Many New Canadians Passing Up Toronto

Many new Canadians passing up Toronto
Immigrants more willing to settle in mid-sized cities

Shannon Proudfoot
Canwest News Service
Published: Friday, July 25, 2008

Immigration is climbing steadily in Canada's mid-sized cities, while the stream of newcomers has dropped in some of the large urban centres that have typically been 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.

“Immigration [in Canada] has been extremely concentrated, and I think it's possible to argue perhaps too much so,” says Larry Bourne, a professor of geography and planning with the University of Toronto's Cities Centre.

“One trend the recent figures seem to suggest is that immigrants are indeed spreading out or dispersing a bit more to medium-sized cities.”

Toronto, whose share of Canada's immigrants slipped to 37% last year from 50% in 2001, took in 87,136 immigrants last year — down almost 26,000 from two years earlier. In Vancouver, immigrant newcomers those same two years dropped to 32,920 in 2007 compared with 39,498 in 2005.

The flow of new arrivals to Montreal has been level at about 38,000 per year.

At the same time, the country's smaller centres have had 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. Charlottetown's immigrant intake shot up to 801 from 110 over the past five years.

“In very short periods of time, some of these areas, which have really been making efforts to try to recruit more immigrants, are actually enjoying some success,” says Jack Jedwab, executive director of the Association for Canadian Studies. “Toronto's loss has been the gain of other cities.”

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. “That means the loss of manufacturing jobs is hurting places that were manufacturing centres of Canada in their absorption of immigrants.”

That also helps explain an immigration boom across the West as Alberta's economy heats up the Prairies and newcomers follow the jobs, Mr. Bourne says.

With immigration levels rising to 8,472 last year from 5,144 in 2003, he adds, Winnipeg appears to be benefitting from a provincial nominee program that enables Manitoba to nominate immigrants whose skills match the province's labour and economic needs. Mr. Bourne expects other provinces will likely take note.

Kenneth Ziegler, a Saskatoon immigration lawyer who's worked throughout Europe and Asia to recruit potential immigrants and usher them through the process, also gives credit to family nominee programs like Saskatchewan's, which create ready-made networks for newcomers by allowing them to sponsor extended family members.

“When they come here, they're not just moving into a cold climate, but into a climate where there are people on the ground that they recognize, speaking their language, eating their food, with the same religious, cultural, social backgrounds,” he says.

An established Filipino community was one of the features that sold Ramon Atienza, 60, on Saskatoon. He had never even heard of the city before Mr. Ziegler suggested it to him, but a visit convinced him, and his family moved to the Prairie city from the Philippines last summer in search of better prospects for his daughters.

His children — aged 19, 17 and 14 — sometimes complain of boredom, Mr. Atienza says, but he and his wife love Saskatoon precisely because it's so different from the chaos, traffic and pollution of Manila. They plan to sponsor several other family members to join them.

“I have a cousin who says, 'Why do you want to go to Saskatoon? There's nothing there!' ” he laughs. “I said, 'That's why! There's something there, but it's not the big city that we're trying to get away from.' ”

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 provincial nominee program is one example, she says. CIC also helped create an electronic “tool box” for smaller centres that offers ideas on how to attract and retain newcomers.

“I think the figures speak for themselves, and there have been some successes in having immigration to some of the smaller centres,” she says. “Things are working the way it's hoped that they will.”