More Immigrants Needed to Maintain Saskatchewan’s Boom: How Immigrants Can Soften the Blow of the Upcoming Demographic Crunch

Publication, Immigration, Steve Lafleur


Historically, Saskatchewan has been a province to which people came from all around the world to make a better life for themselves. Many of us have heard different versions of the Palliser’s Triangle story. Some say the federal politicians wanted to pawn off useless land on to Ukrainian immigrants who happened to figure out how to make things grow in this arid region. Another account holds that Ukrainians were chosen specifically because they were accustomed to farming similar land. Whatever the motivations of the politicians who encouraged the settlement of the province, immigrants built this province. Unfortunately, the vagaries of the grain market and a few decades of failed public policy decisions stifled expansion in the early part of the 20th century.

From the beginning of the last century until the 1930s, Saskatchewan experienced a major population boom, as did its western neighbour, Alberta. After the 1930s, their fates diverged. While Alberta’s population continued to boom, Saskatchewan’s stagnated. A multitude of problems from fluctuations in the grain market to poor natural resource policies choked off Saskatchewan’s growth. Fortunately, the Romanow government began to turn the policy environment around in the 1990s, and successive governments have continued to embrace pro-growth economic policies. Thanks to these expansionary policies, Saskatchewan now has a historic opportunity to thrive in the global marketplace. Globalization and an increasingly prosperous world are creating a massive demand for Saskatchewan’s natural resources. If Saskatchewan continually strives to improve its policy environment, the world will be its oyster. One component of this prosperity is lacking: more people. There are more resources than Saskatchewan could possibly develop to meet the nearly infinite global demand, yet there are not enough people to help extract and process them. Equally important, the Baby Boom generation is nearing retirement, and we will need more people to ensure that we can adequately finance their retirement. Birth rates have declined nationwide since last year, but there is plenty of room for immigration to fill this void. With smart immigration policies, Saskatchewan can meet this challenge. To do so, Saskatchewan should aim to take in at least 10,000 immigrants in 2012, and increase that total by 100 annually. This is feasible and essential for our prosperity.

There is no reason Saskatchewan’s growth this century cannot match Alberta’s in the last. The province is twice the size of Germany with only an eightieth of the population. Given the vast amount of undeveloped land and the unmatched resources, Saskatchewan has the potential to lead the country—and the world—in terms of prosperity. Indeed, the boom has already begun. The province’s Real GDP climbed 18 per cent between 2002 and 2008,1 and despite a global recession, in 2009 the Real GDP remained 11.5 per cent higher than the 2002 level.

The long-term trend of population decline has reversed, and the province is projected to add between 100,000 and 300,000 residents over the next 25 years.2 While some of this gain is from Saskatchewanians returning to the province from working in other parts of the country—namely Alberta—immigrants have also been an important source of population growth. Annual immigration increased from 1,668 in 2003 to 7,617 in 2010,3 largely due to the Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program (SINP).

The slow growth scenario will not be enough to take full advantage of the boom. Now is the time for Saskatchewan to think big. Right now, the province is home to just over one million people. The recommended increase laid out in this paper would bring the population to roughly 2.5 million by the turn of the century. It may seem steep, but that is substantially slower than the rate Alberta grew at in the last century (1910-2010). There is no reason we cannot embrace this level of growth.

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