According to Canada’s most recent census, Newfoundland and Labrador is the only Canadian province that has seen a population decrease during the last five years.
As per Statistics Canada, the province’s population decreased by 1.8% between 2016 and 2021. In contrast, Canada’s population increased by 5.2 percent overall, while the other Atlantic provinces increased by an average of 5.6 percent. According to the data, the province had the greatest reduction in rural regions of Newfoundland, with the population of Corner Brook, which Stats Canada classifies as a small urban hub, dropping by over 4%.
In contrast, the population of St. John’s, the province’s major urban center, increased by 2% throughout the five-year period. According to Immigration Minister Gerry Byrne, the figures are in line with what the province had previously predicted. Furthermore, he believes it emphasizes the necessity to increase the province’s population through ways like immigration.
“The news is grim because of course the forecasts also say that for the next 30 years, the population of Newfoundland and Labrador is expected to decline,” Byrne told CBC News Wednesday.
“It puts it into real stark contrast and really highlights the importance of growing our population in Newfoundland and Labrador, the consequences of not doing so are dire and significant.”
Meanwhile, Byrne claims that the province’s population situation isn’t all negative. According to Byrne and provincial government figures, the population of Newfoundland and Labrador increased by nearly 2,000 people in the three quarters following the census in May 2021. Thus, according to Byrne, the bulk came via immigration, something the government has been emphasizing in recent years.
By 2026, the province intends to receive 5,100 immigrants every year. According to Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada, over 1,600 immigrants arrived in Newfoundland and Labrador last year. As per Stats Canada, immigration has also been a driving element in the national population increase, accounting for approximately four-fifths of population growth since 2016. The remaining one-fifth is due to natural increase, or the number of births less the number of deaths.
Newfoundland and Labrador, on the other hand, aren’t experiencing natural growth, as the province’s deaths have outnumbered births since 2016.
“The only way that we can mitigate that is through immigration,” Bryne said. “We need to attract more younger people to contribute to the economy, contribute to the overall standard of living, and the viability of our province. And we’re seeing that happen. We’re seeing a huge surge of new people wanting to come to a new place called Newfoundland and Labrador.”
With the province’s history of outmigration and dropping fertility rates, Rob Greenwood, head of Memorial University’s Harris Centre, which researches population demographics and public policy, says the results should come as no surprise.
“The real long-term trend is a drop in fertility rates. Women of child-bearing age are having fewer children, and that’s a worldwide trend. We used to have the highest fertility rate in Canada, now we have the lowest,” he said.
Greenwood called the initiative to get more immigrants into the province “very vital,” but added that the province must also find ways to keep those who arrive in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“We have a challenge with retention. Many immigrants come here and then move on to larger urban centers on the mainland,” Greenwood said. “We need more attention on regional economic development, community economic development. Because there are real differences in the opportunities and the assets in each area of the province.”
Increased immigration, according to Byrne, would help the province as a whole.
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