Canada is an open, accepting, and generous country. It is built on diversity, and communities are stronger when they welcome and work with newcomers who want to build a better Canada. But with the natural trend of intensification and urbanization, most newcomers to Canada settle in just a few major cities, which offer greater economic opportunities and cultural diversity. The rest of the country has not experienced the same rewards from new people bringing new ideas, and small centres have not proportionally enjoyed the benefits of immigration. Instead, many small centres and rural areas are experiencing declining economic prospects and even shrinking populations, creating a cycle of decline and consequent low attraction of new residents, furthering decline.
Summary of key findings:
There is an overall trend of immigrants who were destined to live in smaller centres not residing in these intended destinations at landing. While they intended to live in a small centre, they choose to reside elsewhere. These losses are not offset by an inflow from other areas in the province or from other provinces, and there is a persistent issue of either zero or negative net migration for many of these communities. In addition, with a close linear relationship between “immigration stock” and retention rates, some smaller centres in Ontario are in double-jeopardy, as these communities do not receive a lot of immigrants to begin with and do not retain immigrants.
Multiple factors contribute to whether immigrants choose to move to a new community, including perceptions of the community, the presence of family, friends and/or other immigrants, employment opportunities, educational opportunities, access to cultural and religious amenities, employer support, and their desire for a small-centre lifestyle.
Many of the same factors that influence attraction also determine whether immigrants will stay. The following factors have been shown to play a role in immigrants’ decision to leave a community: lack of large immigrant population, lack of cultural and religious amenities, lack of adequate settlement services, lack of fulfilling employment, inadequate employment opportunities for spouses, inadequate public transportation, inadequate housing, and racism and intolerance.
Small centres and rural areas must be involved in making themselves stand out. Some strategies that have been used to promote, attract, and retain immigrants in small centres and rural areas include providing online information portals, welcoming community campaigns and events, employer-supported initiatives, and incentives for relocation to small centres and rural areas. Yet a piecemeal approach will not be enough to reinvigorate small centres. It will take a collective effort on the part of multiple levels of government, business associations and employers, community leaders and civil society, and the settlement sector. It will require both short-term initiatives, within a three-year timeframe, as well as longer-term efforts.