Oh no! Is the ‘old normal’ rearing its hoary head?’

Atlantic Canada didn’t become a cool place to live after COVID-19 lockdowns started to take effect in 2020.  What enticed thousands of Canadians to move here was safety, not hipster vibes. They were attracted by relatively low COVID-incidence rates in Canada’s four easternmost provinces.

Atlantic Canada’s attractiveness to newcomers was then part of a ‘new normal’ which included sheltering in place (‘stay the blazes home’), special shopping hours for seniors, and inviting everyone dress like cat burglars (‘don’t forget your masks’).

Today, some ‘old normal’ demographic trends are starting to reassert themselves.

For instance, Statistics Canada has just reported that Atlantic Canadians are again going down the road, headed primarily for the traditional job-hunting grounds in Alberta, which has the fastest growing population in the nation. 

In the first quarter of this year, 1,242 Nova Scotians moved to Premier Danielle Smith’s promised land. Only 482 Albertans headed east to settle in the Bluenose province. (‘Net’ migration to Alberta was reported for all Atlantic provinces.)

 In short, traditional outmigration from Atlantic Canada looks to be reasserting itself.

Why does this matter? Because population growth is a leading indicator of economic success. Atlantic Canadians (often young, skilled and talented) move West in search of economic opportunity, as they always did. In doing so, they traditionally left behind a population that is older, sicker and shrinking.

All that said, the CrowsNest is not inclined to issue a mayday alert.  Our region is still attracting record numbers of immigrants, and a greater percentage of them are now staying here rather than decamping for Ontario, Alberta or British Columbia in the ‘old normal’ fashion.

In addition, the economy has changed in ways that should empower the region’s success. The IT sector has grown significantly in Atlantic Canada’s major cities, as companies are drawn by both available talent and affordable real estate. The Public Policy Forum and other thinktanks also stress the region has an opportunity to excel in the development of renewable energy technology, and marine industries.

In short, while we may be bedeviled by ‘old normal’ trends like outmigration, we sense a sea change in Atlantic Canada – and we might just have a chance to create a (new) ‘new normal’ that transforms the region into a beacon of progress. If that happens, people will move here because it’s an exciting place to ‘live long and prosper’ (in the finest Vulcan tradition), rather than a safe haven to ‘shelter in place’.