“My big concern has always been having a divide between rural and urban this way.”
– MARTY DOLIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, MANITOBA INTERFAITH IMMIGRATION COUNCIL
Statistics Canada is projecting greater diversity among Canada’s future population, but not for small towns and rural areas of Canada.
By 2031, one in three Canadians will belong to a visible minority group, and one in four Canadians are expected to be foreign born, or the children of immigrant parents or grandparents.
That represents a doubling of this country’s “visible minority” population, to 47 per cent of second-generation Canadians belonging to a visible minority group. In early 2006 24 per cent were in this category.
The report also projects where people are expected to live.
Toronto, Mont real and Vancouver can expect to see the most significant growth in diversity. It’s expected that 60 per cent of Toronto’s population will belong to a visible minority in 20 years. But virtually all urban centres in the country can expect to see their visible minority populations grow.
It’s a different story outside cities.
Right now, just a tiny fraction of Canadians belonging to a visible minority group reside outside major centres. As an example, those of religious faiths other than Christian living outside Census Metropolitan areas in Canada were just 5.4 per cent in 2006.
Less than five per cent of the total visible minority population is expected to be found outside large urban centres two decades from now if current trends persist, said Laurent Martel, a StatsCan analyst. “Most immigrants are choosing metropolitan, urban areas. Very few immigrants are settling in rural areas of the country.”
People are choosing cities for two major reasons; networks of friends and relatives and jobs, and in that order, he added.
Marty Dolin, executive director of Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council in Winnipeg, says the projections produce a troubling spectre for Canada.
“My big concern has always been having a divide between rural and urban this way,” Dolin said, whose agency provides settlement services to immigrants and refugees in Winnipeg.
The problem for rural Canada is that it’s not getting enough immigrants, he said. “And what I don’t want to see, when I look at demographics and these projections for cities, is that we end up with cities culturally diverse and rural areas a monoculture,” Dolin said. “I think that creates a political divide, an economic divide, and a social divide.”
One potential solution, from a policy perspective, lies with the federal government handing over more authority for immigration to provinces. He points to the successes of Manitoba’s Provincial Nominee Program. “We’re bringing in many more (immigrants) than in the rest of the country.”
Rural areas of Manitoba are expressing interest in attracting a larger proportion of these newcomers too.
At a recent conference at the Rural Development Institute in Brandon, hosted by rural communities eager to attract more immigrants, Manitoba Labour and Immigration officials cited statistics showing roughly 28 per cent of immigrants to Manitoba in 2008 settled in communities outside Winnipeg.
Immigration to Manitoba has more than doubled in the past decade, from about 4,600 immigrants in 2004, to over 11,000 through the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) which matches persons with skilled trades and professions to available jobs. The province aims to keep boosting immigration levels with a goal of having 20,000 arrivals by 2016.
Martel said provinces like Manitoba are places to watch, and that new immigration policies across the rest of the country may well alter these initial projections. “We’re looking at past trends over the past 20 years,” he said.
As a country of immigrants, a proportion of Canadians have always been foreign born. The highest proportion was seen in the last century, at 22 per cent between 1911 and 1931.
At that time, most immigration to Canada was from European countries. The StatsCan report projects that by 2013 the foreign-born population proportion will anywhere from 28 to 32 per cent. Persons with origins in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are expected to make up the largest visible minority group, at about 28 per cent, of the whole.
Martel said while Canada has always had a visible minority, it was not until the 1990s that sustained immigration from non-European countries began.
“Before that immigrants, in a fairly large part, were coming from European countries,” he said. “There was diversity, but not in the sense that we define it here.”
The Employment Equity Act defines visible minorities as “persons, other than Aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour.”