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Saying farewell to Nova Scotia for a reason 

We should learn how to attract young people, and watch our economy improve.

Nova Scotia's gotten less crowded in the last year, and that's not a good thing. Last month, the 2013 population estimates were released by Statistics Canada. Canada added 400,000 people last year. Factoring in movement within the country, all provinces and territories added residents except the Northwest Territories (-83 people), Newfoundland (-139) and New Brunswick (-947). Oh, and Nova Scotia: We lost 4,272 people. That's four-and-a-half times as many people lost as the second-worst province.

It gets worse if you dig deeper. Every five-year bracket up to the age of 50-54 in Nova Scotia lost people. Every bracket from 50-54 and up added people. This is in part due to our population aging, but young and mobile people are also leaving this province. Movement between provinces was negative for most, while Alberta added over 50,000 Canadians from other provinces in ONE YEAR ALONE.

Help isn't on the way naturally. Nova Scotia and Newfoundland were the two provinces/territories in Canada to have more deaths than births last year. We'd need to triple our immigration to get back to stagnant population growth--- and it hasn't been growing for years.

So now that I've covered the doom and gloom, where do we go from here?

We need a coordinated and bold youth-centered agenda in this province and this city. Given we know youth (under 35) are more likely to move around, and want to locate in an urban centre---that means a bold Halifax. I think, perhaps reluctantly, parents throughout this province would admit they'd prefer their sons and daughters thriving in Halifax than in Calgary. At least we'd visit more often, and the taxes we pay in the city pay for services province-wide.

I did some work on labour market outcomes for young people in a project called the Halifax Index last year. Between 2006 and 2012, those over the age of 45 absorbed all of the net employment growth in the city. Underemployment is so rampant that baristas are unionizing---that's now a career many are in for long enough to think about benefits and raises. There are skill mismatches, and experience gaps, and we aren't doing a great job of closing them.

What if, instead, we were the easiest city in Canada to become an entrepreneur? What if affordable incubators, and exits from them, were the norm? What if we appreciated and supported art's vital role in our city? What if we had more beautiful and active public spaces? What if our governments were transparent and hackable? What if we were the first province in Canada to provide universal, affordable child-care, attracting young families where parents want to continue careers? What if we went all-in on rapid transit and active transportation?

Any one of these things would radically change the way we attract and retain young people, and would involve a cost. We'd probably have to stop or slow a few other things. But the status quo---millions of dollars invested saving or attracting companies that won't be here on their own, investing in urban sprawl, and endless conferences explaining the demographic problem---is costing us something too. Last year, the status quo cost us 4,272 Nova Scotians.

Cities like Portland, Austin, San Francisco, Vancouver and Calgary aren't thriving hubs for young professionals for natural reasons. They are intentionally creating the conditions that make young, mobile people want to start businesses there. The mayors of Seattle and Chicago are publicly duelling bike plans to attract each other's tech sectors. I imagine tech workers in either city feel a strong sense of belonging as a result.

We need to steal the playbooks of states and cities that have figured out that young and mobile is an economic driver and start implementing them today. Let's add a few of our own ideas and make it easier to implement them. We aren't going to reverse this problem edging at the status quo. Other places aren't doing that, and they are where young people are increasingly headed.

I'm tired of going-away parties---welcome parties are way more fun. Let's be bold and intentional about having more of them.


David Fleming is an economist, business association leader, cyclist and urbanist. He blogs infrequently at http://dfleming.ca and tweets @northenddavid.

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