Finding opportunity inside challenge

Finding opportunity inside challenge

< Back to Articles | Topics: Working for you | Contributors: Mark Fraser, Chair of the Board | This is a guest post from T4G Limited
(Member since 2004)

This is a guest post from T4G Limited
(Member since 2004)

How to turn perceived disadvantage into real advantage

We have an aging population in our region. That is pretty obvious.

In fact, the percentage of seniors in our population is expected to grow from 19.9 percent in 2016 to 28.8 percent in 2030, while our working population declined from 68.4 percent in 2011 to 65.6 percent in 2016.

This sets the stage for a lower than traditional tax base being used to support a larger than traditional population that requires services delivered from the public purse. All things being equal, this means less people will need to pay more taxes just to tread water. Without immigration, this demographic shift, when combined with a low birth rate, shows Nova Scotia with a population that shrinks below 900,000 by 2025.

This is not a surprise. This bubble has been predicted for decades and there have been efforts made to offset this demographic disadvantage.

For instance, there have been significant efforts made on the immigration front. With 2016 welcoming the largest numbers of immigrants to Nova Scotia since the end of the Second World War, and with 2017 numbers looking smaller but respectable, we are attracting newcomers at a pace that will make a meaningful impact in our “working population” numbers. But as University of Western Ontario professor and economist, Mike Moffat, says, “You can’t immigrate your way out of a demographic bubble.”

So what to do? Bring out the mirror, I say, and look at ourselves for solutions.

I believe that we have a unique opportunity in front of us, and this opportunity is to transform the demographic disadvantage that we have today into an economic advantage that tomorrow will become a significant contributor to our region’s future economic prosperity.

But this is not about rallying community around the idea of building $25 billion worth of ships or planning for and delivering on higher density in peninsular Halifax. This is about turning the negative of our aging population to the positive of a completely re-framed view on how we look at this population cohort.

Let’s turn our region into the place in the world to age gracefully.

I believe that we have all the ingredients required to bake this cake already — we just haven’t mixed them together.

For starters:

World leading healthcare: Despite the dollars and cents challenges that surround healthcare delivery, we have world-leading and respected capability in gerontology, orthopaedics and other specialities that are in particular demand for aging populations. Research being done locally will only improve our service delivery capability in these specialities and a significant source of new revenue can come from seniors that live elsewhere that will happily pay fee for service to get world quality care.

Real estate development: We have significant portions of our region that remain ripe for the development of new communities that target an aging population. Seniors-by-design communities can match with other mixed communities that are being planned, which will provide a showcase to the world of not that we have an aging population, but that we have an aging population that lives like this!

Seniors’ tech: The Halifax region is already home to numerous technology and product startup companies that focus on the seniors’ market. Whether it is non-invasive monitoring, smart seniors products, or rich analytics that predict health issues before symptoms appear, we have momentum in this space that will benefit greatly from a larger seniors population to test, refine and adopt new technology — reinforcing to the world that we are thinking differently about this population bubble.

Conversation: We are already talking about this. This past year, the Province outlined its first-ever Action Plan for an Aging Population ( and in March, the Chamber will host with the province the fourth Silver Economy Summit at the Halifax Convention Centre. Yes, we are already talking about this, but we need to elevate this conversation to a new level so that we can bring all of these topics together to dramatically change the picture.

Yes, left on its own this demographic bubble is a massive disadvantage for us. But with the right kind of vision, leadership and conversation, this can be transformed into an economic advantage that will be the envy of other regions similar to ours. Let’s look in the mirror to find opportunity in challenges like this.

Mark Fraser is Chair of the Board of Directors of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce and Executive Vice President at T4G Limited. Follow Mark on Twitter at @mark_fraser

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