As young people growing up in rural Nova Scotia, we are aware that our communities are aging, and that the proportion of young people—children and working age adults—is shrinking. We love it here: but, we feel the draw of greater opportunity in urban centres like Halifax, and in Central and Western Canada. As we approach a time of important decisions in our lives, we are asking, Why is it difficult to keep young people in rural Nova Scotia?
To that end, we have convened meetings at which we received the testimony of several witnesses with expertise and experience in this matter. We have set out to understand why young people leave, and what could attract them to rural Nova Scotia.
Mark Austin confirmed for us that youth out-migration is a real problem, and it is not a new one. According to Fred Morley, Nova Scotia’s population has been relatively stable at about 950,000 for a long time, and the blend of urban and rural has not changed significantly in 70 years. About 90% of Nova Scotia’s population lives within a one hour’s drive of an urban centre like Truro.
But young people make up an ever-smaller share of the population in rural Nova Scotia. Fred Morley notes that public investment in young people tends to stop just as they are becoming mobile: as they leave public school, the support they receive from government and communities comes to an end.
This is a problem for rural communities, according to Kathleen Kevany. Rural communities miss out on much of the human and social capital which young people offer. As a result, many rural businesses struggle to find workers and customers, not-for-profit groups struggle to find new volunteers, and public services become difficult to maintain.
 Research, Policy and Community Engagement Officer for the Municipality of the County of Colchester; Executive Director of the Rural and Coastal Communities Network; testimony January 14, 2017.
Chief Economist, Nova Scotia Tourism Agency; Nova Scotia Office of Regulatory Affairs and Service Effectiveness; testimony January 14, 2017.
 Morley, supra.
 Associate Professor, Department of Business and Social Science, Faculty of Agriculture, Dalhousie University; testimony January 14, 2017.
Rural Nova Scotia’s Strengths and Weaknesses
When it comes to real estate, money goes farther in rural Nova Scotia than it does elsewhere. Linda Suo told us that for a young public school teacher, buying a home in Vancouver, where she grew up, is not possible. Rural Nova Scotia is also bound to the ocean and is naturally beautiful. While rural areas lack many amenities, people who move here find that they can get by just fine without many of those amenities.
There are also opportunities in small communities which mirror those in cities, but are less difficult to access. Linda Suo noted that her full-time teaching position with the Chignecto Central Regional School Board is the envy of her friends in Vancouver, where a new teacher is far more likely to spend an eternity on the supply list.
But rural areas of Nova Scotia are less attractive to young people than urban areas and points West, in part, because they offer less “to do.” Gazebos and benches abound, but skate parks, splash pads, downtown theatres, good restaurants and wi-fi-enabled coffee shops are harder to find. That is a problem not just for youth, but for young people with new families.
It can also be challenging to find a job in a rural community. It can be even more challenging to find two jobs: one for you, and one for your partner. And if you haven’t got a partner, the dating scene in rural Nova Scotia can be a challenge. There are fewer singles in a small community, and fewer places to meet. People can end up driving an hour to go on a date in a community they aren’t familiar with.
Building a social network in a small community is hard; and if you aren’t “from here,” all the more so. We heard, both from the witnesses who had moved to our area “from away,” and from those born and raised here, that “locals” too often assume new arrivals have a superiority complex.
Some comments and questions to new arrivals, which may seem insignificant to locals, can be taken as hurtful. New arrivals don’t always appreciate being put in the position of having to educate their new neighbours on other cultures and other ways of seeing the world. It can feel, sometimes, like the locals are curious enough to ask, but not curious enough to research other cultures on their own.
 Parrsboro, NS; born in China and grew up in Vancouver, BC
 Cindy Costin-Fury; Aulac, NB; born in Amherst, NS.
 Parrsboro, NS; from Peterborough, ON.
