HALIFAX—Population growth in most Maritime cities is outpacing the rest of the country. But the region’s rural areas are largely stagnant or shrinking.
New data from Statistics Canada shows Halifax’s population grew by 2.2 percent, up to 440,348 people, between July 2018 and 2019.
Moncton’s population went up by two percent, to 155,825, over the same time period. And in Fredericton, the population rose by 1.8 percent, to 109,883.
All three cities bested the national population growth rate of 1.4 percent. Even cities like Saint John that grew more modestly still made gains, increasing its population by .6 percent to 131,025.
But look to more rural areas and the story changes.
Take Campbellton, which lost 108 people and dropped in population by 0.8 percent. Or New Glasgow, which had 56 fewer residents over the same period—a 0.2 percent population decline.
The trend holds throughout the Maritimes and, according to Don Mills, means the region’s rural economies could continue to struggle.
Mills is the founder and former CEO of Corporate Research Associates Inc., and is currently the president of Crane Cove Holdings.
“Population is key to our economic success,” he says. New people coming to a region means more housing must be built and more services need to pop up to serve them. All of that means more jobs.
“These people have to eat, they have to buy clothes, they are consumers. And when they get jobs they become taxpayers,” Mills says. “That circle of growth is like magic for growing an economy.”
Meanwhile, rural areas that don’t attract new residents (or worse, lose the ones they already have) miss out on all that economy-boosting magic.
Mills talks about population growth in terms of “new people coming in” because new arrivals are the only realistic way the Maritimes can grow its population.
Of the 9,747 new people who called Halifax home in Jun 2019, 6.509 came from outside the country. The numbers look similar for any Maritime region that grew.
“It underscores the problem that we have. In almost every county there are more deaths than births. So if people don’t come from somewhere else the population will decrease. And this is the challenge.”
This makes population struggles in rural areas even more pronounced, because new arrivals tend to cluster in urban areas.
The solution, Mills says, is invest more heavily in economic centres outside of major urban areas that can provide jobs and services to people living in rural areas.
Mills says that kind of investment would come with certain sacrifices, however, and would take “political courage” to get done.