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Small Canadian towns want to attract immigrants

A growing number of rural communities in Canada are hoping to attract newcomers to the country, citing a need to reverse dwindling population trends, strengthen local economies, and address labour shortages.

In recent years, more than a quarter of residents in metropolitan areas have been immigrants, a figure that plummets to only five per cent in small towns. Canada’s three largest cities — Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver — together accounted for nearly two-thirds of the immigrant population of Canada. In contrast, only one-third of Canada’s total population lived in these cities, showing a disparity in immigrant and non-immigrant populations between urban and rural areas.

Some small rural communities, however, are hopeful of reversing this trend by identifying the immigrants they wish to attract based on local labour market needs. By consulting with local employers and promoting candidates for immigration through the Provincial Nominee Program, rural communities are increasingly planning strategies that aim to guarantee the long-term success of their towns, both from an economic and community point of view. The Provincial Nominee Programs consider a person’s application based on, among other factors, his or her genuine intention to settle in that province. This aspect of the programs has led some small towns to launch initiatives aimed at sourcing the highest quality immigrants to their communities.

A Case Study: Morden, Manitoba

One such rural community is Morden, a small town of around 8,000 people in Southern Manitoba, lying 112 km southwest of the provincial capital of Winnipeg. With an unemployment rate of 3.1%, local employers struggle to find enough workers. Morden’s Community Driven Immigration Initiative aims to aid employers through an active recruitment campaign. Applicants for the Morden initiative make an application through theManitoba Provincial Nominee Program(MPNP).

While most rural communities in Canada take a more passive role in attracting immigrants — for example, by observing which newcomers are arriving to the given province and only then hoping to attract them to their respective town — Morden is taking a much more active role. For its part, Morden identifies potential newcomers to the town before they make their PNP application, rather than after.

“The program has been very successful,” says Community Development Officer, Cheryl Digby. “Employers are supporting the program by offering jobs to newcomers, developers have plans for housing complexes to house the new arrivals, and the community at large has opened their hearts to new friends.

“Our retention rate has remained high, as applicants are chosen specifically for their high chance of success in Morden. In particular, there are openings for applicants with experience in manufacturing such as woodworkers or cabinetmakers, welders, sewing factory workers or entrepreneurs who have business experience.”

Living costs in communities such as Morden are among the lowest in Canada, a factor that is likely to become more of a priority for newcomers to Canada as the cost of living in large Canadian cities grows faster than the rate of inflation.

A Case Study: Simcoe County, Ontario

Simcoe County, situated north of Toronto from Lake Simcoe to the shores of Georgian Bay, is another region actively looking for newcomers. The largely pastoral county has seen approximately 650 landed immigrants per year in recent years, but Sandra Lee, Project Manager at Simcoe County’s Local Immigration Partnership, has noticed a growing trend of immigrants moving from big cities to counties such as hers.

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