Report highlights stark differences between northern, southern Canada

The North’s young population makes it special


Postmedia News

Northern and southern Canada are increasingly divided along a fault line of young and old Canada, a new report from the Conference Board of Canada suggests.

More than one in five people are under the age of 15 in most of Canada’s territories and the northern portions of provinces such as Manitoba and Saskatchewan, the report finds, but only a handful of areas in southern Canada have such youthful populations.

“Historically, we talk about there being two solitudes in Canada, the French and the English, but I think one could say there’s two solitudes in Canada today, and that’s the North and the South,” says Derrick Hynes, director of the Conference Board’s Centre for the North research institute.

The baby boomers are accelerating the aging of southern Canada at the same time that high birthrates and lower life expectancy among Aboriginal People are keeping northern populations young, he says.

As of 2009, 4.7 million Canadians — or 13.9 per cent of the population — were 65 and older, and the Conference Board projects that by 2025, that will rise to 20 per cent.

In contrast, just 7.2 per cent of Nunavut’s residents are forecast to be 65 or older in 2025, while the proportion will be 12.5 per cent in the Northwest Territories and 18.4 per cent in the Yukon.

The Conference Board projects that the ranks of seniors will surpass the number of children for the first time in Canadian history by 2019, but the number of children will still be more than double the number of seniors in the North.

And that means the public policy priorities of northern and southern Canada will be increasingly out of sync, Hynes says.

“With an aging population, your high-profile issues become matters such as pension plans, seniors’ health care and health services,” he says.

“With a younger population, you want to look at matters such as education, skills development, preparing people for job opportunities, health services for a younger population.”

This report is the latest in a series the Centre for the North has created to contrast northern and southern Canada on issues such as education, housing quality and search and rescue capabilities.

The jagged line that demarcates the two regions of the country has revealed stark differences, Hynes says.

“There are some misperceptions about the North among southerners. The North may be seen as this cold, barren place with not a lot of people, primarily made up of Aboriginal People,” says Hynes, who grew up in northern Labrador and lived in the Yukon before relocating to Ottawa six months ago.

“(But) I think there’s a growing awareness that there are enormous economic opportunities in the North, but not such an awareness around the key issues facing northerners.”

There’s “immense untapped potential” in the North that will be crucial to Canada’s future success, Hynes says.

With 93 per cent of the country’s population lying below the Conference Board’s north-south dividing line and 80 per cent of its land mass above it, the government will have to pay special attention to the North or it will be overshadowed by the dominant southern population, he says.

But there are also ways in which the needs and opportunities of old and young Canada fit together like puzzle pieces, Hynes adds.

“You could argue that the North has become exceedingly important to Canada and to Canadians,” he says. “The Canadian economy could tap into every young worker in the North and still not have enough workers to meet its needs in the future, so the North can make a contribution to that.”

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