LIVING

New Brunswick Sees More Deaths Than Births For First Time

03/29/2015 10:00 EDT | Updated 05/29/2015 05:59 EDT
Shutterstock
city view of dowtown area of...
FREDERICTON - Coles Island School in New Brunswick has taught children for 58 years but this may be its last.

Over time, enrolment has dwindled to a point where the school now teaches 30 students from kindergarten to Grade 5. Still, Steve McCready and others in the community have fought for five months to save it.

"A school in a rural community is one reason people don't have to move away," said McCready. "Any people with younger families would not even consider moving to a community without a school nearby."

The area's district education council voted this month to close the school. Its future rests with the education minister, who has up to two months to make a final decision.

The school's closure is just one way the province's demographic shift manifests itself.

Here's another: Statistics Canada reported this month that more people died than were born in New Brunswick last year for the first time since it began tracking such figures in 1972.

Two other provinces — Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador being the others — have also recorded more deaths than births in recent years.

For years, academics and politicians have warned about Canada's aging population and what it will mean for the country's social services and its rural communities. Nowhere is that impact more acutely felt than in Atlantic Canada.

"The overall trend is grim," said Fazley Siddiq, dean of business at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John.

Siddiq said governments at all levels need to make bold moves to address the region's declining population. One idea he recommends is further amalgamating municipalities like the Nova Scotia government did during the 1990s with the Halifax Regional Municipality and Cape Breton Regional Municipality.

Such a move would improve efficiency in the delivery of public services, he said.

"It is completely irresponsible to have five municipalities in Greater Saint John when the population is around 130,000 people," he said.

He also suggests the introduction of a baby bonus, a measure that Newfoundland and Labrador implemented in 2008. Parents in that province are offered $1,000 for each child born or adopted and $100 per month for the first year of the child's life.

The number of births in the province rose slightly after the baby bonus was brought in, but they have since fallen back below 2008 levels, according to Statistics Canada.

Other incentives that should be considered are tax breaks and improved services for immigrants, Siddiq said.

Andre Lebel, a demographer at Statistics Canada, said across North America only Florida has an older population than Atlantic Canada.

Part of what's driving that is the number of young couples who continue to move westward for work and their families often grow once they do, Lebel said.

"These people are having babies outside of the Atlantic provinces, so it's increasing the rapidness of aging," he said.

As the population falls in smaller communities, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain services.

In Cartwright, N.L., Mayor Dwight Lethbridge has been in discussions with the Eagle River Credit Union after it announced plans to close the town's only bank.

Lethbridge has seen Cartwright gradually lose people because of the economic downturn. The 2011 census pegged its population at 516, down from 552 in the previous survey done in 2006.

Even its middle-aged residents have left to find work elsewhere despite efforts to make the community more attractive, Lethbridge said.

"We're working like dogs to diversify our small economy," he said.

For Coles Island, the pending loss of its only school could further deplete the population.

"There's a good chance that people will have to relocate," McCready said.

Also on HuffPost

  • Alexander Imich, Age 111
    Michael Mannion/AP
    Alexander Imich attributed the long length of his life to good genes and a healthy lifestyle, having quit smoking and drinking long ago.

    Imich was just one of several Americans who have been recognized as the oldest people in the world. However, the U.S. is not known for having the oldest population in the world in general. According to a 2011 study by Euromonitor, all of the countries with the oldest populations are situated in Europe, with the exception of Japan. The United States, however, might soon join its European and Japanese counterparts, as the Administration of Aging expects the percentage of Americans older than 65 to reach 19 percent by 2030.
  • Jeanne Calment, Age 122
    Georges Gobet/POOL/AP
    The oldest person ever recorded was French citizen Jeanne Louise Calment, who reached a whopping age of 122 years and 164 days. Born in 1875, Calment witnessed both the technological innovations and the destructive wars of the 20th century before passing away in 1997 in her hometown of Arles, France.

    Despite having been the home of the oldest person in the world, France, just like the U.S., is not known as one of the countries with the world's oldest population. According to the United Nations, the French elderly population grew from 7 percent to 14 percent in 115 years. In contrast, it will only take developing nations China and Brazil twenty-something years to experience the same change in demographics.
  • Jiroemon Kimura, Age 116
    AP
    When Jiroeman Kimura died in June 2012 at the age of 116, he had been the oldest man for just around six months.

    Japan is accustomed to a large elderly community. In January 2011, more than a fifth of Japanese were older than 65 and the average life expectancy stood at 83.1 years. Yet Japan's long lifecycle will likely create headaches for its lawmakers, who face the world's second-largest public debt and a below-replacement birthrate, making it difficult to continue handing out generous pension plans to a retiring workforce.
  • Emma Morano, Age 114
  • Maria Esther de Capovilla, Age 116
    Victor Proanio/AP
    When Ecuadorean Maria Capovilla died in 2006 at the age of 116, she was recognized as the oldest woman to have lived in Latin America and in a developing nation. Capovilla's daughter told the Los Angeles Times that her mother "always had a very tranquil character...She does not get upset by anything. She has been that way her whole life."

    Capovilla's impressive lifespan highlights the growing concern of other Latin American countries -- particularly Brazil, Mexico, and Chile -- whose aging populations will put burdens on government finances. A report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies estimates that "the number of elderly in Latin America will triple as a share of the population by 2050," resulting in a "dramatic slowdown in population growth." Another concern for the continent is that while life expectancy has increased, living standards in many Latin American countries have stagnated. CSIS warns that "while the United States, Europe, and Japan all became affluent societies before they became aging societies, Latin America may grow old before it grows rich."