Ontario must start encouraging immigrants to settle in communities outside the GTA in order to reduce pressure on housing, transit and other infrastructure in the 905 and stimulate growth in the rest of the province, a new report says.
According to the Conference Board of Canada report, 45 per cent of Ontario’s 13.5 million people live in the GTA, but each year almost 80 per cent of new immigrants settling in the province make the region their home, meaning that most of Ontario doesn’t get enough newcomers to sustain their communities, and that even more pressure is being put on an already strained housing pool and other services in the 905.
Last year, 106,000 immigrants settled in the GTA, while just 31,000 made their homes in the rest of Ontario.
“The GTA has the difficult task of integrating large numbers of newcomers into its labour market each year. Nearly half of its newcomers arrive under the family and refugee classes, which means they require more labour market supports than economic class newcomers,” said the 47-page report, “Immigration Beyond the GTA,” being released Thursday.
“On the other hand, some communities across the province — particularly those in Northern Ontario — are in desperate need of immigrants to support their economic health, but less than one-quarter of the province’s newcomers choose to settle outside of the GTA.”
Spreading more immigrants across Ontario is more urgent than ever, the report warns, since demographic pressures, if not addressed, will significantly impact the province’s economic performance over the next two decades, with the average age of residents rising to 44.1 in 2040 from 40.5 in 2017. By 2040, almost a quarter of Ontario’s population will be 65 and over, compared with just 17 per cent in 2017.
While communities outside the GTA do not have the same number of job opportunities, settlement services, cultural amenities, and ethnic diversity, they still offer a range of immigration advantages compared with the GTA, said the report, written by researcher Kareem El-Assal.
With the exception of Barrie, it said, other census metropolitan areas currently all have lower unemployment rates than the GTA. Hamilton, Kingston, Guelph and Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo all have unemployment rates below 5 per cent, compared to 6.4 per cent in the 905 area.
Although all levels of government have recognized the need to “regionalize” the distribution of immigration, including the most recent federal pilot program to encourage newcomers to settle in rural and remote communities, the report calls for the creation of a regional strategy led by the province with active participation from municipalities.
Municipalities have had few options in immigrant recruitment because immigration is a shared federal-provincial jurisdiction. However, the report said all three levels of government can draw inspiration from Canada’s latest international post-secondary education strategy, which has successfully brought all players to the table to promote the “regionalization” of foreign students across the country.
The study said a regionalization strategy must set targets to ensure half of newcomers to the province settle outside of the 905. The province should juggle the point grids of the provincial immigrant nomination programs by rewarding applicants with community and family ties outside of the GTA because those are among the most important considerations for newcomer settlement.
A 2016 evaluation of Nova Scotia’s various provincial immigration streams found that 82 per cent of those who arrived under the community identified class with strong ties to an established cultural community had continued to stay in Nova Scotia instead of moving to other provinces.
Given immigrants always go where the job opportunities are, the report suggested business groups such as chambers of commerce take the lead in sharing information with local employers on hiring newcomers, creating a welcoming and inclusive environment and tapping existing newcomer communities to reach out to immigrant talent.
“Ontario municipalities must showcase their leadership. One way they can do this is by ensuring they have immigration strategies of their own in place,” said the Conference Board. “This is crucial to signalling their intention that they want to welcome more immigrants and will take all necessary steps to succeed.”
Immigrant arrivals in 2018 as a share of population
Ontario: 137,395 or 1%
GTA: 106,325 or 1.7%
Ottawa-Gatineau: 9,830 or 0.7%
Hamilton: 4,020 or 0.5%
Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo: 3,940 or 0.7%
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London: 2,770 or 0.5%
St. Catharines-Niagara: 1,320 or 0.3%
Oshawa: 840 or 0.2%
Windsor: 2,225 or 0.6%
Barrie: 465 or 0.2%
Kingston: 580 or 0.3%
Greater Sudbury: 210 or 0.1%
Guelph: 915 or 0.6%
Brantford: 230 or 0.2%
Peterborough: 275 or 0.2%
Thunder Bay: 305 or 0.2%
Belleville: 245 or 0.2%
Source: Conference Board of Canada