Nova Scotia's population is growing and that's 'exceptionally good news'

28 Dec 2018 | Canada
Nova Scotia's population is growing and that's 'exceptionally good news'

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.

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."

A record high
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.

Nova Scotia's books remain in surplus—with a little help from Ottawa
4,000 new immigrants called Nova Scotia home in 2017
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."

In a news release, the provincial Office of Immigration said it is beefing up its strategy for attracting newcomers. This year it used new programs to invite non-Canadians with skills needed in Nova Scotia to apply to immigrate to the province directly. 

According to the release, the office attended 10 international recruitment events and 150 events within the province. 

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.

Real estate investment up
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 per cent 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."

Small centres also seeing increase
Some small centres are also seeing an increase in immigration. 

Dolores Atwood is an immigrant settlement worker with the YMCA in the Yarmouth area.

"I am seeing incredible, increasing numbers of immigrants coming," Atwood said in a phone interview Thursday. 

Atwood's work covers Shelburne, Barrington, Clare and the Tusket area. She has seen their annual newcomer reception banquet grow from 102 people in 2014 to 300 people in 2018.  

The main challenge Atwood sees for newly arrived families is the search for appropriate housing and transportation.

She says during a period around 2012 the area struggled with retention after the loss of funding for settlement services delivered through the former regional development agency.

However, Atwood says, the province has begun to contribute more funding for settlement and she is seeing slow and steady increases in the number of people arriving from countries like Egypt, Israel, the Philippines, as well as other countries from around Europe, Asia and Latin America. 

"They prefer the smaller community. They say smaller communities are the best place to raise their children. They tell me that," Atwood said. 

P.E.I. well ahead
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.CBC