Pop­u­la­tion shrink­age

The Packet (Clarenville) - - EDITORIAL -

It’s a pen­e­trat­ing in­sight into the ob­vi­ous. Sorry — that’s un­fair. It’s also a timely ex­am­i­na­tion of a se­ri­ous prob­lem that we’re march­ing straight to­wards, and seem to be do­ing lit­tle about. And it may well be that we can do noth­ing about it.

Last Thurs­day, the Har­ris Cen­tre at Memo­rial Univer­sity re­leased its lat­est pop­u­la­tion pro­jec­tions, and they are more than a lit­tle dire: by 2036, there will prob­a­bly be 41,000 fewer peo­ple in this prov­ince. Ru­ral parts of the prov­ince will shrink sig­nif­i­cantly, and those who re­main will be even more con­cen­trated on the North­east Avalon.

The pop­u­la­tion will be older, and there will be fewer young peo­ple, both be­cause they’ll move else­where for work, and be­cause they will have their chil­dren away.

That’s some­thing you al­ready see in ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties, many of which are hol­low­ing out, leav­ing only older res­i­dents.

Talk to some­one in St. Mary’s Bay about St. Cather­ine’s Academy, an all-grade school that op­er­ates un­der the slo­gan “Pur­su­ing Ex­cel­lence from here to Eter­nity.” When it opened in 1993, the school had 400 stu­dents. By 2012, it had 133. Now, anec­do­tally, less than 100.

So, ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties shrink­ing and ag­ing? There’s re­ally no sur­prise there.

We have talked about this be­fore, in this ex­act space — de­mo­graph­ics may sound dull as dish­wa­ter, but the im­pact ev­ery­thing we do, the bills we pay, the way our govern­ment works, the ser­vices it pro­vides and the taxes we pay.

Take one small ex­am­ple: Muskrat Falls was built, in part, based on the as­sump­tion that, by 2035, we would need 25 per cent more power than we were us­ing in 2010. But if the pop­u­la­tion shrinks by 40,000 peo­ple in the same pe­riod, that’s a drop of eight per cent of power con­sumers. (The other side of that coin, of course, is that there are 40,000 fewer peo­ple to pay off Muskrat Falls’ bill, so higher costs for ev­ery­one who’s left.)

The im­pacts are even more ex­treme in ar­eas like health care: an ag­ing, shrink­ing pop­u­la­tion that co­a­lesc­ing into the North­east Avalon means prob­lems get­ting ser­vices in ru­ral ar­eas, and prob­lems pay­ing for them as well.

Think of it this way: health care in this prov­ince costs $2.988 bil­lion an­nu­ally. That’s about $6,000 a year for ev­ery man, woman and child. Drop the pop­u­la­tion by 40,000 peo­ple, and the cost jumps to $6,500 a year, even if health costs stay ex­actly the same, mean­ing an older pop­u­la­tion has to come up with more money. Cut health costs, and the cuts al­most cer­tainly come from a block of the prov­ince’s most re­li­able in­come tax pay­ers —12-month-of-the-year health care work­ers — mean­ing, once again, find­ing new money.

It is a vi­cious cir­cle.

So far? Suc­ces­sive pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments have con­tin­ued as usual, talked a good game, but have es­sen­tially done noth­ing. Ev­ery day, more time ticks off the de­mo­graphic dooms­day clock.

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