Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I rise to give points related to my motion for a strategy to retain, sustain, and grow the NWT's population.
I came to the 19th Assembly with the intent of empowering our North in three key areas: People, land, and prosperity. And it's been important to me to identify what links each of these three elements, how they work together to help us respond to the opportunities pulling us into our future.
People are both our greatest resource and biggest scarcity in the Northwest Territories. People make our houses into homes and our lands into communities. They power the industries that generate prosperity from our opportunity-rich land in infrastructure, tourism, mineral resource development, remediation, small business, public administration, and so much more. Most importantly it is the giftings of each Northerner and the cultural diversity of our population as a whole that truly make the Northwest Territories an incredible place to live.
Mr. Speaker, that's why it's so important that every resident who wants to live in the North, who wants to stay in their home community, that they have the means to do so. But for too many residents staying is not a viable choice.
The official statistics show the accumulative impact of many individuals' choices to leave. In any given year, about 2,000 residents leave the NWT for another province or territory. It's impossible to know exactly why these people choose to leave, but the high cost of living is one reason Northerners tell me they are pulling up their roots and, sadly, looking south.
In many northern communities, difficult job prospects or inadequate public services also push people to bigger centres, hollowing out our small communities, or out of the territory. According to the bureau of statistics, 17 of our 33 communities actually lost residents from July 2020 to July 2021. That's more than half of our communities.
Some communities are experiencing persistent significant declines.
Inuvik, which once counted over 3,600 residents has fallen back to 3,300. Fort Smith's population has shrunk every year since 2016. Fort Providence has lost over 60 people since 2001. While Fort McPherson in your own riding, Mr. Speaker, has lost almost a hundred people. The hollowing out of regional centres and small communities is not reconciliation.
Article 3 of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples proclaims that Indigenous people have a right to self-determination, to freely pursue their economic, social, and cultural development, but depopulation in our small communities undermines the capacity for local decision-making. It takes away the residents who might staff the local health centre, manage the local waste facility, spearhead grassroots community wellness initiatives, care for aging elders, or run for elected office.
Mr. Speaker, like the rest of the world, our population is also aging and retiring, and my colleague to my left routinely reminds me that I better be ready to help look after him some day. For aging in place to truly work and for the North to afford to continue to improve elder and seniors care, we need people to fill a robust economy of care throughout our territory.
We need to focus on retention. However, at present, the government doesn't have a unified strategy to sustain, much less grow, our population.
Some of the pieces are already there. The land is beautiful. Our people, resourceful. Our communities, resilient. And the territory is rich with enormous economic potential even if not yet fully recognized.
Some of the policy pieces are already there too. For example, our student financial assistance is intelligently designed to support post-secondary education pursuits and incentivizing Northerners to stay in the North post graduation.
But we need so much more, Mr. Speaker.
An overriding strategy to increase our population must consolidate existing strengths and implement more smart programs and policies. It must start with an analysis of what brings people to the North and what keeps people in the North.
The GNWT has already done similar work on a smaller scale, looking at recruitment and retention in the healthcare sector and among Indigenous employees. We need that now at a bigger scale to understand, at the community and territory level, why people come, why people stay, and what pushes people to leave. This analysis will certainly find that the cost of living is a huge factor. That's why any strategy to sustain and grow our population must include a plan to address the high and rising cost of living.
The population strategy must also include an immigration strategy. Right now, we have a nominee program that's undersubscribed. By comparison, other jurisdictions in similar straits are doing so much more and achieving real success.
The Yukon has a community pilot program that promotes immigration to smaller communities by giving newcomers a two-year location restricted open work permit. The Atlantic immigration program brought Nova Scotia over 4,000 newcomers in four years where 40 percent of designated employers were outside of Halifax. Nova Scotia's ten-year retention rate, the share of newcomers who come and who are still in the province ten years later, is almost three in every five newcomers.
Beyond immigration, other countries are focusing on solutions to curb the great urban migration. Japan designated a program that gives away homes in small communities to sustain the population in rural areas.
Housing is a key pillar of an NWT population growth strategy. I've had conversations with colleagues on this side of the House about the crisis we're already in. We're struggling to house the population we already have before even considering new residents. That's why this motion specifically calls to build thousands of homes in the next decades.
Housing is a human right, one that the government must ensure and plan for now and in the long term, Mr. Speaker.
The population strategy must also include a communication strategy to let the world know what the NWT has to offer, as well as a review of business programs to help small business owners start and grow their businesses.
The last piece of this strategy involves setting a growth target. Current demographic shifts in the territory are putting incredible strain on communities, employers, and public finances. The territorial formula financing, which provides two-thirds of the government's revenues, grows with our population. If our population grows slower than Canada's, as it is projected, then our revenues will grow slowly. At the same time costs continue to rise.
The pandemic exposed economic and social gaps in our society and has increased the urgency to address these issues. In the days since entering an endemic, inflation, increasing cost of living, and what is looking like the most expensive flood recovery in the NWT's history have continued to exacerbate the urgency to address our social issues and created further strain on our fiscal situation. Effectively, Mr. Speaker, we cannot afford not to grow.
Growth is transformative, and it is not at the cost of Northerners. Growth is to the benefit of Northerners. Multiple business owners have told me that they can realize their full potential or afford to be innovative because they do not have the people power to do so.
Mr. Speaker, I want to be clear. This strategy does not negate the need to nurture, educate, train, employ, and care for the people of the Northwest Territories. It is in partnership with these vital priorities and to support our dream of a stronger more prosperous north. That's why I'm calling for a strategy to match Canada's population growth. I'm asking this House to endorse a comprehensive plan to ensure that the future of the NWT is sustained by empowering the residents, both here and those to come, to thrive in our beautiful territory.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.