I’ve been thinking a lot lately about creativity. It’s a complicated word, as the connotations vary from thoughts of artistic masterpieces to crafty aunts to professional innovation. I also think it can be a key element in increasing our population.
There was a lot of media focus on information from Statistics Canada this week, showing that New Brunswick’s birth rate is the lowest recorded since the agency started tracking it in 1946. This is the ninth year our birth rate fell, and we have the biggest decline in the number of babies in all of Canada. (Since 2001, we’re down more than 6 per cent, while the average in the Maritimes is less than 3% and the national birth rate is actually up nearly 4 per cent.) If the trend continues, we will be faced with some serious issues for everything from providing quality education to small groups of children to struggling to pay for infrastructure and provide services for an aging population.
One bright light in the dire birth numbers is one of the reasons behind the decrease. New Brunswick saw a large portion of its young adults, those yet-to-start-a-family-types, leave the province for other Canadian cities in the last decade, particularly around the financial crisis of 2008. Those 20-somethings are now 30-somethings and have settled in their new communities, choosing to give birth in other provinces, rather than here. That’s a specific event and demographic that explains the decline; it also gives us options for strategies to court their return.
We need to showcase all the reasons why New Brunswick is a great place to raise a family – like the simple idea of time spent together. The average commute for people working in our area is 17 minutes, one of the lowest rates in the country. Toronto’s average is 34 minutes; so moving here could gain you three hours a week. That’s time you could be spending in your backyard, at the beach, or on the soccer field with the kids. Opportunities New Brunswick released a short video this week highlighting this; as someone who used to live in downtown Toronto, riding the subway to and from work each day, I can say this resonates. So does the cost of local housing that comes with land and a garage in which to tinker.
There is also a creativity factor in choosing to live on the East Coast. This is fertile land for entrepreneurs. The job market is not as diverse as that of Toronto or Calgary, so the people who choose to live here are often pushing their personal creative boundaries to create employment for themselves and for others, whether that is hands-on production of artistic goods, a back-to-the-land self-sustainable lifestyle, technological innovations, or creatively-driven services such as marketing and consulting. Tap into the talents of those 30-something former New Brunswickers who are feeling unfulfilled in their day jobs in the big cities. Show them the industrial creativity that exists here alongside the cultural. We are a province filled with people creating opportunities, and the dream of being your own boss in a community that supports its own is a power motivator.
Another bright light? Today’s 20-somethings, the ones who are potentially starting families in the next five to ten years, are choosing to stay. We’re still seeing a lot of out-migration, but the rate is slowing. If we keep encouraging our youth to explore their options here, and keep building a community that puts families and youth at the forefront of our services, we will continue to call more of them New Brunswickers and not ex-pats.