Douglas Todd: Immigrants prosper in Canada’s small towns

Interesting commentary as always by Todd. After correctly rejecting a “sticks” approach (unenforceable given Charter mobility rights), he discusses possible “carrots.”

Not convinced that the “carrots” will necessarily make a major change to settlement patterns:

  • Awarding extra points to immigrants who settle in rural areas, whether through Express Entry or Provincial Nominee Programs,  doesn’t guarantee they will remain;
  • The StatsCan study mentioned that immigrants settling in smaller centres do better may reflect that they had a job offer attracting them to that community, and a smaller immigrant pool. For example, visible minorities in Newfoundland and Labrador have higher median incomes than elsewhere, likely reflecting the small immigrant labour pool concentrated in the professions.

There may be some lessons to be learned from previous efforts, whether with respect to Atlantic immigration (where retention has been an issue) or efforts to encourage Francophone immigrants to settle in official language minority communities in English Canada:

It’s been done before. From the 1870s to 1930s Ottawa offered free land to immigrants and refugees, much of it on the Prairies or in B.C.

The raw land was given to newcomers after they proved over several years they were developing it for homesteading, farming or logging.

A carrot approach is being tried in parts of Scandinavia. Sweden, for instance, has experimented with offering more generous social housing and welfare rates to immigrants and refugees who move to its smaller towns.

It wouldn’t be complicated to offer some carrots in Canada, especially to the one million people living here as permanent residents.

What about fine-tuning Canada’s immigrant point system — which favours those with high educational and skill levels — to grant extra points to newcomers who settle in Canada’s hinterlands?

That’s a suggestion from Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland, who frequently advises the federal government.

A points system that favours permanent residents who have shown (in part through their income-tax statements) they are committed to making a life in Quesnel, Timmins or St. John’s could do a lot for those cities. The small cities’ schools would fill and their housing and retail markets would strengthen.

Rather than Metro Vancouver and Toronto experiencing unaffordable property and rent ­costs —­ in large part because of high in-migration ­and offshore real-estate speculation — smaller cities and rural areas could enjoy modest boosts from the foreign-born.

Pressure would also ease on Metro Vancouver’s and Toronto’s over-stretched transit systems, as suggested by a StatsCan study that shows immigrants and foreign students rely on taxpayer subsidized transit at double the rate of Canadian-born residents.

A hinterland-related immigration points system is not far-fetched, even in Canada.

Kurland says it’s already virtually in place, in various ways, in B.C.’s provincial nominee program, which oversees a portion of the province’s skilled and educated immigrants.

Citizenship court judges dealing with people who are applying to be accepted as immigrants on compassionate grounds, Kurland adds, have also been known to treat favourably migrants who live in small towns.

The carrot approach would not only breathe new life into the hinterlands, it would give a leg up to immigrants themselves.

A little-known Statistics Canada study by Andre Bernard found that most immigrants who settle in Canada’s small towns do better financially than the majority who choose Canada’s 13 largest cities.

His report, “Immigrants in the Hinterland,” found newcomers who move to small towns and rural areas not only more quickly learn an official language, they soon earn more than other immigrants and those born in Canada.

That not only benefits the immigrants and their children, it does the same for our increasingly struggling small towns.

Source: Douglas Todd: Immigrants prosper in Canada’s small towns | Vancouver Sun

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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