Saint John’s Challenge: Population Decline

Population growth has been the single biggest challenge plaguing Saint John for over 40 years. Since 1971 we’ve lost nearly 25% of our population and in 2016 we were the only CMA in Canada to record a population decline.

Why is this happening?

  • In 2015 Saint John’s death rate overtook its birth rate, making it one of the first places in Canada to experience a natural population decline.
  • New Brunswick was the only province in Canada to record a population loss in the 2016 Census, which means population growth is a province-wide imperative and growth is not likely to come through intra-provincial migration.
  • Saint John has reported a net interprovincial decrease in each year of this new century – but there is some hope in the data. Between 2014 and 2016 Saint John’s net interprovincial migration losses began to shrink, from a loss of 1,017 people in 2014 to a loss of 661 people in 2016.

The good news:

  • International migration rose year-over-year with a net gain of 473 people in 2014 to a significant jump of 1,319 people in 2016 courtesy of Saint John residents’ strong community-led sponsorship of Syrian refugees.

What does population decline mean for the citizens of Saint John?

  • Reduced services within our city, or
  • Increased taxes to sustain the existing services
  • Shrinking labour force = slower economic growth and fewer jobs

As a Community – Government, Citizens, and Private Sector – What are we going to do about it?

Guiseppe Tomasi di Lamedusa, an Italian writer famously wrote:
If we want things to stay as they are, things will  have to change

The Saint John Vision: A Prosperous, Welcoming and Sustainable City

We want to create a prosperous, welcoming and sustainable city. To do so, we would like to:
1) Exceed the national average of five percent population growth by 2024 by attracting and retaining more newcomers.
2) Create an open community network rooted in trust and mutual benefits

How are we going to do this?

Saint John wants to be an urban centre that welcomes and encourages the free flow of people, ideas and investment. This will require the city to attract and retain more newcomers both from across the country and internationally. And once they’re here, we’re going to need to open our social and professional networks to create a truly welcoming community.

Saint Johners have deep, oftentimes multigenerational roots in the city. Many families have been here for a long time and some residents spend their whole lives in the same neighbourhood. This results in friendships forged in grade school and still going strong into adulthood, surrounded by extended family. This creates a tightly woven net of personal and professional relationships that can be impenetrable for newcomers.

We want to change this and make our networks more open and inclusive to everyone.

Saint John’s Smart Cities Solution

Imagine this: You are a newcomer to Saint John.  Whether you are from another country, another province, or from another location in New Brunswick, you will need help navigating the available services and networks in our City.

You may want to connect with potential employers and showcase your skills and experience.  You may need to find resources to start a new business.  You likely want to connect to your cultural community or other community services. You need to know the best location to live or send your children to school.   And you want to do all this and more in the language of your choice.

Our proposed solution will do this and more through a single, customizable mobile application built on leading-edge technology and real-time open data available from a myriad of resources within our city.  The application will be intelligent, using machine-learning and artificial intelligence to become smarter the more you use it and the more you provide input into it.  It will leverage existing networks and automatically make connections that might take weeks or months to navigate in person. And it will collect and analyze valuable data to help inform future policy decisions and improve services for newcomers.


The application will boast a conversation engine that will answer the question you ask; a language translation engine that lets you ask those questions in the language of your choice, and a passport engine that guides you through settling within our community. It will also provide people the ability to connect with employers and the community and create connections to community organizations that will give newcomers a sense of belonging to our multicultural community.

The solution imagined will help us achieve one of our primary desired outcomes: to create an open community network rooted in trust and mutual benefits. Residents will be enriched through new relationships and increased multi-cultural diversity; employers will access talent they so desperately need, and newcomers will be part of a welcoming, prosperous and sustainable community.

If you’re intrigued and want to learn more, read more about our proposed solution in our Smart Cities Challenge Submission