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By the numbers

Population projections emphasize importance of preparing for the future


By Rebecca Cohoe

Newfoundland and Labrador’s population is shrinking and aging, and we need to prepare for the consequences.

So suggests a new report from Memorial University’s Harris Centre that forecasts major changes to the population of the province.

Population Project

Part of the Harris Centre’s ongoing Population Project, the report focuses specifically on regions on the Island of Newfoundland (the Labrador projections were released last year, and are available on the Harris Centre website), but includes broad estimates for the province as a whole and updates for Labrador.

Tony Keats hosts a panel discussion with Jamie Ward, Dr. Alvin Simms, Dr. Rob Greenwood, and Dr. Keith Storey.
Photo: Submitted

The numbers are of concern, with the populations of all the regions on the island, except for the Northeast Avalon Peninsula, expected to shrink between now and 2036. The total population of Newfoundland and Labrador was estimated at 519,880 in 2016. Based on expected birth, death and migration rates, that number could drop to 479,907 by 2036.

Nuanced approach

The report, written by Dr. Alvin Simms and Jamie Ward with the Harris Centre Regional Analytics Laboratory, uses three statistical models to project a range of population scenarios.

The models include the Natural Survival Model, which looks at births and deaths only; the Historical Survival Model, which includes births, deaths and historical migration rates; and the Replacement Survival Model, which estimates the amount of in-migration needed to maintain the current workforce population.

Used together, the models are able to offer a nuanced approach to what Newfoundland and Labrador will look like in the future, including providing varying outcomes based on how successful the province is in addressing workforce replacement.

“While these projections are of concern, we need to understand what is happening and be prepared to address the consequences.” — Keith Storey

These sorts of population changes will have major public policy implications.

Overall population as well as changes in the age structure of a population (in the case of Newfoundland and Labrador, aging) are key factors in making decisions about infrastructure and program investments in schools, hospitals, roads, public transportation, water supply, health care, child and senior care, and post-secondary education and training.

“Whether you’re looking at the population increase we’re forecasting for the Northeast Avalon, or the many other areas that will experience a decrease, governments, industry, not-for-profit organizations and service groups need to be ready, informed and proactive,” said Dr. Keith Storey, research director, Population Project.

“While these projections are of concern, we need to understand what is happening and be prepared to address the consequences.”

Another tool

A crucial part of the work of the Population Project is to collaborate with regions and stakeholders to develop recommendations for addressing change.

Several recommendation reports, funded by the International Grenfell Association, have already been released for Labrador or are underway. Work on the island recommendations will begin shortly, once funding is finalized.

“Many municipal leaders are seeing the early effects of some of these shifts in their communities already,” said Tony Keats, mayor, Town of Dover, and vice-president, Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador.

“The information in this report, and the recommendation reports that will follow, can help all of us to better understand the impacts of the change that we know is coming, and make smart decisions to prepare. It’s another tool in our toolkit.”

“We know that change is inevitable,” said Dr. Rob Greenwood, executive director, public engagement and the Harris Centre, Memorial University.

“As our population declines, and as people age and move within the province, the way that we do things will need to follow. With information like this, we can start identifying policies that will help address these emerging challenges before they’re on our doorsteps.”

All of the population projections and the completed recommendation reports are available on the Harris Centre’s website.

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