Congratulations to all the high school graduates in Halifax West!
I had the opportunity to participate in several graduation ceremonies and I was impressed by the intelligent young people who are excited about building their skills and setting the path for their careers. Nova Scotia desperately needs these bright young minds if we are going to deal with a rapidly aging population and generate economic growth.
Recent census data released by Statistics Canada shows Nova Scotia's population is aging even more than the rest of Canada's, and our province has the highest percentage of seniors (16.6 per cent compared to the national average of 14.8 per cent). There are more people in the province over the age of 65 than there are under the age of 14, and for every 100 people preparing to retire, there are only 85 entering the workforce.
Rural areas, in particular, are feeling the demographic crunch, and as large employers like Abitibi Bowater leave the area, younger people also leave in search of work.
In this province and almost every other part of Canada, we are facing a shortage of skilled workers that will only increase as baby boomers retire.
We need to attract and retain skilled workers and find innovative solutions to drive our economy as traditional industries struggle to compete in the global marketplace.
The fact that we have 11 world-class universities in addition to an excellent community-college network is a key advantage as we work to tackle this challenge. But we have to make sure we are making the best use of this advantage.
First, we have to help every one of those thousands of new high school graduates attend a post-secondary institution so they can learn the skills they need to compete for jobs and help fill the labour gap. This means the federal government must look at education as an investment in the future economy and provide financial support so students can afford to pay their tuitions.
Second, we have to let the universities help us recruit skilled workers. The Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission has reported that one in every 12 students studying at universities in the region is from outside of Canada. International students have spent several years living in Canada, building their social and business networks and are well positioned to make a successful transition to life in Canada. When considering applications for student visas, the Government of Canada shouldn't say to students, "You don't plan to stay, do you?" Instead we should be asking, "Is there any chance you would stay after you graduate?"
Third, we need to build partnerships between our schools and the private sector. Ray Ivany, president of Acadia University, was recently quoted as saying, "A lot of the R&D capacity in Atlantic Canada is embedded in the post-secondary sector. You have got to get more of those ideas out of the institutions and you need more partnerships between the institutions and entrepreneurs and innovators with ideas." Universities and other research institutions can help drive innovation in our province and create new economic opportunities that will attract young professionals.
That's why I was frustrated with the short-sighted decision of the Conservative government to cut research funding at Environment Canada and the Bedford Institute of Oceanography, and to slash the Scientific Research and Experimental Development program. Canada stands to lose some of its best and brightest scientists and those groundbreaking discoveries that can come from basic research.
An aging population creates a challenge with declining revenues and increased stress on health care, pension plans and other government programs. But, if we leverage our assets and invest in our young people, Nova Scotia could become a hub for innovation.
Do you have a suggestion about how the federal government can help attract skilled workers and boost our regional economy? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.