The 2020s were years of unexpected demographic change in New Brunswick. Young people stopped leaving for jobs out West, and people came to the province in waves. First came the New Brunswickers—who had left for work or education—who came back to escape too-expensive cities and too-precarious oil jobs. Next, came the elderly who fled the hot, dry desert of the dissolving suburban dream in the parched lands of the US Southwest. Unexpected were the internally displaced people from across Canada fleeing the forest fires of British Columbia and Alberta, and the floods in Montreal. Throughout it all, were the climate refugees seeking solace coming from all over the world.
As a province, we embraced the advice from the United Nations Climate Change group, and because at first “climate refugee” was not a legal concept, we applied the legal considerations for refugee protection of people fleeing conflict and famine.
We welcomed all the waves of different people flooding into the Maritimes, the wettest and most affordable part of Canada.
Early on, it was the young who chose to stay at home as the broader economy inexorably shifted away from oil. The shift, first slow then fast, led to economic and demographic changes. The allures of increasingly dangerous, poorly paid, low status, precarious, dirty jobs in the Tar Sands faded, and people found work building passive homes, retrofitting old houses, installing solar panels, and building a local, renewable, electrical grid in New Brunswick. The dreams of New Brunswickers stayed in the East.
People didn’t just stop leaving, they also came from away.
Students were attracted by cheaper tuition and smaller classes and stayed for the opportunities. Families came for affordable housing and safe communities and a place to raise their kids. Others came for a different lifestyle, searching for cooler summers, fewer droughts, and fewer people. Retirees fled the cities in central Canada, the long, hot, 50 degree summers of Arizona and the flooded coastlines of Florida.
Many had little choice.
New Brunswickers fled the coast and moved inland to escape rising sea levels, settling on the high valleys and ridges. The internally displaced came from across Canada, dodging the forest fires that engulfed their home towns. Climate refugees come from all over the world to New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and, surprisingly to some, Labrador.
The Atlantic provinces became a mecca for internal and international migrants looking for safer, wetter, and comparatively cooler places to live. The 2020s were good times in the Maritimes.
New Brunswick led in Canada, and Canada at the United Nations, on creating, signing, and applying a new Climate Refugee Convention, which created the tools and frameworks on how to deal with an emerging legal concept. It allowed the province to build effective public policy, and civil servants came from all over the work to learn from New Brunswick’s experience.
Like few other places on the planet, New Brunswickers embraced and welcomed new arrivals fleeing climate change. It was rocky at first, but people saw the benefits. In part, because the young and old, the lifestyle migrant and the refugee, were godsend which helped the province sidestep a demographic catastrophe of an aging population.
As paradoxical as it might seem, the solution to a demographic tsunami of declining and aging population came from climate change, from the cheap and safe housing as retirees moved to smaller homes and condos and apartments, and from people who arrived.
These new New Brunswickers brought changes, new energy, ideas, languages, and religions. Our cities became more cosmopolitan, our towns started to boom, and our villages became more diverse.
We embraced this diversity.
Our settlement agencies were better funded to support the newcomers, help families to settle, and empower women to fully participate and lead in the community. A new wave of feminism emerged from all this participation and leadership, as men and women worked together more conscious of the impacts of their daily action. Communities adopted new attitudes toward raising children and care work. The work of childcare and elder care was paid and valued, teachers and daycares workers were recognized and the immigration system was changed to allow newcomers to bring their elders and their parents and their siblings so that extended families could more easily share care work.
The new arrivals, from Canada and abroad, began creative careers, opened new stores, worked as farmers, began light manufacturing operations, worked as professionals, filled service jobs, worked in healthcare, and in the public service. You name it, we did it.
For decades, social scientists, right-wing economists, and politicians had predicted a demographic tsunami would hit the Maritime Provinces. The solution to looking after an aging population, with increased health care costs, and a declining tax base was not more neoliberal policies, it was not cheaper corporate taxes, it was not subsidies for big business, it was not more export-oriented resource extraction, and it was not some sort of fantasy of an entrepreneurial culture. It was more people moving here from all over, who in New Brunswick found and made their home.
Jael Duarte is newcomer to Fredericton, from Bogotá, Colombia, where she worked with refugees and displaced communities.
In the optimistic spirit of the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Message from the Future, this letter is a speculative and fictional look back from the future to imagine what New Brunswick could be like if we could meet our climate change obligations. It is fiction, but it need not stay fiction. Each letter offers a vision of what New Brunswick could be like in the future if the province is able to fight climate change and to achieve the IPCC climate goals.
Read the other Letters from New Brunswick’s Future here.
This series is sponsored by RAVEN, and edited by Daniel Tubb and Abram Lutes. Daniel is an environmental anthropologist at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton and a co-investigator with RAVEN. Abram Lutes is an environmental action reporter with the RAVEN project Summer Institute and a member of the NB Media Co-op Board of Directors. If you would like to contribute your own letter, read the Call for Letters from New Brunswick’s Future and send a short outline of your idea to Daniel Tubb at firstname.lastname@example.org and Abram Lutes at email@example.com