You want to retain population? Restrict immigration. Warning, this will come with a cost.

There is a lot of focus these days on immigrant retention.  We have a new source of data, Medicare cards, to help us track the flow of new immigrant populations within Canada.

In fact, population retention – not just immigrants – is the real goal.  If you retained all new immigrants but saw a big spike in those born-in-Canada leaving your province or city it would kind of defeat the purpose of attracting newcomers in the first place.

And we have a good data source, and timely, on interprovincial migration.  It comes out every year and estimates how the population changed based on net interprovincial migration (the difference between those moving in and out).  This, I would argue, is a key statistic on retention even though we don’t know for sure the breakdown of immigrants and non-immigrants in the flow.

What we do know for sure is that most areas that have witnessed a large increase in immigration have also seen an increase in their outward migration rates.  Please note the data below is based on interprovincial migration, not intraprovincial migration which is also an important statistic but for this analysis we are worried about people leaving the province, not the city.

Look at Charlottetown and Fredericton.   Two urban areas with significant increases in immigration in recent years (Charlottetown the highest rate in Canada, Fredericton the highest rate in New Brunswick).  However, at the same time they both witnessed large increases in outward flows through net interprovincial migration. Charlottetown lost an average of 317 per year (net) over three years and 424 per year (net) over five years. Fredericton lost 498 per year over three years and 608 per year over five years. The chart shows the rate per 10,000 to allow for comparison.

So, the wrong takeaway from this would be that we need to restrict immigration to curb outflow.  The right takeaway is that when newcomers come there will always be some that leave for a wide variety of reasons and we can’t use that as an excuse to curb immigration.  We need to have a robust retention strategy for immigrants (which starts with better targeting those with the best potential for retention in the first place) but we can’t retain them all.

Both Charlottetown and Fredericton have strong population growth in recent years in large part as a result of immigration so they are retaining a lot (see below).

And for those that are worried about the impact on outward migrants on the rest of Canada, don’t fret.  All of the outward migration from Atlantic Canada is basically a rounding error when it comes to the three large urban centres (presumably the destination of many of Atlantic Canada’s outbound migrants).

Campbellton, Miramichi, Bathurst – all have positive net interprovincial migration in the past three years.  But this is not necessarily good, very few are leaving and very few are coming.  Edmundston’s three year average annual net interprovincial migration is -14 (actual number, not the rate).   On a regional population of over 24,000, net interprovincial migration of 14 means there isn’t much there.  Now the good news for Edmundston particularly is that its population ticked up in 2018 slightly compared to many smaller urbans that are losing population.   It seems to be attracting more from elsewhere in New Brunswick and it does attract a few immigrants each year.

The gold standard is Halifax which has seen an increase in immigration and has a positive net interprovincial migration rate.

So don’t ignore interprovincial migration. It does matter.  Greater Moncton’s very low negative net interprovincial migration rate is interesting given it has seen a steep increase in immigration.  The chart below shows the relationship between net interprovincial migration and immigration.  Charlottetown has lost 16 per year over the past three years (net) to interprovincial migration per 100 new immigrants attracted (please remember these interprovincial migrants are not necessarily immigrants).  Fredericton has the second highest rate of lost population to interprovincial migration, expressed this way, but again, look at its immigration rate.  It’s high.  The trick is to boost immigration and retain population (limited net interprovincial migration).  That is hard but Halifax has done well, Moncton well too -although it’s immigration rate will likely require a boost if it is to continue growth in the coming years.  Saint John’s outward migration rate is better than Charlottetown and Fredericton but likely because it has attracted fewer immigrants to lose.

Ultimately, what are the fastest growing urban centres in Atlantic Canada?  For the most part, those with the biggest increase in immigration.  You can fret about the immigrants that have left Charlottetown or you can celebrate the fact the urban centre has the fastest population growth in all of Canada, among urban centres with a minimum 25,000 population.

So, what are we to deduce from all this data?  You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.  We need a lot more immigrants in this region. Some will leave.  Let’s put in place world class retention efforts.  Let’s embrace our new neighbours with a great big bear hug (except certain cultures).  But let’s not use the fact we lose some to the large urban centres as a reason to limit immigration.

1 thought on “You want to retain population? Restrict immigration. Warning, this will come with a cost.

  1. We definitely need more people. It would be great if local families would be encouraged to have more children. Let us make our communities, child and family friendly. Certain professionals are needed; doctors, dentists, and engineers for example. An easier entrance into these and other needed professions, trades and skill sets would support the growth of community and provide the necessary services. Rural population demographics are changing, especially here in Atlantic Canada. Communities need to reestablish their strength through neighborhoods and centers for services and culture. Their has been a proud rural heritage and a sense of close support for each other within our region. We come from people of the soil and the sea. Today, we need to remember our heritage, our lineage and who feeds us… Rural supports us all, we are connected and need each other.

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