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Guest Blog: Why Ontario Needs a Rural & Remote Immigrant Nominee Pilot

Date: May 4, 2018

​The news on the job front in Toronto is not good. In the last eight years, part-time jobs have increased twice as fast as full time jobs and fully half of those part-time workers are involuntarily part-time.[1]

The news is worse for more recent arrivals. While Canadian born workers have seen participation and unemployment rates improve, landed immigrants have seen both measures worsen. In Toronto that is. Immigrant outcomes are markedly better if you look at some of the rural communities in Ontario, particularly in Northeastern Ontario.[2]

So, where should those unemployed and underemployed workers look for full-time employment? Rural and remote Ontario, of course. For example, there were over 1500 jobs posted in the Thunder Bay region during the week of March 19-23, 2018. Most of these were good paying, full-time, permanent jobs.[3]

While secondary attraction efforts should continue, helping immigrants land in a place where their skills are needed, homes are affordable, and the sense of community is strong would diversify the provincial economy while reducing the growing social and economic pressures in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTAH).

The province could, in theory, simply make a tweak to the existing provincial nominee program (PNP), limiting that program to areas outside of the GTAH. This would, however, be problematic. It would hamstring growth industries like the IT sector who routinely use the PNP to target and attract desperately needed new talent. It would also encourage new arrivals to cheat, pretending to be interested in areas outside the GTAH while planning to jump to the big city. If there is only one fast track, you can be sure it would be used in this way. But what if there were two?

Enter the Atlantic Immigration Pilot. Seeing the desperate need to change arrival and settlement patterns in that region, the federal government has initiated an expanded express entry program there. Much like the existing provincial nominee programs, the Atlantic Immigration Pilot allows Atlantic communities to match their skills needs with a potential immigrant’s employment desires. More to the point, the federal government, in partnership with the four Atlantic Provinces, significantly increased the allocation of fast tracked spots, allowing for settlement allocations and efforts to focus beyond the urban centres.

Manitoba took these types of steps over a decade ago, with amazing and measurable results in towns like Morden. Population 2006: 6571, population 2016: 8668. An increase of 32 per cent in ten years.[4]. Ten years where the population in most of rural and remote Ontario stagnated or declined.  

Morden wasn’t looking to create new industries or become the next Silicon Valley. They had jobs that were going wanting. In many cases jobs that did not fit the national obsession for highly skilled immigrants, but instead fell into the category of semi-skilled trades and professions. By giving those communities the direct ability to market jobs to already vetted immigrant applicants, Manitoba led the way in immigration attraction, settlement and retention. Ontario could be next.

Working with the federal government, Ontario could expand the provincial allocation of nominees. A pilot targeting rural and remote immigration in Northern Ontario could easily involve as few as 1000 to 1500 new immigrants each year. If, after a five year test period, the evidence demonstrates it works, the pilot could readily be expanded to the rest of rural and remote Ontario. Or not, if it proves ineffective.

On 9 April, 2018, in Thunder Bay, the federal government signalled its readiness to join in just such a partnership. Unveiling the Prosperity and Growth Strategy for Northern Ontario (PGSNO)[5] Industry Minister Navdeep Bains made explicit reference to the Atlantic Immigration Pilot as one model of interest when asked how the federal and provincial governments could partner to bring more immigrants to Northern Ontario – a key commitment made in the PGSNO.

Simple, affordable, scalable and evidence-based. With an apparently willing federal partner to boot. Let’s have at it.

Charles Cirtwill is President and CEO of Northern Policy Institute. An independent social and economic think tank based in Northern Ontario.


[1] City of Toronto, Annual Labour Force Survey Data, May 2017. Available at: https://www.toronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/8f90-EDC-Annual-Labour-Force-Summary.pdf

[2] Cuddy, James and Moazzami, Bakhtiar. “Northern Projections Human Capital Series – Nipissing District,” Northern Policy Institute. April 2017. Available at: http://www.northernpolicy.ca/upload/documents/publications/reports-new/hcs_nipissing-en.pdf

[3] Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission Go To Thunder Bay job postings, March 19-23, 2018. Available at: http://gotothunderbay.ca/Work/Job_Seekers.htm

[4] Alia Dharssi, “Canada’s small cities and rural areas desperate for immigrants,” Calgary Herald, September 14, 2016. Available: http://calgaryherald.com/news/national/canadas-small-cities-and-rural-areas-desperate-for-immigrants

[5] Government of Canada Prosperity and Growth Strategy for Northern Ontario, April 9, 2018. Available here: http://fednor.gc.ca/eic/site/fednor-fednor.nsf/vwapj/PGSNO-2018.pdf/$file/PGSNO-2018.pdf