The rapidly aging population in Newfoundland and Labrador is not a new story, but a project commissioned by Memorial’s Harris Centre aims to clarify how changing demographics will affect the province.
The project also offers independent, evidence-based recommendations on how to prepare for the future.
A clear picture
The first report from the Harris Centre’s Population Project, funded in part by the International Grenfell Association (IGA) and prepared by Dr. Alvin Simms and Jamie Ward (M.Sc.) with the Harris Centre Regional Analytics Laboratory (RAnlab), analyzes demographic data to provide a clear picture of the demographic future of Labrador and the Northern Peninsula.
“This province has been talking about population decline for a long time, but, usually, we’ve looked backwards,” said Dr. Keith Storey, research director of the Population Project. “This research enables us to look ahead, and provides policy-makers with tools to develop strategies to adjust and adapt.”
Along with birth and death rates, the report considers migration rates from the last 10-15 years, and estimates the number of people who would have to move to the region in order to maintain the current workforce population for each region.
“At first glance, it looks as though the population is in good shape,” said Dr. Simms. “Unlike the rest of the province, most of the regions in Labrador have positive growth when you consider only the births and death rates. But when you factor in migration, there is population decline over time, even in areas with high natural growth. It isn’t just where people are born: it’s about whether or not they are likely to stay.”
According to the report, Labrador’s North Coast and central and western regions have a relatively positive demographic outlook; however, the opposite is the case for Labrador’s South Coast, the Straits and the Northern Peninsula.
“For these regions, retaining their existing workforce will be hard, but encouraging in-migration might be even harder,” said Dr. Simms. “Decisions about how to approach the future will need to be made, sooner rather than later.”
The Population Project is also exploring how labour markets in these regions will need to adapt in the face of population change, what service implications there may be and how local and senior levels of government should respond to changing governance issues in light of these demographic changes and challenges.
Without intervention, the trends identified in the report will have a drastic impact on the economy, governance and overall quality of life for the people of the province, but Dr. Robert Greenwood, executive director, Harris Centre, emphasizes that information is a powerful tool.
“It isn’t likely that the demographic decline in this province will turn around enough for regions to continue along as normal; however, the story isn’t all bad,” he said. “There are things that we can do, on both the local and provincial levels, to adapt to our changing reality and understanding the challenges we face is our first step. From there we can work together to build on the things that we all love about this province, but in ways that offer sustainable prosperity into the future.”
The report on the demographic future of Labrador and the Northern Peninsula is only the beginning of the Population Project’s work. The project’s next report will focus on constructive policy ideas to help respond to the challenges and opportunities facing the region.
The priority areas for the policy work were collaboratively identified by researchers at Memorial and community partners in the region, and will continue to be developed and discussed at a Harris Centre regional workshop in Forteau, Labrador, this fall.
“There are things that we can do, on both the local and provincial levels, to adapt to our changing reality and understanding the challenges we face is our first step.”
Although the initial project focus is on Labrador and the Northern Peninsula (the IGA’s funding regions), the Harris Centre plans to extend the work across Newfoundland and Labrador as further project funding is secured.
“Identifying and acting on public policy and innovation best practices is our best bet for weathering these changes, and will support governments, regions, industry and not-for-profit organizations as they plan for the future,” concluded Dr. Greenwood.