Young People Can Succeed in Rural Nova Scotia
Fred Morley told us that education remains the key driver of opportunity and socio-economic mobility, regardless of where you live. Regan Maloney’s training in biology and paleontology is a perfect background for working and living in a rural setting, since most fossils are found in rural and remote areas of the world. Cindy Costin-Fury’s training as a Chartered Professional Accountant positions her to serve the small-business clientele which is typical of rural Nova Scotia.
We were reminded that rural areas need many of the same sorts of professionals—doctors, teachers, accountants and lawyers—who practice in urban settings, and in some cases, the opportunities can be greater. Miriah Kearney taught English in Truro for a time, but the desire to have her own business eventually grew too strong to ignore. Her business, My Home Apparel, has been a big success. She feels that starting her company in a rural community was an advantage, because locals rallied behind her idea and wanted the business to succeed.
According to Sacha Siddall, just having a university degree is helpful in seeking a job with government or in the private sector; but she also noted that entrepreneurship is a great strategy. The willingness and resolve to create your own job is an advantage in rural Nova Scotia.
Sacha and Miriah both highlighted the many economic development programs, grants and loan guarantees available to entrepreneurs. Miriah noted that she took advantage of every program she could, and encouraged other young entrepreneurs to do the same.
 Truro, NS; born in Great Village, NS.
 Amherst, NS. Graduated Saint Mary’s University for Environmental Science.
Attracting Young People to Rural Nova Scotia
Employment opportunities are a key, but not the only, factor motivating young people to leave rural Nova Scotia.
Fred Morley, who is part of the “baby boom” generation, noted that folks like him are often reluctant to retire—from jobs, from municipal councils or from community organizations. They wish to remain active and they have much experience to offer.
Unfortunately, this can create a “clog” situation which limits opportunities for younger people to advance in their careers, to participate in community decision-making and to feel like there is a future in rural communities. One witness noted, and several others agreed, that rural communities often seem to have a cultural preference for older workers.
At the same time, many rural businesses find it hard to attract younger workers, for reasons already mentioned. It can be particularly difficult for employers to attract high-skill workers, who have the mobility to choose where they work and live.
We heard from Cindy Costin-Fury that rural employers have to take a different approach to developing talent. Employers often require so many years of experience that younger workers are automatically excluded. Where an urban-based employer can look for a fully-qualified professional with all the existing credentials, a rural-based employer may have to hire people at a more junior level and develop their talent from within.
In terms of community engagement, some of the same issues exist. Towns and counties in rural Nova Scotia tend to be governed by older, often retired, community members. Young people have to want to participate, of course; and not all community leadership comes with an office or a title. But if communities and organizations bristle at new voices and over-emphasize past experience, then young people will be discouraged from giving back.
Mark Austin noted that there are communities in Europe where one of the municipal council seats is designated for youth. This has ensured that there is at least one voice around the council table that is not occupied by the old guard. But creating opportunities for young people to participate is only part of the equation.
Communities and governments need to invest in the kinds of infrastructure that encourage young people to migrate in, to return home and to stay in rural Nova Scotia. Small schools in small communities may not add up by the conventional math of dollars-per-student, notes Mark Austin; but without them, communities cannot support young families, which has much wider economic implications for rural Nova Scotia. Similarly, child care, health care and places to meet are all key to enabling young people to get established and raise families, notes Kathleen Kevany.
The importance of rural broadband internet and cellular service is hard to overstate. As Mark Austin noted, many new jobs can be done remotely, and many more require a high-speed internet connection to be done. Small businesses need good access to the internet to market their products and services; students need access to on-line educational material; and young people are heavy consumers of web-delivered content.
While it may seem counterintuitive, Fred Morley emphasized to us that the welfare of rural Nova Scotia is closely linked to urban growth as well. He pointed out that many rural areas near the Greater Toronto Area are sustained by those larger communities. Similarly, rural areas provide many of the things—water, food, recreation, and young workers—that urban areas need to be sustained.
 Kevany, supra.
