As we look to setting intentions and resolutions for 2019, I’d like to once again call on our local and provincial leaders to focus attention on attracting and engaging families in our communities. Great strides have been made over the years in ensuring many of our cities and towns are senior-friendly; placing a similar focus on showcasing and improving family-friendly initiatives could go a long way toward ensuring more people are born and choose to live in New Brunswick.
One of our greatest challenges as a province remains our population growth. We’ve done well, lately; we headed into fall with 772,238 people calling New Brunswick home. That’s the highest population for this province on record. But we’re still not seeing sustainable growth in terms of the number of people being born in New Brunswick and the number of Canadians leaving New Brunswick for another province remains higher than those moving here. Our population boost is coming from immigration, which is wonderful, but we can’t overlook the importance of creating a family-friendly province if we want to continue to see those numbers increase.
A community that can be seen to be creating and supporting a family-friendly environment will have a definite advantage in attracting and retaining young to middle-age, mobile professionals. Again and again I hear families sharing the various reasons why they’ve chosen to live in our area – the cost of living, the proximity to nature, professional opportunities, and so on. I often also have those same families reaching out, searching for suitable events, wondering about summer programs designed for large families and small children, looking for information to help them engage in community life with their families. There is such great potential in our province and yet we are failing to provide our families with the services they want and the access they need.
One perfect example was highlighted recently when a friend shared her experience trying to take her professional youth dance troupe out to eat while on tour in Moncton. This is a group of young teen girls who dance in cities across this country and even overseas. They were frustrated, flabbergasted, and left with a bad impression of our city and our province because of our antiquated liquor laws. Most downtown Moncton restaurant options serve alcohol; for many, the provincial rules require each minor to be accompanied by a parent or guardian. Several downtown eating establishments refused to serve my friend with her six dancers because of these rules; she would have needed five other adults to meet the legal requirements. Visiting hockey teams, groups in town for dance competitions, and so on, face similar refusals throughout our province.
This does not give visiting families the impression that New Brunswick is operating with youth in mind. Dance groups, hockey teams, and large groups of friends do not face similar restrictions in Nova Scotia; my friend and her dancers routinely eat in the same franchise in other cities without issue. In Prince Edward Island, the province extended the hours in which accompanied minors can be in an establishment that serves alcohol, recognizing that families traveling (particularly in the summer, when it doesn’t get dark until after 9pm) needed more options than the old rules allowed.
In January 2017, a spokesperson for the Justice and Public Safety Department said the province recognized that our rules need to be updated. Perhaps two years and a new government will be enough to bring about change. And maybe the next time a hockey team or dance troupe comes to visit, they’ll leave with a better impression of our province and consider it a place they want to visit or even to call home.