A metal fabrication business in northern New Brunswick is bringing in workers from Eastern Europe to assemble heating and ventilation systems. A food manufacturing company in a small rural community in the province has been attracting Romanians to work at its plant since the mid-2000s. A national coffee shop chain is recruiting for bilingual (French and English) workers for its stores in the Moncton region.
Immigration into Canada is nothing new. There are now more than seven million first generation immigrants in the country and some four million of them have come to Canada in the past 20 years.
What is rapidly changing is the distribution of new immigrants within Canada.
From 1991 to 2006, Ontario attracted 54.5 per cent of the immigrant population (using Census data for those years). During that same period, the Maritime provinces attracted less than 1 per cent of immigrants, even though the region’s population was more than 5.5 per cent of the Canadian total. Saskatchewan only attracted 0.6 per cent of the country’s immigrants over the 15 year period.
The pattern of immigration in recent years has been changing and not only towards western Canada. In 2011, 2.7 per cent of all immigrants settled in the Maritime provinces and a full 2.9 per cent settled in Saskatchewan.
From 2006 to 2011, the number of immigrants to Prince Edward Island has risen sixfold. While this growth is from a small base, it still means that the Island is attracting more than twice as many immigrants (1 per cent of total immigrants) compared to its share of the total population (0.4 per cent).
New Brunswick has witnessed a 42 per cent increase in immigrants over the past five years and Nova Scotia has also been attracting significantly more immigrants compared to a decade ago.
In many ways this spike in immigration into parts of the country other than Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia was inevitable. Out-migration of young people from the Maritimes for decades to the rest of Canada and beyond coupled with low levels of immigration since the early 1970s has turned what was once the youngest region in Canada (by median age) into the oldest -- by a fairly wide margin.
This is the reason why a place like New Brunswick -- with no new employment growth since 2007 -- can now still be attracting four times as many immigrants each year compared to the 1990s. Immigrant workers are needed to replace retiring workers.
This is different than places like Saskatchewan and Alberta, which are attracting record levels of immigrants to fuel a rapidly expanding work force.
Immigration into the Maritimes also raises another tricky challenge. For decades, thousands of people in the region cobbled together enough hours to become eligible for Employment Insurance because there were not enough year-round jobs to go around. Now employers are bringing in immigrant workers because they can’t find local people that are willing to work all year. The locals complain that wage levels on offer are not high enough to justify the move from seasonal work supplemented by EI to full-year work.
There isn’t much statistical data around to prove this trend but the anecdotal evidence is rising. Using immigrant workers to ignore a structural labour market problem is not a particularly positive development.
It is likely the Maritimes and other non-traditional destinations for immigrants into Canada will need to attract far more in the coming years -- just to replace retiring workers. This broader distribution of new immigrants across Canada can only strengthen the cultural fabric of the country.
Visit my blog for a series of tables showing the changing pattern of immigration into Canada in recent years.
David Campbell is an economic development consultant and columnist based in Moncton, New Brunswick. He also authors a daily blog on economic issues in Atlantic Canada which can be found at www.davidwcampbell.com.