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Many Atlantic Canadians get upset if you tell them that their region is far too white. But it's true, and Statistics Canada has the latest proof.

Statscan released a study this week that tracked the settlement pattern of immigrants to Canada between 1991 and 2001. Seventy-three per cent of all new arrivals settled in Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver. Virtually all of the rest made their home in Ottawa-Gatineau, Calgary, Edmonton, Hamilton, Kitchener, Winnipeg, Windsor or London. Not enough chose Halifax, St. John's, Moncton or any other Atlantic Canadian city for those places to register on the survey.

In fact, immigration to Atlantic Canada is so insignificant that the region is not even mentioned in the main body of the 73-page report. One chart in the appendix, however, reveals that 2.1 per cent of Halifax's population consists of recent arrivals, compared with 17.3 per cent in Toronto, 4.9 per cent in Edmonton, and 3.3 per cent in Victoria. St. John's claims a dismal 0.8 per cent, and Saint John is at 0.6 per cent, which translates to 686 people, give or take.

The great majority of immigrants to Canada belong to a visible minority. Forty-nine per cent of them hail from Asia. Eight per cent are from Africa, 6 per cent from Latin America and 5 per cent from the Caribbean.

There is a chicken-and-egg quality to immigration patterns. Half of all immigrants who settle in Toronto cite the proximity of family and friends as the chief reason they select that city. About a quarter say the availability of work was the most important factor.

But because Atlantic Canada has too few jobs and too few immigrants, immigrants don't want to move there. And because they don't move there, Atlantic Canada remains white and poor.

Immigrants are the lifeblood of our economy and society. They tend to arrive during their years of peak income potential. In Vancouver, for example, 43 per cent of recent immigrants are between 30 and 49, whereas only 31 per cent of Canadian-born citizens are in that age range. They have children, helping to mitigate the low birth rate of Canadian-born citizens. Eleven per cent of the children in Calgary were either born in another country, or were born in Canada to parents who had just moved here. The inability to attract immigrants is the single biggest reason that the populations of Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick actually declined over the past five years.

Some people accuse immigrants of being a drain on the public purse, possessing few skills and too little education. That's nonsense. Fifty-one per cent of immigrants in Ottawa-Gatineau have a university degree, while only 30 per cent of the native-born population can make that claim. Thirty-six per cent of the immigrants who settled in Winnipeg between 1996 and 2001 purchased a home soon after arriving. Among those who arrived between 1976 and 1985, the home-ownership rate is 74 per cent.

True, new arrivals are more likely to start at the bottom, but they also work hard at working their way up.

Just over 10 per cent of Canadian-born residents in Edmonton are stuck in low-skill jobs despite having university degrees; among immigrants in that city, the figure is 21 per cent. But immigrants who have been here 20 years or more have average incomes almost as high as those who are Canadian-born. And, of course, many of those Canadian-born are the children of immigrants.

Atlantic Canada will only emerge from relative economic decline when it finds ways to persuade at least some of the people arriving in Canada from Beijing and Bombay to move there. So how much do local politicians appreciate that fact? A search of the minutes of Halifax Regional Council failed to uncover any record of debate or discussion about the lack of immigration to the city.

They should be talking about nothing else.