The rest of Canada is booming. Why is N.L.'s population falling behind?

As the rest of Canada grows, Newfoundland and Labrador can anticipate losing a sizable chunk of its current population, according to new data from Statistics Canada.

The agency looked at multiple scenarios, finding that in all foreseeable cases, the province will shrink by 2043.

In the worst case, N.L. can expect its population to drop by almost 90,000 people — about one-fifth of its current number — thanks to a potent medley of old age, low birth rate and near-stagnant immigration.

"This is largely a rural-urban story," said Rob Greenwood, director of the Harris Centre at Memorial University.

"Large urban centres are the main attractors of newcomers to the country."

With birth rates in the western world falling, he said, immigration "is the only source of population growth," giving provinces like British Columbia and Ontario an edge as newcomers head for the country's metropolises. 

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Assuming the province doesn't suddenly welcome masses of newcomers — or see a rapid shift in its fertility rate, now the lowest in the country — experts expect fewer than 500,000 people to call N.L. home in the coming decades.

But the future isn't necessarily grim, Greenwood said.

"The rural areas … are productivity success stories," Greenwood said, pointing to industries like forestry, mining and fishing that are pumping money into the provincial economy.

Even with a smaller labour force, "we're producing as much, if not more than we ever did."

And thanks to forecasted automation — normally charged with hurting the labour economy rather than helping it — fewer people may not translate to truncated profit margins and companies closing their doors, he said. 

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On a personal level, though, a deflating population could mean foregone gains for those coming of age in the near future.

As people retire and the tax base shrinks, MUN economist Doug May says younger generations will face the economic consequences, perhaps paying more into health care and less into the education they would benefit from.

They also won't be seeing tax cuts they may otherwise would have, he says.

"There's lost opportunity for the younger generation.… They're going to bear some of the burden on this," May said.

In all scenarios, the StatsCan report said, the number of seniors in the province will surpass 30 per cent of the total population — the highest in the country.

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