Feel­ing out the fu­ture

Slow ero­sion of the Burin Penin­sula pop­u­la­tion ex­pected to con­tinue in years ahead

The Southern Gazette - - Front Page - BY PAUL HERRIDGE MARYSTOWN, N.L.

When Travis Par­sons grad­u­ated from John Burke High School in the early 2000s, he did so along­side nearly 80 other stu­dents from the Grand Bank-For­tune area.

This Septem­ber, ac­cord­ing to the New­found­land and Labrador English School Dis­trict, 21 stu­dents from the two towns started kinder­garten at Lake Academy in For­tune. It’s a stark con­trast. Af­ter ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion on the Burin Penin­sula, in the late 1980s a U-turn be­gan that picked up steam in the years fol­low­ing the col­lapse of the cod fish­ery a few years later. The num­ber of peo­ple liv­ing on “the Boot” has been trend­ing down­wards ever since.

Ac­cord­ing to cen­sus data, the pop­u­la­tion of the Burin Penin­sula in 1986 was 29,360, just over 14,000 of whom fell be­tween the ages of birth and 24. Roughly 8,400 were 14 years old or younger.

Also us­ing Statis­tic Canada’s fig­ures, New­found­land and Labrador’s Vi­tal Signs Re­port 2018, pegged the Burin Penin­sula’s pop­u­la­tion in 2016 at 19,800, a drop of 941 from 2011. Just 4,400 were be­tween the ages of 0-24.

The shrink­ing pop­u­la­tion is likely to con­tinue in the com­ing years.

Alvin Simms and Jamie Ward of Me­mo­rial Univer­sity’s Har­ris Cen­tre Re­gional An­a­lyt­ics Lab­o­ra­tory used three dif­fer­ent sta­tis­ti­cal mod­els as part of their Re­gional Pop­u­la­tion Pro­jec­tions for New­found­land and Labrador 2016-2036 re­port that was pub­lished in 2017.

One of them, the his­tor­i­cal (cycli­cal) sur­vival model, which as­sumes re­cent age spe­cific birth and death rates con­tinue, and also fac­tors in the mi­gra­tion rates of the past 10 to 15 years, pre­dicts the pop­u­la­tion of the Burin Penin­sula could drop to roughly 15,000 over the next 18 years.

The nat­u­ral sur­vival model, which de­pends on re­cent age spe­cific births and deaths only with­out in­clud­ing mi­gra­tion, pre­dicts a slower de­cline to 16,624 by 2036.

The third model, the re­place­ment sur­vival model, es­ti­mates the amount of in-mi­gra­tion nec­es­sary for the work­force pop­u­la­tion to be main­tained at its cur­rent level. The pop­u­la­tion un­der that model ranges from 17,829 with low re­place­ment to 18,791 with high lev­els of re­place­ment.

Con­cern

Par­sons is con­cerned but not en­tirely pes­simistic about the re­gion’s fu­ture.

A small busi­ness owner with a full-time job as well, he grew up in Grand Bank, left for a while to at­tend post-se­condary and was one of the pre­cious few who re­turned. At 35, he is now rais­ing a young fam­ily of his own in his home­town.

If things stay the way they are in the re­gion, he be­lieves the pop­u­la­tion could con­tinue to drop sharply.

“I think no doubt it’s go­ing to go down any­ways. We’re not go­ing to get that much of an in­flux of peo­ple to get back to where we were,” said Par­sons, who also served on Grand Bank Town Coun­cil for four years but was not re-elected in last year’s mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion.

“It’s go­ing to de­crease from

what it is for sure.”

That may be alarm­ing, Par­sons says, but he thinks if the right peo­ple buy in and the proper steps are taken, in­clud­ing fol­low­ing the ap­proach of other re­gions in the province – like Bon­av­ista, Fogo and Twill­ingate – the pop­u­la­tion could sta­bi­lize in 10 or 15 years. That process has to start now, though, he says.

“No one is go­ing to come home be­cause they miss mom or they miss the smell of the beach up the cove,” Par­sons says. “There’s got to be more to it than that.

“We all love that and that’s a draw for peo­ple, but they have to have op­por­tu­nity and they have to see ben­e­fit.”

Big chal­lenge

Simms has had some suc­cess pre­dict­ing the pop­u­la­tion of the Burin Penin­sula be­fore.

He and Ward com­pleted a de­mo­graphic anal­y­sis re­port for the now-de­funct Burin Penin­sula Ru­ral Sec­re­tariat’s re­gional coun­cil, re­leased in Feb­ru­ary 2012, that pre­dicted the 2016 pop­u­la­tion for the re­gion would be 19,395, about 400 fewer than the ac­tual num­ber turned out to be.

Simms says there’s no sim­ple so­lu­tion to the pop­u­la­tion slide but sug­gested year-round jobs that pay liv­ing wages is one ob­vi­ous thing that is needed to at­tract and re­tain young peo­ple. “It’s a big chal­lenge,” he says. Per­haps Grieg NL, the com­pany plan­ning to kick start the aqua­cul­ture in­dus­try on the Burin Penin­sula in a big way with a salmon hatch­ery in Marystown and sea cages in Pla­cen­tia Bay, can be one of the key cogs for slow­ing or re­vers­ing the de­cline in pop­u­la­tion.