Choosing Rural Nova Scotia
As Mark Austin said in our January 14th meeting, we want young people to choose rural Nova Scotia, and we want communities and governments to help make that choice more desirable. We don’t think young people should be forced or guilted into staying or coming back to rural Nova Scotia. We agree with Miriah Kearney, who says that she would never discourage someone from going away, if they wanted to. Young people can gain valuable education, experience and life skills by traveling, living in new places and gaining perspective.
In some cases, that will mean letting young people go—even encouraging them to go—and gain knowledge, experience and perspectives that could serve rural communities. Miriah Kearney says she would “never discourage” a young person who wanted to go away for school or a job.
The migration and retention issue is real and it is serious; but it is not helped by negativity. In our high schools, it is common to hear a conversation like this one: “Where are you going to be next year?” “Not here!” Miriah Kearney emphasizes that young people, and whole communities, have to reject the idea that “this place sucks”: be part of the group making the place more vibrant, inclusive and accepting. We understand many youth want to leave and see what is out there; but we also think it is important to try and be happy wherever you are.
Fred Morley echoes the same idea when he said that young people need to be supportive of their peers who are not afraid to step forward and be leaders. Sacha Siddall urges young people to show leadership. If there is something you want to see, don’t wait for someone else to do it.
We welcome young people choosing to stay in, return to or try rural Nova Scotia. Your perspectives, ideas and enthusiasm are needed. We recommend you:
- Pursue some form of higher education or advanced skills training. This will ensure you have more employment options in rural Nova Scotia.
- Learn to be your own advocate, and insist on having your voice heard. We are not punching near our weight. We need to participate in civic life in order for our priorities to be considered.
Governments—municipal, provincial and federal—should make attracting and retaining younger people to rural Nova Scotia a priority. We recommend they:
- Pursue strategies to ensure younger people can participate and succeed as candidates for election in rural areas. Put on workshops to encourage people to run; hold meetings with and be accessible to young people.
- Improved civics education. If youth are educated in school about how the structures that govern us, and about political participation, they will be more engaged and empowered to participate in shaping the futures of their communities and this province.
- Invest in the infrastructure that young people need to live and work in rural Nova Scotia: broadband internet; cellular service; rural schools; and recreational infrastructure. These are basic, not exotic, needs for small communities to survive and thrive.
- Expand your focus. Empower entrepreneurs through grants and other supports. Encourage tourism across the entire province, and especially around the Bay of Fundy.
Rural business and entrepreneurs can help attract and retain younger workers. We recommend they:
- De-emphasize years of experience in hiring practices. Without suggesting that experience is not important, there is also value in new perspectives, new energy and new ideas. Growth does not come without change.
- Consider hiring less specialized workers who can be trained and mentored in-house. Invest in training, rather than arching for someone who is already a specialist rather than search for someone.
- Additionally, we recommend that government and employers work together to ensure retirement income security for all workers. Without it, older workers cannot leave the workforce, and create space for younger workers, until much later.
Each of these actions will contribute to keeping young people in rural Nova Scotia and ensure our rural communities remain vibrant and sustainable for generations to come.
A special thank you to: our witnesses Mark Austin, Cindy Costin-Fury, Miriah Kearney, Kathleen Kevany, Regan Maloney, Fred Morley, Sacha Siddall and Linda Suo; and to the staff of the Truro Public Library and the staff of the Fundy Geological Museum, for hosting our hearings.
For more information, contact our designated spokesperson(s):
Or contact the office of Bill Casey, MP for Cumberland-Colchester, at 613-992-3366.
The Cumberland-Colchester Constituency Youth Council is a non-partisan group which meets 4 times a year to discuss, debate and advise on matters of public policy. Membership is open to any resident of the Cumberland-Colchester Federal Electoral District aged 16-25.
The 2016-17 Council members are: Cassie Burbine, Alex Casey, Brandon Casey, Katie Fife, Braedon Gagnon, Gina Grattan, Natalie LeBlanc, Josh Lohnes, Hannah Rushton (C), Brandon Steele, Maddie Tenant, Clare Walker and Cecelia White.