jenna morton she said times transcript

Population Growth Minister Needs to Focus on Growth, not Decline

Folks, we need to stop painting ourselves as helpless, rural hicks who can’t get our act together. Because that seems to be the message we’re sending the rest of the country.

New Brunswick has a new Minister of Population Growth. Officially, Gilles LePage is the minister of Labour, Employment and Population Growth, but it’s the addition of those last two words that caught national attention. One headline proclaimed the position will focus on “elusive” growth in a place that “just can’t find people.”

Um, hello! I’m here. So are thousands of other people. Thousands of people who weren’t born in New Brunswick but choose to call it home.

David Campbell, who was until lately our provincial chief economist, recently shared that the average flow of immigrants into the Greater Moncton Area has increased nearly 500 percent over the past 10 years. Do we need more? Yes. Do we need organizations and policies and new ministries to make this happen? Yes. But we don’t need to focus on the shortcomings of our province; we need to draw people in with what is working and what talent we have here. We are WAY ahead of most of the rest of the country when it comes to increasing the number of people we attract. We need to be sharing that story, the one in which we ARE finding people, and we want more.  But we also need to do better at keeping those people, as well as those who grow up here.

I’m glad to see a branch of the Population Growth department that will be focused on repatriation and retention. I’ve shared before how important I think it is to raise our children to know and celebrate New Brunswick’s strengths. We need to encourage more people to share the everyday stories about what makes this province a great place in which to live and to work. Pride and loyalty to our community will drive sustainable change, especially as our society continues to become more technologically mobile.

We also need to look at whether or not we are training our children for jobs that exist here, and how we can adjust both what schooling is offered and what opportunities are here. More hands-on technical opportunities throughout the public school curriculum that allow youth to explore potential interests in trades alongside academic training is key.

The government’s website lists 11 universities in our province; several of these have distinguished programs in fields such as engineering and anthropology. We graduate Rhodes Scholars and Nobel Prize winners. But how many jobs do we have for them here? Imagine the potential talent that is sitting in our classrooms right now. We can do more to provide targeted employment opportunities that meet their skill sets.

That national headline, the one that said New Brunswick “can’t find people” to live here? It appeared less than a week after another national headline that proclaimed to explain why our province is “losing jobs and workers.” This is what people across our country are seeing when they read about New Brunswick. That’s the perception we need to change if we’re going to grow our population rather than just study and speculate on what’s making it shrink.

Sure, Premier Gallant and his communications team aren’t the ones writing the headlines. But the words we as New Brunswickers are choosing to use do contribute to those reoccurring national themes. We don’t need to ignore or sugar-coat reality. We just need to remember the power of the self-fulfilling prophecy. So let’s make sure we’re touting our ministry of population growth as one that is building on existing success, not reacting to a doomsday scenario.

 

A version of this post appeared originally in the Times & Transcript. Click here for more She Said columns.

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