For that to hap­pen, Simms says it’s im­por­tant then to cap­i­tal­ize on all the po­ten­tial com­po­nents that could turn aqua­cul­ture into a core in­dus­try, like a feed plant and lo­cal pro­cess­ing of the fish.

“To me, you have to fight for the full pack­age,” Simms says. Christ the King School, Rushoon: 7

Don­ald C. Jamieson Academy, Burin: 35

For­tune Bay Academy, St. Bernard’s-Jac­ques Fon­taine: 3 Holy Name of Mary Academy, Lawn: 4

Lake Academy, For­tune: 21 Sa­cred Heart Academy, Marystown: 45

St. Anne’s School, South East Bight: 0

St. Joseph’s Academy, La­ma­line: 3

St. Joseph’s All Grade, Ter­renceville: 5

St. Lawrence Academy, St. Lawrence 8

Source: New­found­land and Labrador English School Dis­trict

“If you’re grow­ing fish there, you should be able to pro­duce food for the fish there and you should be able to process it there.”

Michael Gra­ham said de­mo­graph­ics was a ma­jor fo­cus dur­ing his ten­ure as chair of the lo­cal Ru­ral Sec­re­tariat re­gional coun­cil be­fore it was dis­banded along with oth­ers in the province by the cur­rent Lib­eral govern­ment.

“We need di­ver­sity in the econ­omy is what it boils down to, and I mean, things like Grieg may turn that around,” he said.

Gra­ham said he knows of a few young fam­i­lies that have come back to the area be­cause it’s still a great place to live, and Simms ac­knowl­edged the re­gion has ur­ban-like ser­vices go­ing for it, such as the YMCA in Marystown, hospi­tals, re­tail stores, gro­cery stores and sports fa­cil­i­ties.

“You have the at­trac­tors, the next at­trac­tor is the jobs,” Simms says.

Simms doesn’t see a smaller pop­u­la­tion for the Burin Penin­sula as nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing – if it means the econ­omy is strong, ev­ery­body is work­ing and the qual­ity of life is good.

“You may get smaller and you may be­come more ef­fi­cient and you may be a well-work­ing ma­chine of a re­gion … with a smaller pop­u­la­tion, with a very high stan­dard of liv­ing be­cause ev­ery­body is work­ing,” he said.

Gra­ham says there’s no way to tell what could hap­pen in the fu­ture.

“The worst-case sce­nario is we’re down to 15,000 (peo­ple). Yes, there’s go­ing to be ser­vices that dis­ap­pear and things like that, but that’s the worst-case sce­nario and we don’t nec­es­sar­ily have to go there. There’s a lot of things that could change that.”

The Bon­av­ista blue­print

In ad­di­tion to jobs and op­por­tu­ni­ties, Par­sons be­lieves other fac­tors could also help sta­bi­lize and maybe even­tu­ally grow the re­gion’s pop­u­la­tion.

Fos­ter­ing a sense of com­mu­nity and im­prov­ing liv­abil­ity, as­pects for which Bon­av­ista has been greatly lauded in the past cou­ple of years, are also very im­por­tant,

he says.

Par­sons con­sid­ers Bon­av­ista as a blue­print for what is pos­si­ble in ru­ral New­found­land and Labrador. While the town’s pop­u­la­tion may have gone down in the 2016 cen­sus, the amount of new busi­nesses that have started up in the town and the num­ber of chil­dren en­ter­ing school are en­cour­ag­ing, he says.

“It’s be­cause they’re in­vest­ing in liv­abil­ity, they’re in­vest­ing in the small things that as a col­lec­tive add up,” Par­sons said.

“They’re fo­cus­ing on young fam­i­lies. In­stead of one big in­dus­try, they’re fo­cus­ing on at­tract­ing peo­ple to set up niche busi­nesses that can work in ru­ral New­found­land.”

Par­sons says that can be done in this re­gion, too, but it will re­quire vi­sion and peo­ple who see

the value in tak­ing the nec­es­sary steps.

Young peo­ple might be more in­clined to have that men­tal­ity, he sug­gests, but un­for­tu­nately, they are not nearly as in­volved in their com­mu­ni­ties as they should be.

Par­sons, who would like to see more di­ver­sity for all lead­er­ship groups in the re­gion, whether they be town coun­cils, vol­un­teer groups or other, said young peo­ple who plan to still be liv­ing and work­ing in a com­mu­nity 25 years down the road would make de­ci­sions with that in mind.

“You plant a tree not so you can en­joy the shade, it’s so your kids and grand­kids can. That’s the men­tal­ity I think we have to have.”

Michael Gra­ham

FILE PHO­TOS

Travis Par­sons

SARAH LADIK – SALTWIRE NET­WORK

Ad­vanced Ed­u­ca­tion, Skills and Labour Min­is­ter Al Hawkins

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