Chesterholm has a population of 3,000, but it has fielded 500 inquiries from immigrants about settling in the rural Alberta community a 90-minute drive south of Calgary. In Moose Jaw, the third-largest city in Saskatchewan, it is a hoped that an immigration influx will help alleviate a labour shortage tied to an aging population and an exodus of young workers to bigger cities. In Brandon, which has welcomed 3,226 immigrants in the past five years, a continuous inflow of foreign workers and their families has long been a mainstay of the economic engine of Manitoba’s second city. The rural community of Antona in Manitoba is also looking for immigrants to increase its small population.
All of these centres, plus Vernon and the West Kootenays community in B.C., have embarked on a new three-year pilot project with the federal government aimed at detouring a record number of immigrants from Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver to where, proponents say, the true opportunities exist.
Working with the new Rural and North Immigration Program, these smaller towns, and five more in Ontario, are a microcosm of a Canada that now depends solely on immigration to not only provide the hundreds of thousands workers needed but, in reality, to keep our country’s population growing and its economy from stagnation.
Without immigration, Canada’s population growth in the last two years would have been zero. At 2.1, Canada is ranked 181st in the world in our population replacement rate. Almost 100 per cent of our country’s population growth is now through immigration, Statistics Canada confirms.
It could also be argued that many of these immigrants, based on where they started from and what it took to get here, help provide the sturdy economic and societal backbone that made Canada so great to begin with and is needed so badly today.
Immigrant families who have been in Canada for more than two decades tend to be worth more than families who were born in the country, according to Statistics Canada data.
In Canada, five million workers are expected to retire by 2035 yet, with near-record low unemployment, it is difficult to find replacement workers.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada estimates that 350,000 immigrants are needed annually by 2035 just to meet workforce needs.
Currently, about 80 per cent of new immigrants settle in Canada’s three largest cities, which has been instrumental in making these urban centres so dynamic.
The pilot program, it is hoped, will draw more of that energy into Canada’s heartland.