Ontario’s immigration strategy needs to change: report

September 7, 2019

By HR Reporter |

Supplementary labour helps as wave of retirements increases

Ontario’s immigration strategy needs to change if communities outside of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) are going to find relief from economic and fiscal pressures, according to a report by the Conference Board of Canada.

Toronto and surrounding area welcomed 106,000 immigrants last year, while the rest of Ontario took in 31,000, according to Immigration Beyond the GTA: Toward an Ontario Immigration Strategy, a study seeking to identify solutions to attract and retain more immigrants in the 15 Ontario census metropolitan areas (CMAs) outside of the GTA. CMAs have total populations of at least 100,000 people — 50,000 of whom live in the city core.

Those immigration figures need to come closer together for Ontario to achieve maximum growth and future success, says Pedro Antunes, chief economist at the Conference Board in Ottawa.

“It’s not just growth for the sake of growth,” he says. “It’s growth because we really have a challenge with respect to what… we call dependency ratio. Because the baby boomer cohort is leaving the workforce, they’re no longer generating income and revenue for governments to tax. Instead, they’re moving into their most intense health-care years. This is a challenge — a demographic challenge for the country and for the province.”

“Across Ontario, we have an aging population, a low birthrate and — in some areas — high out-migration,” says Antunes. “A lot of municipalities have already been trying for a decade or more to be attractive to international immigrants.”

Many cities outside of the GTA are facing declines in population and labour force growth, affecting many areas, including service and programming levels, he says.

“As your services start to erode — it’s a vicious cycle — you can end up in a situation where… interregionally, people start leaving.”

Everybody versus Toronto

Ontario’s capital has had no trouble recruiting workers from abroad; immigrants total 45 per cent of Toronto’s total population, according to Antunes.

“When immigrants come to Canada, they choose the major centres because they know that they have contacts there, they have family there,” he says. “Most of the settlement services are there. So how do we turn this around?”

A broad-based strategy is needed with contributions from government, business groups and employers, says Antunes.

“We have three levels of government that certainly should have interest in trying to diversify and ensure that we have better regional growth.”

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