In recent years, more international migrants have chosen to settle in Canada’s small and mid-sized cities than in the 4 largest urban centers (Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Calgary) combined. To put it in perspective, for the period 2013 – 2019 there was only a 9% increase in the number of immigrants who chose to settle in the 4 largest urban centres, whereas there was a 45% increase in the number of immigrants settling in smaller urban centres.
Having started from a much lower base, most small to mid-sized cities still have a much lower immigration rate (the number of immigrants per 10,000 population) than the largest urban centers. For instance, the 2019 immigration rate in Toronto was 163 per 10,000 and 128 per 10,000 in Vancouver. However, the following small and mid-sized cities continue to have an immigration rate of greater than 100 per 10,000 :
Halifax, Charlottetown, Fredericton, Moncton, Regina, Saskatoon, Swift Current, Winkler, Steinbach, Brandon, Thompson, Brooks, High River and Wood Buffalo. The exceptions are Regina and Saskatchewan, both of which had immigration rates of 193 and 178 per 10,000 residents, much higher than even Toronto.
Among the 40 mid-sized urban centers across Canada with a population of at least 100,000 (excluding Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver), 18 have seen immigration rates rise by 50% or more over the past 5 years. Many of these small and mid-sized cities in Canada have faced a negative population (births less deaths) growth rate. They depend on migration between provinces to stay competitive economically, so they have begun to attract more immigrants to continue growing.
Going forward, the underlying demographic trends have not changed. The share of the workforce retiring every year is accelerating and post-pandemic it is likely the overall workforce in Canada will need to expand to foster economic growth. The country faces increased demand for health care and related services to support an aging population. Income support programs are increasing. There are considerable infrastructure demands from coast-to-coast. It seems virtually impossible to imagine the country sustaining an adequate growth rate without a substantial increase in immigration.
Canada needs to attract talent to meet workforce replacement and growth demand across occupations. An ability to do this will ensure that Canada has a sustainable tax base to continue to provide high quality public services and infrastructure.
The outlook for immigration into Canada’s mid-sized urban centers is robust. Underlying trends across the world due to the pandemic will necessitate migration into developed countries that want to sustain positive levels of economic growth. Canada’s mid-sized cities are ideally positioned to attract increasing numbers of migrants in the coming years.
In response to provincial and local government representations, the Federal government of Canada has changed rules to help facilitate more immigration into mid-sized and smaller urban centers. Instead of a strict points-based approach to immigration that gives preference to highly skilled migrants, provinces can now tailor the attraction of migrants based on local workforce needs. The Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) and the Atlantic Immigration Pilot (AIP) help them in this direction.
Also, Canada has yet to come out with the Municipal Nominee Program, which will allow communities, chambers of commerce and local labour councils to sponsor new immigrants. This new program is expected to bring in about 5000 newcomers per year after it is launched.