GAIL LETHBRIDGE: N.S. population growth a balancing act

GAIL LETHBRIDGE: N.S. population growth a balancing act


When it comes to population growth, be careful what you wish for.

Nova Scotia has an ambitious plan to increase our population to two million by 2060.

The idea is to attract enough people to boost the economy and find the workers that are badly needed to fill gaps in the workforce.

We have to take care of the sick and the elderly, feed people and develop infrastructure such as roads, hospitals and schools. We currently have bottlenecks in healthcare, trade, tourism and hospitality, and agriculture.

Doubling the population will provide the province with these workers and increase the tax base used to pay for government services.

Gail Lethbridge:
Gail Lethbridge: “Right now we have shortages in healthcare, crafts, tourism and hospitality, and agriculture.” — Ryan Taplin/File

Population growth has traditionally been a challenge in this part of the world. Nova Scotia has a disproportionately older population compared to other provinces.

Immigrants did not stay, and until recently young people left the province in droves to find work elsewhere.

That has changed quite dramatically in recent years. It was a big deal earlier this year when we broke through one million residents.

According to Statistics Canada, the population of Nova Scotia was more than 1,030,000 in October. That’s an increase of 32,566 over last year.

Many of them are international students here temporarily, but some stay on for work after graduation, thanks to immigration programs designed to expedite permanent residency.

People are also coming from other parts of Canada such as Ontario and British Columbia, some to retire, others to work remotely or start new jobs in in-demand sectors.

But this rapid population growth brings challenges for a small province, and we’re feeling it now.

The housing crisis is a canary in the coal mine. New Nova Scotians need a roof over their heads, and so do old Nova Scotians, by the way.

Demand for housing in places like Halifax is driving up rents, making housing unaffordable for many. The two percent rent cap is a temporary solution if you already live in a rented apartment. The cap is set to be lifted in December 2023.

The rise in real estate prices in recent years has made home ownership out of reach, particularly for young people and new Canadians. Prices have stabilized somewhat since the exciting days of the bidding wars, but the problem of high house prices has not gone away.

If housing costs don’t correlate with workers’ salaries, people can’t live where they work. Living farther from work means people need cars, which is another significant expense alongside the prices of gas, insurance and parking.

“The demand for housing in places like Halifax is driving up rents and making housing unaffordable for many.” – Ryan Taplin / File

This isn’t just a problem in Halifax. High-end golf resorts in Cape Breton are also feeling the pinch. With no local workforce, they bring workers here from Sydney, which has seen tremendous population growth from international students at Cape Breton University.

Short-term rentals are also biting into the province’s affordable long-term rental stock. Halifax, like other cities across Canada, is trying to address this with regulations.

And then there is the very visible problem of people living in tents in winter.

Public transport is also another issue for a growing population. Halifax is experiencing a labor shortage in this sector which has resulted in a temporary cancellation and reduction of routes. In the absence of rapid transit systems like subways and go-trains, this is a problem.

A transit service is like the circulatory system of the body. If there are blockages and bottlenecks, the body ⁠— and the city ⁠— is not healthy. That hampers the economy.

The other challenge in a traditional province like Nova Scotia is welcoming new Canadians from different countries, races and accents. Racism and xenophobia are still alive here.

Governments at all levels will walk a fine line between growing populations and meeting the needs of more people.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *