Thank you, Chair.
Thank you for the invitation.
We are pleased to be here to represent Prince Edward Island.
Thank you very much for this opportunity to present Prince Edward Island's views on this important matter.
We have two departments that have mandates related to population. My colleague Minister MacDonald sends his regrets for not being able to attend today. His Department of Economic Development and Tourism includes the P.E.I. Office of Immigration. As the workforce and advanced learning minister, my mandate is to grow our population and workforce.
Just last week, Premier MacLauchlan announced a new population action plan for P.E.I., focusing on recruitment, retention, repatriation, and rural economic development.
In recent years, the story of P.E.I.'s population has been positive. Since 2007, driven by strong international immigration, P.E.I. has led the Atlantic provinces in population growth. This influx of new Islanders has contributed to our province in many ways: socially, culturally, and economically. We are seeing this success. Our GDP grew by almost 2% in 2016, which was ahead of the national average by 1%. Manufacturing sales saw the highest growth among all provinces and outpaced the national average of 1%. Over the past six months, we have seen employment growth of 2.8%, the strongest in the country. Over the past five years, the total income from wages and salaries has grown steadily.
We are on the right track, but we are also facing challenges. We must act now to slow and reverse two concerning trends: out-migration and an aging population. Our action plan lays out a path to do this, but we can't do it alone. It is a call to action to Islanders, businesses, communities, and the federal government to help us reach our ambitious target of growing our population to 160,000 by the end of 2022. This is over 10,000 more Islanders in five years.
Today, we have several slides, as we respond to the areas outlined in motion 39.
Canada experienced a 5% population growth in 2016. P.E.I. led Atlantic Canada in population growth, but we know that Atlantic Canada still lagged behind the rest of Canada. We are concerned about the widening of this gap. Atlantic Canada had 10% of the nation's population 50 years ago, and today it has only 6.6%. As in all provinces, the aging of the population is concerning for P.E.I. In Atlantic Canada, one out of every five residents is above the age of 65.
We are the smallest province; however, we are nimble, connected, and innovative, so we use our small size to our advantage. Last year, our immigration growth was the highest in the country. As mentioned, we have an ambitious plan to ensure continued population growth, but we are facing low birth rates and out-migration of young people. We see population growth in our capital region, while rural areas have declining populations. This is concerning.
Our working-age population experienced trends similar to the national average, with a decrease of 2%. This is concerning, particularly for our primary industries: fishing, farming, and tourism. To address this, the population action plan seeks to recruit new Islanders, retain Islanders so they stay over the long term, repatriate Islanders who have moved away, and ensure that our rural areas are growing.
We are pleased to see the increase in immigration levels across Canada, with 40% of immigrants going to western Canada, 37% to Ontario, and 18% to Quebec; this is 95% of the total. While our Atlantic population is about 6.6% of the national, our immigration rate was 4.6% in 2016.
The urban/rural pattern is important to note. When we talk about immigrant retention, we need to look at the challenges that smaller areas like P.E.I. face with the pull to the big urban centres.
In P.E.I., we are working hard on recruitment and, as mentioned, we are seeing success. The majority of arrivals come through our provincial nominee program, followed by an increased refugee resettlement. We are proud of our contribution to the Syrian resettlement plan, as an example of both population growth and humanitarian support. With the start of the Atlantic pilot, we have increased employer engagement and identified new immigration opportunities.
Our post-secondary institutions continue to see growth in international students, at about 1,200. Over 60% have expressed an interest to stay in P.E.I. for the long term. Connecting graduates to work and increasing youth retention are key to the work of my department and our population action plan.
We are also looking at international and domestic models to boost rural development. We need a settlement plan that focuses on proactive engagement and expanding growth in rural P.E.I, as well as a coordinated approach with the federal government.
We are also working closely with our francophone organizations to grow our francophone community. We believe these efforts, along with community engagement, will lead to improved retention rates.
Our last slide notes some of the recommendations. We recommend a national strategy that focuses on rural development. We see this as a direct benefit to Atlantic Canada.
We need a coordinated settlement strategy. We can no longer afford to have the federal government and the provincial government funding both settlement and integration initiatives without a coordinated framework. We would be pleased to pilot an integrated model in P.E.I.
Finally, when the former federal government made the decision to close 19 regional immigration offices, P.E.I. lost its face-to-face services. This negatively impacted our province and our clients. Today, when immigrants land they must report to a landing office in Halifax, Nova Scotia. We continue to be the only province in Canada without an IRCC presence. This reduced service delivery creates an additional barrier to our success. We do appreciate modernization, but in this case, face-to-face services are incredibly important.
We support your recommendation number 24 and encourage the committee to look at all impacts in addition to a cost-benefit analysis.
It has been a pleasure for us to appear here today, and we are looking forward to any dialogue.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.