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Last year was the worst year in history for births in Newfoundland and Labrador




There’s more evidence that Newfoundland and Labrador’s demographic challenges may only be getting worse, and it can be found on the maternity wards, in the funeral homes, and at the airports and ferry terminals.

Last year marked a new low point for births in recorded history, with just over 4,000 newborns being delivered, according to preliminary numbers from the provincial government.

That’s about 900 fewer than the number of deaths.

And there appears to be another uptick in migration to other provinces, with a net loss of 3,000 people to Ontario, Alberta and Nova Scotia in 2017-18, according to Statistics Canada estimates. 

Four years ago, Newfoundland and Labrador recorded a small net gain of 134 people from those provinces.

It’s the continuation of a troubling pattern that began in the mid-1960s, when it was common for more than 15,000 children to be born each year, and the population was thriving.

And it’s one with wide-ranging consequences for everything from health and education service delivery to labour availability and the very existence of dozens of rural and isolated settlements.

This chart shows the pattern of increasing immigration to Newfoundland and Labrador. The numbers for 2018 do not include the months of November and December. (Source: Citizenship and Immigration Canada)

« What we have to do is learn how to adapt in this new reality and make the most of what we have, » said Robert Greenwood of Memorial University’s Harris Centre, which has been studying the province’s population patterns.

Mini brain drain

While efforts to increase immigration are showing results, today’s reality is a shrinking and aging population driven by emigration to other provinces, double-digit unemployment, and more and more women of child-bearing age deciding to have fewer or no children.

And those who are having children are waiting until they are much older than their own mothers and grandmothers were.

« It’s not surprising, » said Cathy Walsh  while spending time with her one-year-old grandchild, Jianne, at a play group in St. John’s recently.

[Women] are getting higher educated. They spend more time doing things before they settle down. So the odds of having more children are slim.– Cathy Walsh

« [Women] are getting higher educated. They spend more time doing things before they settle down. So the odds of having more children are slim. »

Enrolment at Memorial University supports Walsh’s point. 

Of the 14,242 full-time students enrolled at MUN in 2017, more than 8,000 — nearly 57 per cent — were female, and this is not a new trend.

And Walsh’s story is a familiar one: She is from a family of six children, and she raised three of her own. She has only one grandchild, and she’s not expecting any more.

Children have fun at a Daybreak play group at Bishop Abraham Elementary in St. John’s. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

« I think it will be a serious situation at some point, » she said. « The fact people are living longer. And if we’re not having enough people to take care of everybody … I think that goes to show we need more people coming into the province if we’re not going to have as many births. »

2018 2017 2016 2015 2014
Deaths 4,921 5,136 5,008 5,225 4,991
Births 4,002 4,125 4,490 4,496 4,616

Source: ServiceNL

As for that apparent spike in outmigration, a vast majority are young, highly educated and skilled, says MUN geography professor Alvin Simms.

Simms calls it a miniature brain drain.

« They’re very much in demand elsewhere, » said Simms, referring in particular to the growing shipbuilding sector in neighbouring Nova Scotia.

The trend shows a stable or increasing population on the northeast Avalon Peninsula — driven largely by migration from other regions of the province — and in most parts of Labrador, but declines everywhere else.

St. John’s resident Lisa Young, with her son, Gage, is a young mother to three children, which is not common in an era of declining fertility rates. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

The current population is just over 528,000. But various scenarios compiled by the provincial government projects the population could shrink to anywhere from a best-case scenario of 523,415 to a worst-case scenario of 492,000 by 2036. And every scenario shows a dramatic increase in the province’s median age.

Situation reversed

In 1996, four years after the disastrous closure of the northern cod fishery, Newfoundland and Labrador was Canada’s youngest province, with a median age of 34.1. By 2015, with young people leaving at a steady clip, the situation reversed, and the most easterly province is now the oldest, with a median age of 45 years, according to Statistics Canada.

A shrinking fertility rate is an international phenomenon, and Newfoundland and Labrador’s rate is among the lowest in the country, with 1.42 children per woman as of 2016. That’s well below the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman.

And the fertility rate plummets even more in small communities, with researchers saying anywhere from 100 to 120 small communities are now beyond the point of no return because the educated youth are not staying in rural Newfoundland.

Meanwhile, the steady growth in Canada’s population can be attributed to an influx of immigrants, primarily to larger centres such as Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.

But the chances of reversing Newfoundland and Labrador’s population struggles through immigration are slim, says Greenwood.

« These kind of long-term trends are cultural, and they are worldwide, and it’s kind of like climate change, » he said, explaining that the best option is to try to mitigate the challenges that accompany population decline.

Premier Dwight Ball’s Liberal government has set ambitious new targets for immigration, and statistics show a record 1,305 new permanent residents in Newfoundland and Labrador during the first 10 months of 2018.

But this number is still far short of the losses through interprovincial migration and natural population decline, and large numbers of immigrants eventually leave the province.

Despite the population decline, Rob Greenwood, executive director of Memorial University’s Harris Centre, is optimistic about Newfoundland and Labrador’s future. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Experts like Greenwood say good governance, intelligent use of the province’s abundant natural resources, high-quality education and an innovative, productive economy that makes better use of digitization and automation are the answers. 

He’s optimistic, in fact, about the province’s future.

We got to do what we can on immigration. We got to do what we can on family-friendly policies. But we absolutely have to learn to do more with fewer people.– Rob Greenwood

‘We have to stop equating development with population growth. We have to start thinking about how do we make the most with the population we have, » said Greenwood.

« We got to do what we can on immigration. We got to do what we can on family-friendly policies. But we absolutely have to learn to do more with fewer people. »

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


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‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal




MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow




Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise




Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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