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Population in 'downward spiral'
Number of people living in the NWT dropped by almost 500 in the last year

Shane Magee
Northern News Services
Monday, June 22, 2015

More people are leaving the territory than are being born or moving here, according to population estimates released last week by Statistics Canada.

NNSL photo/graphic

Statistics Canada population figures suggest many former territory residents may have seen this sign in their review mirror over the past year. - Walter Strong/NNSL photo

From April 2014 to April this year, the population dropped by 494, or 1.1 per cent, to 43,234. The territorial government's plan to increase the population by 2,000 people by 2019 requires annual growth of 0.9 per cent.

The population drop has a tangible impact on the finances of the territory, as the GNWT gets a transfer payment from the federal government of $35,000 per person based on population. The loss of 491 people translates to $17.2 million less funding on hand for programs.

Mike Bradshaw, executive director of the NWT Chamber of Commerce, said this is bad news for the territorial economy.

"I think it's safe to assume we're in a downward spiral here and we have been for several years," he said.

The chamber, which represents business interests across the territory, has advocated for the government to get the cost of living under control in order to help retain and grow the population.

He told News/North it appears the government listened in the latest budget by not increasing taxes and re-purposing spending. Finance Minister Michael Miltenberger was not available last week for an interview but in the legislative assembly May 28, he said his government has taken steps to reverse the trend.

"We will continue to pursue our population growth strategy to increase the NWT population and work with the mining industry and other business sectors to encourage rotational non-resident workers to reside in the NWT," Miltenberger said.

The strategy lists three priorities: creating an environment for private and public sectors to keep employees by providing quality government programs and services; influencing private sector recruitment through the marketing of the NWT as a great place to live and work; and improving actions to both recruit and retain employees in the GNWT workforce.

Range Lake MLA Daryl Dolynny has suggested if the territory wants to attract more people, it should strongly lobby the federal government to increase the Northern residents deduction, a tax benefit for those who live in the North. It has not changed since 2008 when it went up "a paltry" 10 per cent, Dolynny said in the legislative assembly June 3.

"Our government seems pretty shy about taking the case to the federal government but this is an election year, a time for opportunity, for persuading our federal politicians to do the right thing and I hope the (finance) minister is listening," he said.

A research document for the territory's population growth plan says the need to address people leaving is greater than attracting new people. That's because one person leaving a job in the NWT for a job elsewhere often leaves with an entire family whereas people coming here tend to be younger and not yet starting a family.

Bradshaw pointed to the recently announced incentive for students as a small step that could help. Education, Culture and Employment Minister Jackson Lafferty announced earlier this month the GNWT is creating a $2,000 "Northern bonus" for NWT and southern students who live in the NWT to be applied to their student loan debt. As well, it is increasing the loan remission rates so that students have their debt forgiven faster while residing in the territory.

However, Bradshaw said more still needs to be done.

"A one time $2,000 credit isn't going to cut it, we need to be more aggressive," he said.

The Canadian population was estimated to be 35.7 million as of April this year. Growth in the first four months of the year was above the national average in Western Canada, Yukon and Nunavut.

The next population estimate is expected to be released in September.

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