Why should we pay higher power rates to cover the cost of programs to get people to conserve power?
Like the weather, everybody’s talking about Nova Scotia’s looming demographic crunch but nobody’s doing much about it. A conference last week in Wolfville, organized by the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities along with chambers of commerce and regional development authorities, sought to bring some urgency to the issue from an economic point of view and to move senior government into acting on some specific measures.
Earlier this week, the provincial minister responsible for both education and workforce development, Marilyn More, addressed a Halifax business audience on some of the same themes, underlining the need for a better match between available jobs and the skills of Nova Scotians. More said problems resulting from Nova Scotia’s rapid population aging and projected workforce shrinkage are made worse by a lack of “sufficient skills, learning or experience for many of the positions that are coming vacant.”
For a Cape Bretoner conditioned by decades of job shortages, it’s especially hard to flip to the opposite view. But if the experts know what they’re talking about, the crunch will hit here as well. In fact, the Cape Breton Regional Municipality has been on the leading edge of the demographic changes that are now alarming business people, educators and policy-makers on the mainland and throughout the Atlantic region.
These issues have never been tackled in a comprehensive way in Cape Breton. Now we’re about to see whether the change in scale makes any difference in the way governments, business and institutions respond.
Many of the projections for Nova Scotia are dramatic. Already the province with the highest proportion of seniors at 15.4 per cent, Nova Scotia in about 15 years will have 70 per cent more seniors and 30 per cent fewer homegrown students in both the schools and the universities. Tens of thousands will be retiring annually and the population will dip by five per cent by 2026.
The implications for the economic and social health of the province are profound. As noted regional policy guru Jim McNiven put it in Wolfville, calling the developing labour shortage Nova Scotia’s No. 1 economic problem: “Basically, if we run out of labour, it will stop economic activity in the province.”
There is no single solution – not immigration, not the advancement of native and other minority youth in education and jobs, not delayed retirement, not productivity improvement through technology and training. But these and other elements must all be part of managing through the demographic bottleneck that lies ahead.
It’s not all bleak. We’ll need better jobs, higher skilled and higher paid, and employers will have to cater to the lifestyle needs of their people with flexible work arrangements and services such as child care. People now on the margins, such as minorities and people with disabilities, will have to be welcomed into the economy.
To come out on the up side will require an unprecedented levels of co-operation and creativity among all sectors of Nova Scotia society.