Newcomers storm Saskatchewan

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As the province’s population exceeds the one-million mark, a booming economy beckons

Ishmael N. Daro and Daryl Hofmann
The Sheaf (University of Saskatchewan)

SASKATOON (CUP) — “A lot of the people that I graduated with, in the same program or in the same year as me, went to Calgary,” said Christine Stadnyk, talking by phone from Vancouver.

Stadnyk earned a master’s degree in soil science from the University of Saskatchewan in 2010. After scouring the job market at home for several months, she packed up and left for the coast of British Columbia.

She said she could have stayed in the province and worked in forestry, but Vancouver had a greater range of jobs in the environmental sector. Now, she works for a groundwater and soil consulting firm.

But it was also a feeling that life in Saskatoon was becoming too predictable, Stadnyk said.

“I wanted to be somewhere that had a little more diversity in a concentrated area than what Saskatoon had.”

Her story isn’t new, but it’s becoming less common.

Reversing a longstanding trend, the last five years has seen more people move to Saskatchewan than leave, according to new census data that shows the province making a sharp turnaround in growth after years of decline.

For the first time since 1986, there are more than one million residents living in the province.

The rise in population, Statistics Canada said, is mainly the result of a wave of immigration and a spike in interprovincial migration, both groups likely drawn to the province’s red-hot economy and the high likelihood of landing a job.

In releasing the first batch of census numbers, Statistics Canada pointed to “the natural resources and energy sectors [generating] economic growth in various regions of this prairie province, which also had one of Canada’s lowest unemployment rates.”

From 2006 to 2011, Saskatchewan saw a 6.7 per cent jump in its population, compared to back-to-back losses of 1.1 per cent in each of the previous two census periods. The comeback makes Saskatchewan the third-fastest growing province in the country, trailing only British Columbia and Alberta.

In a Feb. 9 interview with the StarPhoenix, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall noted the province is living up to its motto of “from many peoples, strength.”

“They’re coming to this province from 192 countries around the world,” he said. “From every other province in the country, they are coming to Saskatchewan and finding opportunity and bringing their families here and they’re helping us live out our credo.”

In addition to attracting people, the province may also be retaining more residents. This is particularly significant when university graduates decide whether to stay in Saskatchewan or move elsewhere.

“Given the strength of our provincial economy now, there really are more opportunities for graduates to make their careers here,” said Jason Aebig, president of the University of Saskatchewan’s alumni association, who graduated from the university with a political science degree in 1999.

“In the late ’90s, I think it’s fair to say that there was an overall exodus of young professionals from the province – not necessarily because they didn’t want to make a life and a career here, but frankly there just weren’t the opportunities.”

The U of S, which keeps updated statistics on graduates, provided the Sheaf with data that seemed to show a long-term trend of people increasingly choosing to stay in the province after getting their degrees. Only about 55 per cent of graduates from the 1980s remain in the province, based on the current addresses the U of S has for them. The percentage of grads who ended up settling elsewhere in Canada hovers around 40 per cent for the same decade.

This trend starts to reverse in the 1990s and early 2000s, with more than 60 per cent of grads settling in Saskatchewan, while those leaving for other parts of Canada drops to the low 30s. Finally, the numbers from the last several years show as many as three quarters of U of S grads with Saskatchewan addresses and only about a fifth with addresses elsewhere in the country.

Using current addresses of former students is an imperfect way to measure where U of S students go with their degrees, and as one goes further back, the number of grads whose current whereabouts the university simply doesn’t know increases significantly. However, of the grads the school still has contact with, there is a trend showing more of them sticking around in the last decade, suggesting that the need or desire to move after graduating has greatly diminished, along with the boom in the provincial economy.

“Well that’s most certainly the case,” agreed Aebig, who is a big booster of his home province and even has a photo of him and his wife proudly displaying a Saskatchewan Roughriders flag in front of the Great Pyramid in Giza.

“Both my wife and I are graduates of the U of S. We actually met on campus and graduated at the same time. I think it’s fair to say we considered ourselves really lucky to have found career-track jobs in Saskatchewan when we did because the bulk of our family and friends who were at the same stage in life had already made the decision to move on,” Aebig added. “What’s really remarkable over the last 10 years is that we have seen quite a few of those people return.”

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