A Conference Board of Canada report says immigration programs that bring people to Canada’s smaller communities – like the Atlantic Immigration Program and Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot – are likely to give the country the biggest bang in economic development for the buck.
“For the past 20 years, Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, and Calgary have driven economic growth for Canada and immigration has played an important role,” said Pedro Antunes, chief economist of the Conference Board of Canada, in a statement.
“The federal government’s immigration levels plan is an opportunity for the government to focus on encouraging immigration outside of major centres and utilize established programs that facilitate immigration to smaller centres or provinces and to northern and rural areas.”
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Under Canada’s two regional immigration programs, the Atlantic Immigration Program (AIP) and the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP), Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) encourages immigration to smaller, more remote communities.
The employer-led AIP aims to bring candidates to Atlantic Canada to fill jobs when there are no Canadians available to do them.
To hire through the AIP, employers do not need a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). Instead, they must meet requirements to become designated to make job offers.
Through the five-year RNIP, skilled immigrants are recruited to work in smaller communities with aging populations and labour shortages.
To be included in the pilot, communities must:
- have a population of 50,000 or less and be located at least 75km from the core of a Census Metropolitan Area, or;
- have a population of up to 200,000 people and be considered remote from other larger cities, according to the Statistics Canada Remoteness Index.
In Spreading the Growth: How Canada’s Smaller Cities Can Make Bigger Gains, Antunes and Jane McIntyre, the principal economist at the Conference Board of Canada, point out that, in Canada’s post-COVID-19 reality, it is the smaller communities that are facing the biggest labour shortages.
And immigration to those communities would help alleviate those labour shortages, allow businesses there to thrive, and give Canada a solid return on its investment in immigration programs, they argue.
“Attracting and retaining international immigrants is key to ensuring growth in cities,” notes the report.
Local Governments And Businesses Need To Market Themselves To Attract More Immigrants
“Marketing the benefits of living in smaller communities, building public awareness on immigration, and ensuring a welcoming environment and appropriate settlement services can all go a long way toward retaining newcomers.”
The Conference Board of Canada economists acknowledge the enormous economic impact of Canada’s major cities: Toronto; Vancouver; Montreal, and; Calgary. These four cities alone had a combined economic output of nearly $870 billion in 2019.
“In the past 20 years, they’ve been responsible for 48.6 per cent of the total increase in the national real GDP,” recognizes the report. “This share rises to over 51 per cent if we consider just the last 10 years.”
Economic immigration has been a big help in boosting the economies of those four cities, with their immigration levels doubling in the second half of the last decade.
The arrival of COVID-19 and the public health restrictions that came with it, though, greatly changed the Canadian economic landscape. Fed up with being cooped up in their homes, many Canadians opted to buy bigger houses on the outskirts of cities and even further afield.
“Others moved farther from the major centres,” notes the report. “The price of housing in North Bay, for instance, was double in the spring of 2022 when compared with 2019.
“North Bay and other smaller Ontario cities well-distanced from Toronto were some of the hottest housing markets in 2020 and 2021. Many also moved to the coasts, driving up real estate prices in British Columbia and the Maritimes.”
Post-COVID Canadian Economy Is An Opportunity For Smaller Communities To Grow
With the pandemic now easing off and things returning to normal, the interprovincial migratory patterns have somewhat reversed themselves, but not all.
This provides an opportunity for smaller communities in Canada to up their game and contribute in a bigger way to the country’s GDP growth, say the economists.
Immigration to those communities is the key.
“Many of Canada’s smaller cities have tighter labour markets than the top four, reflecting weaker past population growth and more prevalent aging and retirements,” notes the report. “Tight labour markets provide an opportunity to help ensure labour market success for new immigrants, while also contributing to economic growth.
“Working with provincial counterparts, the federal government established programs that facilitate immigration to smaller centres or provinces and to northern and rural areas,” the report points out.
“These initiatives are helpful but municipal leaders and employers in smaller centres need to take advantage of them. Marketing the benefits of living in smaller communities, building public awareness on immigration, and ensuring a welcoming environment and appropriate settlement services can all go a long way toward retaining newcomers.”