Interprovincial labour mobility vital for Canadian prosperity: report

November 17, 2015

By Peter O’Neil, Vancouver Sun |

B.C. and Ontario will absorb only a relatively small portion of Canadian jobseekers who have traditionally moved by the tens of thousands to Alberta to find work, according to a new study by the B.C. Business Council.

So the new Trudeau government should make it a top priority to push for policies that will make it easier for migrating workers to find jobs while Canada’s oil-rich former jobs magnet struggles through its economic malaise.

The council said interprovincial migration added a net increase of 470,000 people to Alberta’s population over the past two decades.

The only other province to record a net gain from 1995 to 2015 was B.C., with a far more modest 69,000 increase.

Quebec suffered the biggest net loss, with close to 200,000 more people leaving the province to find work than the number who arrived.

Interprovincial migration, according to the paper, is vital in ensuring that Canada is prosperous despite its vast geography and diverse economy.

With Alberta in a deep and potentially protracted slump due to low world energy prices, both B.C. and Ontario will take up some of that slack.

“But it is hard to imagine that they will come close to replicating Alberta’s status as a home to hundreds of thousands of working age interprovincial migrants,” concluded the report, which was provided exclusively to The Vancouver Sun.

The report said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is meeting provincial premiers here later this month to discuss climate change, should make interprovincial labour mobility a priority.

That could be done by removing protectionist barriers that prevent nurses, teachers, mechanics and other job-seeking tradespeople and professionals from moving from province to province without obtaining a new license or certification.

Only B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan, through the 2010 New West Partnership Agreement, allow for mutual recognition of those credentials.

“Canada would be stronger and our labour market would operate more effectively if the provinces could agree to a system of mutual recognition across the full spectrum of regulated occupations and professions,” the report said.

Many politicians, commentators and academics have argued for decades that Canada needs an internal agreement to remove barriers to trade and labour mobility.

James Moore, the former B.C. Conservative MP who was industry minister in the previous Conservative government, said in 2014 that Canada was facing a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to finally strike an internal free trade deal, since so many provinces were ruled by business-friendly governments.

Internal trade and mobility barriers cost the economy $50 billion a year, Moore said in 2014.

But by the time the election was called in August, Moore and his provincial counterparts still hadn’t found a consensus.

The council also found that migration to Canada from other countries is becoming a growing factor in helping employers fill job openings.

In the 1970s and ’80s foreign immigrants totalled less than half the number of Canadians migrating within Canada to find work. But now the numbers of each are about the same, totalling close to 250,000 annually.

The shift from interprovincial to international migration was most profound in B.C.

From 1975 to 1995 there were more newcomers to B.C. from the rest of Canada than there were immigrants from overseas.

But from 1995 to 2005 there were 300,000 immigrants during a decade when there was a tiny net outflow of interprovincial migrants.

And from 2005 to 2015 there were about 270,000 immigrants to B.C. compared to about 75,000 net interprovincial migrants.

The research also confirmed a common assumption that Alberta tends to attract young migrants from elsewhere in Canada, whereas B.C. appeals to an older group.

“The largest two ago cohorts of interprovincial migrants to Alberta are 18 to 24 year olds and 25 to 44 year olds,” the council found.

“In contrast, for B.C. the most prominent age cohort for net interprovincial migrants over the past decade was persons aged 45 to 64.”

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