Immigrants could prosper in Canada’s small towns

September 1, 2017

By Douglas Todd, Vancouver Sun |

“Canada is a big country,” the websites of immigration consultants say.

True, Canada covers almost ten million square kilometres. It’s second in geographic size only to Russia. Its forests, grasslands, mountains, rock and tundra stretch as far as the eye can see.

But when it comes to human choices, Canada is not big at all: The vast majority of the country’s residents live in congestion on a tiny sliver of the country’s land mass, typically near the U.S. border.

Broad swaths of Canada’s hinterland, the small towns and rural areas beyond urban centres, are losing people, despite Canada having the fastest growth and immigration rates among the Group of Eight industrialized countries.

Almost all immigrants, foreign students and temporary foreign workers in Canada avoid the hinterlands. Only one in 40 immigrants live in small town or rural Canada, compared to one in five who are born in the country.

Canada has more than seven million foreign-born residents out of a total population of 35 million. They account for two-thirds of the country’s growth.

But almost three in four newcomers move to just three cities: Toronto, Montreal and Metro Vancouver.

Nine of 10 immigrants who come to B.C. choose to live in its southwest coast metropolis. The 2016 census shows the city of Vancouver is the most densely populated municipality in the country.

Canadian statisticians call the country’s large and medium cities are “sinkholes,” since almost everyone drains into them.

The sink-hole effect exerts intense pressure on housing and rental costs, transit, higher education, traffic congestion, noise and social services in large cities.

While big cities grow because of migration, the opposite is happening to small cities, such as Quesnel, B.C., St. John’s, New Brunswick and Timmins, Ontario.

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