If present demographic trends continue, it won’t be just rural areas emptying out.
In fact, by 2030, the population of Canada overall will begin shrinking, as deaths outnumber births, according to Ray Bollman, a statistician from the Agriculture Division of Statistics Canada.
“Why are we worried about immigration? If there’s no immigration, there will be no population growth,” said Bollman, speaking at the 22nd annual Rural Policy Conference of the Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation and Brandon University’s Rural Development Institute held last week.
He showed a chart with a line indicating the country’s population that after a gradual rise that has lasted for decades, begins falling quickly as it approaches mid-century.
Some 200,000 immigrants per year will be needed to keep population growth rising by 100,000 per year, he added.
“Immigration is important to Canada as a whole, but if you’re living 20 miles north of here in Rivers, you don’t need immigrants because you can attract people from Brandon,” said Bollman. “But at the Canada level, to grow, you will need to attract international immigrants.”
In 2006, in rural, small-town Manitoba, 5.3 per cent of the population was immigrants, mainly those who had arrived some two decades before. But in large urban centres, 23 per cent of the population was composed of immigrants who had arrived within the last 20 years.
The top town in Manitoba for attracting immigrants during the period 2001-06 was Winkler, with 2,305 or 5.2 per cent of the population, followed by Steinbach, with 2,095 or 3.8 per cent. Third was Brandon, with 950 immigrants, composing 1.6 per cent of the population mainly from Maple Leaf Food’s foreign worker program.
“There are 288 census divisions in Canada, and Winkler ranked No. 6 in Canada in terms of the share of population that are recent immigrants,” he said, adding that Steinbach was 11th and Brandon was 31st.
“The point is, there are some rural areas in Canada that are very successful in attracting immigrants.”
But how many will stay?
During the period from 1996-2001, the retent ion rate for recent immigrants in Manitoba was 81 per cent. Although 19 per cent eventually left, that’s only double the rate of gross outmigration rate – a figure that includes non-immigrants – from rural areas of 11 per cent.
Sandy Trudel, who administers the City of Brandon’s policies to attract newcomers, said that historically, the city saw 65 immigrants per year before a shortage of skilled and unskilled workers changed the dynamic.
“In 2007, it jumped to 650. That held true for 2008 and in 2009, we saw 1,149 foreign workers coming to the community,” said Trudel.
The flood of arrivals put a strain on the city’s capacity to handle non-Englishspeaking residents, but the problem is being addressed.
She noted that rural areas faced with declining populations are being proactive at boosting their ranks, and many are sending delegates to overseas labour recruitment fairs, and building networks among the recent arrivals to better serve immigrant communities.
“We are seeing contacts from all over the globe that we have never dealt with
before,” said Trudel. “We are seeing that the Manitoba program works, and that settlement works.”
As the range of services expands, the city’s reputation as a “welcoming community” grows. With that trend, a feedback loop is created that makes it increasingly easy to attract more immigrants, she added.
Growth, whether via foreign immigrants or Canadians from other regions moving in, presents challenges simply because more people put a greater strain on finite services such as housing and child care.
The newcomers are bringing their families, and having more children once they get here. That has put added pressure on maternity wards, with bed shortages noted, said Trudel.
Balfour Spence, a disaster and risk management professor at Brandon University, noted that the diversity that necessarily comes with immigration is a two-way street, and must be seen by both longtime residents and newcomers as a “resource.”
He noted that, as an example, Pakistani immigrants in the U. K. in some cases have failed to integrate with their host society even over the span of three generations.
“The question I ask is why? Is it a reluctance or a complacency to engage, or is there something else?” said Spence, who is of Jamaican descent.
“The methodologies we use are very dependent on the extent to which we understand the needs of our migrants.” [email protected]
“The point is, there are some rural areas in Canada that are very effective in attracting immigrants.”
– RAY BOLLMAN