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Think Tank: Youthful Northern Canada Is Future’s Key

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Northern Canada, with its largely youthful Inuit and aboriginal population, could be a key to the country’s economic future, according to Conference Board of Canada, a leading think tank.

In a report released on Jan. 6, the Conference Board of Canada said that the country’s northern population—mostly in Northern Saskatchewan, Nunavut and Northern Manitoba—is overwhelmingly young, with nearly 30 percent under age 15 in some areas.

This represents “immense untapped potential” in the North that will be crucial to Canada’s success, said Derrick Hynes, director of the Conference Board’s Centre for the North, in the National Post. This is especially true given that 93 percent of the country’s population is concentrated below the Conference Board’s north-south dividing line and 80 percent of the country’s land mass is above it, the National Post said.

The think tank pulled together 2006 census data to illustrate the changing balance and discuss what it must do to the nation’s priorities in the report, “Kids These Days.”

In the Northwest Territories, 24 percent of the population is under age 15; in northern Alberta it’s 23 percent, 21 percent in northern Newfoundland and Labrador, 20 percent in Northern British Columbia and 19 percent in Yukon. On the flip side, few areas of southern Canada can boast as many as 20 percent young people, the group said.

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This has implications for “every facet of social and economic policy,” said Hynes in the Conference Board’s statement. He noted that areas including education, recreation, health care, infrastructure, employment opportunities and pension plans all change “when the balance between young and old shifts.”

The Conference Board predicted that overall “the number of Canadians aged 65 years or over will surpass the number of children 15 or younger for the first time in the country’s history in 2019” but that there will still be more than twice as many children as seniors in the North.

“In 2009, 4.7 million Canadians were 65 or older, about 13.9 percent of the total population. By 2025, the Conference Board’s long-term economic outlook projects that Canadians 65 and older will make up 20 percent of the population,” the think tank said. “In contrast, only 7.2 percent of the population in Nunavut is expected to be 65 or older by 2025, while the share of the population 65 and older will be about 12.5 percent in the Northwest Territories and 18.4 percent in the Yukon.”

A higher northern birth rate combined with lower life expectancy is responsible for part of the difference, Hynes told the news-blog site, and the National Post said that aging baby boomers account for the rest.

“With an aging population, your high-profile issues become matters such as pension plans, seniors’ health care and health services,” Hynes told the National Post. “With a younger population, you want to look at matters such as education, skills development, preparing people for job opportunities, health services for a younger population.”