Immigrants Choosing Suburbs, Small Towns Over Big Cities

Immigrants choosing suburbs, small towns over big cities

Norma Greenaway
Canwest News Service
Published: Thursday, March 19, 2009

Peter J. Thompson/National Post

(PHOTO: A group waits to be sworn in at a citizenship ceremony in Toronto.)

OTTAWA — New Canadians, many of whom are skilled and highly educated, are increasingly bypassing the population magnets of Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal to settle in suburban and smaller communities, says a study released Thursday.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities says the broadening settlement pattern is putting new strains on communities across the country struggling to keep pace with demands for everything from affordable housing to employment and public health services.

The study also makes clear immigrants remain in an uphill struggle to close the economic and employment gap with non-immigrants. Despite being twice as likely as their non-immigrant counterparts to have a university degree, it said, recent immigrants between the ages of 25 and 54 were four times as likely to be unemployed in 2006. The rate was 12% versus three per cent.

Federation president Jean Perrault warned the situation risks becoming more dire unless the federal and provincial governments give the country's mayors a seat at the immigration planning table and also provide them with new money to cope with the rising demands. He said the recession has exacerbated the challenges of providing services, jobs and housing to newcomers.

The report noted, for example, the proportion of new immigrants with children under the age of 12 was 56% in 2006, which was significantly higher than the proportion for non-immigrants. The phenomenon points to the need for more child care, recreational, education and health services.

MP Olivia Chow, the NDP immigration critic, endorsed the federation's call to become a partner on immigration matters.

“Canada must have a holistic approach to immigration policy,” Ms. Chow said. “Co-operation would strengthen the social safety net for immigrants which is even more critical in these harsh economic times.”

Liberal MP Maurizio Bevilacqua, his party's immigration critic, said the report exposes gaps in the Conservative government's approach to immigration on everything from foreign credential recognition to funding to the cities.

“Cities are the primary providers of immigrant settlement services, and are performing more work with less support from the federal government,” he said.

In a teleconference call with reporters, Mr. Perrault did not put a price tag on the funding shortfall, but he said municipal taxpayers — already overburdened with property taxes — could not foot the bill for the mounting costs.

Under the current revenue-sharing system, the municipalities get only eight cents of every taxpayer dollar, whereas the federal government take is 50 cents and the provinces' share is 42 cents, said Mr. Perrault, mayor of Sherbrooke, Que.

The sweeping study, which is the fifth of a series designed to measure the quality of life in Canadian communities, compares social and economic conditions for immigrants and non-immigrants from 2001 to 2006 in 24 of the country's largest municipalities, regional municipalities and metropolitan communities.

Although the vast majority of immigrants still settle in large urban centres, the percentage dropped to 83% in 2006 from just under 90% in 2002.

The report suggested those who remain in large urban centres do not fare as well as those who have settled in suburban or small communities, probably spurred in part by the quest for more affordable housing.

“While most immigrants continue to live in large urban centres, a growing number of our most educated and highly skilled immigrants are settling in suburban and smaller communities,” Mr. Perrault said.

“Those who remain in large centres face greater socio-economic challenges. Large cities are losing the skilled immigrants their labour markets need while (they are) bearing a disproportionate share of the cost of assisting immigrants with special challenges such as language and skills training needs.”

The survey also showed recent immigrants were most commonly found in low-earning service sector jobs, such as security guards, sales clerks and cleaners. Their participation rate was 50% higher in 2006 than for non-immigrants in such communities as Ottawa, Gatineau, Que., Regina and Calgary.