N.S. population surge ‘exceptionally good news’ after decades of doldrums

For the first time in a generation, Nova Scotia’s population growth is almost keeping pace with the national average — a development that signals a reversal of fortune for a province that has languished economically for much of the past 25 years.

Statistics Canada confirmed this month that the province’s population had risen for the third consecutive year, adding more than 10,000 residents in the past year alone. That’s a jump of 1.08 per cent in one year, compared to the national average of 1.4 per cent.

With population growth nearing historic highs, the demographic future is looking up for Nova Scotia. Photo by Thorfinn via Wikimedia Commons.
With population growth nearing historic highs, the demographic future is looking up for Nova Scotia. Photo by Thorfinn via Wikimedia Commons.

For market research expert Don Mills, the strong three-year trend is something to crow about.

“It’s exceptionally good news for the province,” said Mills, CEO of Halifax-based Corporate Research Associates.

“I’m very excited by what’s happening … That has never happened, based on statistics going back 65 years.”

According to the latest figures, the province has added 26,373 residents since 2015 to reach a total population of 964,693 as of Oct. 1 — a record high.

The 2.8-per-cent increase over three years represents a bigger jump than the province had seen over the previous 24 years, according to provincial figures.

“We haven’t seen a growth rate like this since the 1980s,” said Fred Bergman, senior policy analyst with the independent Atlantic Provinces Economic Council.

Immigration was the key.

Between January and October of this year, the number of immigrants coming to Nova Scotia jumped by a whopping 36 per cent when compared to the same period last year, Bergman said.

And it appears the new arrivals are staying _ another big change for the province.

“Our retention levels are going up to national levels as well,” said Mills. “It’s a double good news story.”

As is the case in other provinces, newly arrived immigrants are heading to the larger urban centres. In Nova Scotia, that means Halifax — a city in the midst of an economic boom.

The municipality is processing more building permits than ever before. In 2011, the city issued permits for 96 new residential units. Last year, that number soared to 1,040 units.

Last week, CBRE Canada said industrial real estate investment in Halifax increased nearly tenfold this year over 2017 — from $26 million to $215 million. CBRE had also said last month that Halifax’s tech talent pool grew by 28% over the past five years, adding 2,500 tech jobs.

“Halifax is beginning to be recognized as a great place to live,” said Mills.

“You can see it in the numbers of young people coming here … Halifax will likely become the coolest city Canada in the next 10 years. We’ve got something going on here.”

While Nova Scotia’s numbers are impressive, they pale in comparison to those in Prince Edward Island, where population growth hit 6.8 per cent over the past three years _ well ahead of every other province.

In October, P.E.I.’s unemployment rate fell to 7.2 per cent, the lowest rate recorded since the 1970s.

As a result, the Island’s economy is now keeping pace with the national average, which is unprecedented, Mills said.

Again, immigration underpins the success.

In the past 10 years, the Island has generated 4,000 net full-time jobs, which is more than the other three Atlantic provinces combined, Mills said.

“That’s what population growth can do to an economy,” he said. “They are a prime example of what the other provinces need to do, and are starting to do.”

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