians? There are hundreds of occupations that you will likely have to move out of New Brunswick to pursue. That doesn’t mean all of our best leave and it should not stop us from trying to attract immigrants.

It is true that the net outward migration rate has been increasing in recent years and is concerning but over the past five years the annual net migration rate has been -0.23% of the population. The sky is not falling.

“We are illiterate” – Literacy is a challenge to be sure but when I hear people say 60% of NBers are illiterate, I cringe.  First of all, it is true that 51% of NBers aged 25-64 have only level 1 or level 2 literacy (data here) but that doesn’t mean 51% can’t read or write.  Only 17 percent have level 0 or 1 literacy which means they really struggle. In fact, Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Manitoba all have 17% of their 25-64 population with 0/1 literacy.  In fact, we are close to both the Canadian and OECD averages for literacy scores.

Is it a serious social and economic challenge? Yes. Are we that much worse than the rest of Canada? No.

“We are over-taxed” – There is not much to say here except that as Richard Saillant has pointed out the average NBer pays less tax today than they did 10 years ago as a share of their income – mainly because of the federal cut in HST.  Our goal as a society should be to keep our tax levels similar to other jurisdictions in Canada.

“We are almost bankrupt” – Provincial government debt as a percentage of GDP is lower now than it was in the 1980s (and far lower than in the 1930s).  Again, it is a big challenge but we have surmounted it before and we can again if we can get the GDP growing again and keep public spending below or at par with GDP growth.

Folks, relax.  The point is the sky is not falling.  We live in one of the most successful countries in the world and across a full range of economic indicators we are better off (as a province) than most countries in the OECD.

Four of the biggest challenges facing the province are: the shrinking under 40 labour force; the globalization of the economy; natural resources development and technological change. These four are among the biggest stressers that are creating our current economic realities.

A hundred tweets about our problems won’t get us to solutions.  If we can crack these challenges – the shrinking labour force, our position in a globalized economy, etc.  We will start to see the data start to turn around to the positive.  And then we can start complaining about the problems that come with growth for a change.