Immigrants settling in our smaller cities

More affordable housing prices may be the attraction
Marcia Downham
The Times

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Immigrants are bypassing Canada’s metropolises and are heading to more mid-sized cities, according to statistics from Citizenship and Immigration Canada.In B.C., Abbotsford’s number of immigrants went from 1,079 in 2002 to 1,305 in 2007. Chilliwack went from 119 to 189, Kelowna from 256 to 531, Victoria from 762 to 1,270 and Nanaimo from 113 to 284.

Overall, Saskatoon had one of the highest increases: 1,618 from 721.

Although the change in numbers is not drastic, they are significant considering new arrivals to Vancouver went from 39,498 in 2005 to 32,920 in 2007.

This drop puts immigration rates close to where they used to be in 1999 at 32,400.

Toronto fell from 111,693 in 2002 to 87,136. Montreal’s rates have neither significantly decreased nor increased and have remained stagnant at around 38,000 since 2004.

There are a number of economic factors that could be reflected in these changes, and one may be the real estate market, according to University of the Fraser Valley economics department head.

“Real estate prices in Toronto, Montreal and particularly Vancouver have nearly doubled in the last five years and wages in those urban centres have maybe gone up only five per cent and in some cases they haven’t gone up at all,” said Vladimir Dvoracek.

He said he thinks another reason could be that smaller cities are trying to do things to attract more immigrants.

“I can’t say whether or not they are doing more now than they were five years ago, but in terms of wage to house pricing it is hugely different than it used to be; therefore, smaller cities are being looked at as more viable places to live.”

Over the years, the federal government has also introduced programs to encourage immigrants to settle in more diverse areas of the country, said Karen Shadd, spokeswoman for Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

One of the programs, launched in January this year, was the second edition of “Tool Box of Ideas for Smaller Centres.”

The Tool Box is an electronic publication produced in CD format that offers practical ideas to help smaller cities attract and retain immigrants in Canada.

“It includes information on immigration and employment realities in Canada and offers practical ideas aimed at building support, reducing barriers and creating welcoming communities,” said Shadd.