Economist praises premier’s push for immigration, population growth in N.B.

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs delivers the State of the Province address in Fredericton on Thursday January 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Stephen MacGillivray

A prominent economist says New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs is doing the right thing in his efforts to increase immigration and grow the population.

Herb Emery, who holds the Vaughan chair in economics at the University of New Brunswick, says if the province doesn’t invest in attracting newcomers, it won’t be able to maintain public services at current levels.

On Thursday, Higgs used his state of the province address to say he’s pushing the federal government to allow at least 10,000 immigrants to settle in New Brunswick each year.

He said the goal is to increase the population to one million by 2040. The 2016 census put the population at roughly 747,000, although the latest estimate from Statistics Canada puts the number at just under 777,000.

“Right now, we have set a target of attracting 7,500 newcomers every year to our province by 2024. It’s actually the limit of what the federal government will allow,” Higgs told a business audience in Fredericton.

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Higgs said Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Crystia Freeland was supportive when he raised the idea of an increase in a January meeting.

“Immigration is something that’s going to help us a whole lot, because we have huge demands for labour, for employment,” he said. “Minister Freeland said she just wanted to be sure that what we were doing would fit the fabric of communities.”

The premier says companies need to look at bringing in families rather than just individuals in order to improve retention.

He said the government will develop a new program to act as an advocate for immigrants, cutting red tape and assisting with the process of gaining professional credentials.

Emery said there should also be an intermediary to better match employers with talent.

“If we fail to do this, if we can’t generate investment and the population, what we’re really looking at is our capacity to pay for the public services that we’ve committed to. That can also mean we start to ration between urban and rural, we start to ration between health care and education,” Emery said Friday.

Click to play video: 'Premier Blaine Higgs to deliver second state of the province address Thursday'
Premier Blaine Higgs to deliver second state of the province address Thursday

He said the goal of one million people by 2040 is achievable and gives people something to focus on.

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“With the investment coming in and the jobs, you wouldn’t just need immigration to do it,” he said. “You’d be getting in-migration from other parts of the country and you’d have higher retention of youth that are in the region already.”

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Emery said he’s heard the argument that immigrants take away jobs from others, but he said that’s not the case in New Brunswick, where there is a labour shortage.

“At this point they are not displacing anybody who wants to work,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 31, 2020.

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