Newfoundland and Labrador has faced a crisis for many years—a crisis of demographics. Last year marked the lowest number of births in the province’s recorded history at just 4,000, which is 900 less than the number of deaths. There has also been a significant uptick in people leaving the province for the rest of Canada, with a net loss of 3,000 people last year. With a median age of 47, Newfoundland and Labrador’s population is by far the oldest in Canada.
These numbers may not seem significant, but the ramifications are anything but. An ageing, declining population with few young people to replace it is directly correlated with a declining job market, a weak economy, an inability to provide essential services, such as healthcare and education, and more. In a province with a population hardly hovering more than a half a million, any decline is dire.
I am a person equipped to speak to this as I am one of these people who fled to the mainland with the hope of prosperity and opportunity. I left my 20-year home on the island in January of 2018 and headed to Nova Scotia, somewhat belligerently, but knowing it had to be done. I was witnessing the brunt of this crisis, feeling the effects of it first-hand. While studying at Memorial University, it was nearly impossible to find a way to get my foot in the door and slowly clear a path to staying, prospering and growing with my province. With a dwindling job market, double-digit unemployment and an economy that seemed to be in a constant downward spiral, I realized this was not a sustainable place for me to live and to grow—at least not for now.
It hurts to realize that your home cannot be your home anymore. It hurts to see your home in a crisis like this. It’s a place I love dearly, a place I know can and will eventually be repaired, and a place that I would love to one day call home again.
One way to tackle this crisis is immigration. While immigration has slowly made a mark in Newfoundland and Labrador—and with the populace gradually becoming more open and welcoming of newcomers—the numbers are still relatively low, with retention numbers even lower.
The potential benefits of immigration are huge. The median age for newcomers living in Newfoundland and Labrador is 29, with a young population guaranteeing that communities are sustainable both socially and economically. Bolstering the population also fixes the dwindling demand for goods and services. Immigrants fill employment gaps that desperately need to be filled, especially in areas like the medical sector, which is concerningly understaffed throughout the province.
Newcomers also create new businesses and thus new opportunities for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to not only work and thrive, but to also broaden their historically isolated horizons by exposure to cultures from around the world. Look no further than the plethora of international restaurants that have sprung up around St. John’s or the Syrian-owned barbershop in Corner Brook, for just two examples. Rural Newfoundland has continuously been on a substantial population decline, making many fear that the death of these communities is inevitable. But with one-third of immigrants to Newfoundland and Labrador choosing to settle in rural parts of the province, a new vibrancy can emerge in these areas.
Of course, immigration is a two-way street and both parties can benefit. Those who choose Newfoundland and Labrador for their new home have great potential for success. Data shows that newcomers are among the highest earners of immigrant populations in Canada. Newfoundland and Labrador is, in many ways, a blank slate for entrepreneurship. The province hasn’t been exposed to much of the cultural flare that newcomer entrepreneurs have introduced elsewhere in Canada and many parts of the province are thirsty for goods and services that nobody has yet opted to provide. With boundless fresh air, gorgeous geography and some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet, Newfoundland and Labrador is a dream for anyone looking to raise a family.
The provincial government has been keen to bring newcomers to the province and have them stay. Through a variety of initiatives and projects, such as collaborative efforts between the federal and provincial governments and local settlement agencies, there has been great progress in addressing the barriers newcomers meet before and after they arrive in their new home. An emphasis has also been placed on ensuring both employers and newcomers have ample knowledge of pathways to immigration in the province, bolstering strong job prospects for those calling Newfoundland and Labrador home. Awareness campaigns tackling often negative assumptions about immigration have been launched, as well. Success has slowly been trickling in with the province welcoming 1,500 newcomers in 2018, nearing the set target of 1,700 annual newcomers by 2022. As they say, the more the merrier!
The future has long looked grim for Newfoundland and Labrador and unfortunately in many ways it’s a trend that is showing little sign of improving. Immigrants have the potential to rejuvenate the province and turn these trends around. Newfoundlanders and Labradorians need to be willing to welcome immigrants with open arms in order to make this happen. We have so much great potential to offer them, and they have so much to give us. The fact is, Newfoundland and Labrador’s future depends on newcomers. When we unite as a province and lay out the welcome mat, we will begin to see the prosperity we have longed for.