Immigrant Drop Imperils Ontario Economy

Ontario attracting fewer immigrants as other provinces use provincial nominee programs to target immigrants, including skilled tradespeople.

By Joe Friesen, The Globe and Mail

Toronto — After 20 years of attracting nearly 60 per cent of all newcomers to Canada, Ontario’s share of immigration is in steep decline and threatens to intensify the province’s economic struggles.

The first population figures from the 2011 census will be released Wednesday and they’re expected to show that Ontario’s rate of growth has dropped. Since 2001, Ontario has seen its share of immigration drop nearly 20 percentage points. In 2009, Ontario received nearly 107,000 new immigrants, the lowest number in 30 years.

“Ontario’s going to show declining growth, that’s for sure,” said Doug Norris, senior vice-president at Environics Analytics and a leading expert on the census. “They’ve pulled immigrants out of Ontario, and immigrants drive growth, so Ontario’s going to be down.”

The primary reason is a restructuring of Canadian immigration that gave more control to provincial governments. Ontario, for so long an irresistible magnet to highly educated skilled workers, was slow to adjust. The status quo had served it well. While provinces such as Manitoba, British Columbia and Alberta jumped at the newly created provincial nominee program early in the decade, Ontario did little.

“Ontario didn’t use [the nominee program] very much because for a long time it thought it was getting the numbers and also the kinds of immigrants it wanted,” said Leslie Seidle, research director for immigration at the Institute for Research on Public Policy.

While the number of immigrants remained constant at about 250,000 per year, Ontario’s share shrank. The other provinces used the nominee program to gobble up applicants, such as tradespeople, who don’t fare well in the points system for skilled-worker applications. As the skilled-worker stream declined, so did Ontario.

It’s only recently that the Ontario government woke up to the significance of the numbers, said Naomi Alboim, an immigration expert who teaches public policy at Queen’s University. She said the trend to a smaller share of immigration will have a major impact.

“I think it’s very serious. In Ontario, we need immigration for demographic purposes, for longer-term economic objectives. There are still some significant skill shortages and these numbers are not good,” she said.

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