Immigrants to Canada shifting to smaller cities?

by Yule Heibel on August 1, 2008

Two articles in the Vancouver Sun, published a day apart, repeat a finding by Citizenship and Immigration Canada that immigrants are choosing small to mid-sized cities over the big 4 (or 5) in Canada: Smaller cities benefit from the latest immigration boom, by Shannon Proudfoot (Friday, July 25, 2008) and Shifting economy leads to a shift in immigrants away from large cities (no author given) (Saturday, July 26, 2008).  Not sure why this warranted two articles on two separate days, but given that immigrants represent positive human capital, it’s newsworthy if there’s a shift away from the bigger cities.

(Aside from that, Canada still has lots of work ahead in allowing highly skilled immigrants to work in the fields they’re qualified in.  There are too many horror stories of doctors and engineers working in low-level jobs because their qualifications aren’t recognized, or recognition is mired in some bureaucratic process.)

Excerpts, from the first article:

Canada’s mid-sized cities are enjoying an immigration boom while the stream of newcomers flatlines or even declines in the large urban centres that typically act as magnets, according to new figures from Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

The change reflects shifting economic and employment prospects across the country and the successful efforts of smaller centres to woo newcomers, experts say.


Toronto, whose share of Canada’s immigrants slipped to 37 per cent last year from 50 per cent in 2001, welcomed 87,136 immigrants last year — down almost 26,000 from two years earlier. In Vancouver, immigrants those same two years dropped to 32,920 in 2007 from 39,498 in 2005. The flow of new arrivals to Montreal has virtually stagnated at about 38,000 per year.

At the same time, the country’s smaller centres are enjoying major boosts. Saskatoon more than doubled its immigrant intake between 2003 and 2007, to 1,618 people from 631, while the number of newcomers to Halifax jumped to 1,926 from 1,101 in the same period. Victoria’s immigrant intake shot up to 1,270 from 950 over that period, while Kelowna jumped to 531 from 304, Chilliwack jumped to 189 from 104, Nanaimo jumped to 284 from 173 and Abbotsford grew to 1305 from 1201.


One reason for slowing immigration to Toronto and Montreal is the decline of the manufacturing sector due to the strong Canadian dollar and faltering U.S. economy, says Charles Beach, an economics professor at Queen’s University. “Traditionally, the big absorber of immigrants was manufacturing jobs because if your English or French was not as fluent as it might be, you could still learn to run a machine pretty well,” he says.

On the other hand, note that “The federal government has introduced several programs designed to encourage immigrants to settle in diverse areas of the country, says Karen Shadd, spokeswoman for Citizenship and Immigration Canada.”

The second article adds a bit to the first:

Mid-sized cities are beginning to attract an increasing number of immigrants due in large part to shifting economic and employment prospects.

The federal government, naturally, credits its own initiatives, such as the provincial nominee program that allows provinces to select immigrants to fill specific labour needs; and the development of tools that help smaller centres draw and retain immigrants.

In particular, this article notes that immigrants in the largest cities will probably earn more money:

Still, Canada’s major urban agglomerations remain the preferred destination for the vast majority of immigrants, with 67 per cent of newcomers calling them home.

Larger cities tend to offer an established community of family and friends and a greater number of economic opportunities — either low-skilled jobs that require few language skills or businesses that cater to particular ethnic groups.

In fact, studies have shown that immigrants who settle in larger cities experience labour market advantages over those who settle in smaller cities and they can earn substantially more.

In general, the aspect of positive “human capital” is in the forefront in both articles.  As the second one notes:

The influx of immigrants benefits small cities by raising their municipal tax base, increasing the labour pool and bringing greater cultural diversification to their communities.

Yep, it’s not just a country of hewers of wood and drawers of water — i.e., resource extraction — anymore.  People power matters more.

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