"We can't allow things that are inaccurate to stand." — The Word of Our Dan, February 19, 2008.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Population politics

Meanwhile, in Nova Scotia, the opposition provincial Progressive Conservatives are playing the same blame game once practiced by another notionally Progressive Conservative leader and party on the other side of the Cabot Strait. Once again, it's time to Blame the Government for the Demographics:

HALIFAX, NS – Progressive Conservative leader Jamie Baillie says the high cost, job killing polices of the NDP are to blame for the alarming amount of young people leaving Nova Scotia.

The latest Statistics Canada figures show approximately 60 per cent of Nova Scotians leaving for other provinces are in their 20s. Baillie says the province is on a path to a crisis situation with an aging population and a shrinking workforce.

“We’re losing our young people to provinces that see the importance of attracting business, investment and good jobs,” said Baillie. “On the other hand, the policies of our NDP government are raising costs, killing jobs and forcing our kids to leave to find work in alarming numbers.”

While immigration essentially balanced out the overall population number, Baillie says the loss of younger Nova Scotians adds to the province’s demographic woes. Nova Scotia has the highest proportion of people aged 65 and over in Canada and the lowest proportion of people under the age of 15.

“The NDP government’s high cost policies are suppressing job creation in Nova Scotia, leaving younger people with few opportunities,” added Baillie. “The real cost of the NDP’s mismanagement is families watching their children leave to start their lives elsewhere.”

Outmigration from Nova Scotia to other provinces reached 19,151 people in 2010/11 according to Statistics Canada preliminary data. That’s the highest number since 1989/90.
Now, let's accept — solely for argument's sake — that provincial government policies are what drives interprovincial migration patterns.

It was certainly the argument used by the Danny Williams Party from 2001 to 2010, blaming the then-governing Liberals for out-migration; then, when in government, pushing the notion, to the gullible, of some supposed "Williams Effect" to account for in-migration and other positive statistical indicators.

Curiously, according to this theory, the Liberal government did not get credit when out-migration slowed and converted to net in-migration; nor was the "Williams Effect" to blame when out-migration accelerated during the mid-2000s, nor when out-migration resumed in earnest once the worst of the 2008-2009 recession was over.

But, let us accept at face value the implied argument of the Progressive Conservatives on both sides of the Cabot Strait, that government policies drive interprovincial migration.

This naturally raises the question: what were things like when the PCs were in power in Nova Scotia?

Well, then.

This chart shows the quarterly out-migration from Nova Scotia going back just over thirty years, to 1980, cleverly colour-coded according to which political party formed the provincial government of the day:

Note the strong historical pattern for out-migration to peak in the third quarter of the year. This chart smooths out that seasonality; the figure for any given quarter here is the total outmigration for the previous year. (Note that the chronological attribution of party-in-power breaks down a little during transitional election years):

And remember, out-migration is only half the picture. There is also interprovincial in-migration to consider, which from time to time results in net interprovincial migration into Nova Scotia. (Along with international migration, births, and deaths, all of these components go into the top-line population figure for any given province.) This chart shows net interprovincial migration in Nova Scotia, again colour-coded by government of the day, with periods of net in-migration in dark colours, and net-outmigration in pale colours:

So, all in all, interprovincial migration in Nova Scotia under the New Democrats is, well, on the lower end of its long-standing historical range, but still not quite as bad as it was at its worst, in 2006, when Rodney MacDonald was the province's Progressive Conservative Premier.

So: are provincial population trends a product of provincial politics?

Jamie Baillie and company may want to consider their answer to that question very carefully.

Data source: Statistics Canada CANSIM Table 051-0017.

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