Thousands of people applied to enter NS, some lured by an advertising campaign. Then the 3rd wave hit

Until this year, Graeme Berwick’s biggest online purchases were a few jeans and a few household appliances.

Then the Toronto man bought a house 1,200 kilometers away.

“We hadn’t even seen it except in a few videos,” he said in a Zoom interview from the new home he shares with his partner near the community of Tusket, in southwestern New Zealand. Nova Scotia. “Those were big steps for us.”

Berwick and his partner are two of the tens of thousands of people who crossed the Nova Scotia border in early 2021 for work, pleasure or to move to the province, some of those trips encouraged at the time by provincial authorities and a million dollar “Work Nova Scotia” advertising campaign aimed at attracting people to the province.

The number of people asking to enter rose sharply in late March and April, according to figures provided to CBC by the province under freedom of information laws.

But after several months of trying to attract interprovincial migrants, Nova Scotia suddenly found itself trying to stop them, at least temporarily. The new numbers show the surge came just before Nova Scotia was hit by the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, which prompted new provincial border restrictions and other public health measures.

A big life change

Without the pandemic, Berwick would never have considered moving to Nova Scotia. He previously lived near Toronto’s Pearson Airport so he could often fly to Europe, the Middle East and Africa for his work helping to open new hotels.

Now 55, Berwick hoped to retire at 60. Much of his work dried up during the pandemic, and what was left could be done remotely. Berwick and his partner decided to sell their Toronto home and move to an area where house prices were lower.

Graeme Berwick moved from Toronto to a lake near Tusket, Nova Scotia in May. (David Laughlin/CBC)

After researching online, they looked east to New Brunswick and then to Nova Scotia. A cousin in the UK noticed the provincial “Work from Nova Scotia” campaign, which was using the pandemic work-from-home trend to encourage people to move to the province, and told Berwick about it.

“He said, ‘You know, they have this program for migrants where they can work. And I said, ‘That’s fantastic.’ At the time, I didn’t even think it was aimed at someone like me in Toronto,” Berwick said.

Berwick completed the move in May and now lives and works from home on a lake near Tusket.

“I now live in a house equal in size if not slightly larger than the one we had in Toronto, and we have enough money in the bank now — I’m 55 — we have enough money in the bank now to see me until I’m 70,” he said.

More than 46,000 applications

Using freedom of information laws, CBC asked the province to release a breakdown of the number of people who used the “Safe Check In” website to apply to enter the province from the start of 2021 until on the day new border restrictions were announced on April 20. .

Only a small group of people did not need to use the online form to apply, including truck drivers, people with humanitarian exemptions, people who live on one side of the border and work on the other and essential health workers. .

Aside from a high travel week immediately after the Christmas and New Year holidays, the trend showed a steady increase in entries between February and mid-April, with the majority of people responding that they were entering for work, reasons personal, going home or moving. .

In total, the province registered 46,607 applications for entry.

The increase, which was the strongest at the end of March and the beginning of April, concerned Public Health. During the April 20 COVID-19 briefing, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang referred to a “significant” increase, saying border officials had told him of an increase in 400% of land border crossings with New Brunswick.

Work from NS Campaign

In early May, as the number of COVID-19 cases soared, the province introduced new rules effectively preventing people from another province from moving to Nova Scotia, although within days they were somewhat relaxed after heavy criticism.

This was a far cry from a few weeks earlier, when the province was actively trying to bring people to Nova Scotia to live and work.

In December, the province launched the “Work from Nova Scotia” campaign, which ran until the end of March. For $1.1 million, Tourism Nova Scotia and other Crown corporations launched an advertising campaign with tourism-style videos, social media, ads and a website about moving to Nova Scotia.

Last week, Statistics Canada released new data showing a gain of 1,870 interprovincial migrants between January and April, of which 4,700 people settled in the province and 2,830 moved away. This pushed Nova Scotia to its highest population ever.

The new numbers were welcomed by Inclusive Economic Growth Minister Labi Kousoulis, minister responsible for Tourism Nova Scotia, who said last Thursday that the campaign had “gone very well.”

“It’s the maximum we’ve had since the early 1980s, so it’s been a very positive campaign,” he said of interprovincial migration.

“When the third wave hit, we paused it, and we will have discussions and review the data we have to get it going again, because Nova Scotia is an attractive place for people to live and work.”

The campaign’s digital ads were viewed 371 million times, the video ads were viewed 38.9 million times and the website with advice on moving to the province was visited 1.3 million times.

By comparison, the year before the pandemic, Tourism Nova Scotia used travel “influencers” to introduce its marketing campaign to approximately 765 million people.

In February, one of the Crown corporations behind the “Work from Nova Scotia” campaign told CBC the goal was to bring 15,000 people to Nova Scotia in one year.

Labi Kousoulis, minister responsible for Tourism Nova Scotia, welcomed the latest interprovincial migration numbers. (Radio Canada)

Kosoulis said the province is looking at issues such as housing and physician availability, which may come under additional pressure from more people moving to Nova Scotia. He also noted that along with the increase in population, unemployment has fallen.

It is difficult to determine how many people who entered Nova Scotia this year were directly influenced by the campaign. Laurel Broten, head of Crown corporation Nova Scotia Business Inc., said in February the campaign was looking for a way to measure the number of people attracted to advertising in the province.

Every year since the start of 2016, according to Statistics Canada, the province has seen more people move other provinces to Nova Scotia than leaving.

In the first three months of 2020, the agency estimated that there was a total gain of 573 people for the province through interprovincial migration, and an estimated total gain of 540 people in the first three months of 2019.