It's all in the provinces

Last month's census figures indicate that people are moving to provinces that have more jobs and services.

Over the past decade, the Payne family has been moving west one at a time. Each left the sleepy Newfoundland fishing village of Parson's Pond and traveled 2,600 miles to Fort McMurray, Alberta, a boomtown fed by the world's demand for oil.

Vince, an auto mechanic, moved first. "The reason I left was simple: There was no work at home. Zero," Vince says.

Five years later, his brother Vaughan joined him. Finally, last year, their father, Leonard, gave up fishing and made the trip.

The Payne's trek typifies a growing phenomenon in Canada. Census data released last month shows that in the past five years, movement from the so-called "have-not" provinces to the richer ones has been accelerating. Both sides of the equation are feeling the impact.

"People are moving to where the jobs are," says David Foot, a professor at the University of Toronto and author of "Boom, Bust & Echo," a study of demographics. "They are leaving poorer provinces such as Newfoundland where a large proportion of the population is in its 20s."

With the federal government cutting back on unemployment insurance, and provinces such as Quebec and New Brunswick paring back welfare payments, this mass migration is affecting cities and towns all across Canada.

Newfoundland saw the biggest outflow. Decades of overfishing decimated the industry. The few fish-processing plants that are left are in danger of closing. This has caused younger workers to pursue opportunities that may have been unavailable to their forebears. "One of the benefits of closing the fishing industry is that young people now finish high school and move on to postsecondary education," says Doug May, an economics professor at Memorial University in St. John's, the Newfoundland capital.

The dropout rate in rural Newfoundland was as high as 50 percent a decade ago, when young people took jobs in fish plants. But there are too few jobs in those communities to support the better-educated. "For those young people who want to make use of their education they often have to move," Mr. May.

This kind of exodus has put pressure on local school systems. This means that provinces such as Newfoundland and New Brunswick are closing schools at a time when Alberta and Ontario are building them.

But even provinces such as Quebec, where there was small overall growth, saw a movement away from rural areas. "Populations are shrinking in rural areas and that means a contraction in local schools," says Susan Turner, a former English teacher at a French-language primary school in tiny Frelighsburg, Quebec, on the Vermont border. "The policy of the provincial government is to keep local schools open. They're doing that by doubling up on classes, combining grades, and reducing services."

Hospitals – even ones in towns such as Cowansville, just 60 miles south of Montreal – are feeling the pinch. Since medical care is run by provincial governments in Canada, some offer salaries that reward young doctors for working in rural and remote areas.

Taxes are also having an affect on population movement. One reason the western province of Alberta is attracting many newcomers, says Dennis Twomey, economic development coordinator of Camrose, Alberta, is its tax policy. "We have no sales taxes in Alberta, and our neighbors to either side, Saskatchewan and British Columbia, do," he says."

In response, British Columbia's new Liberal government, elected on a tax-cutting platform last year, has cut income taxes in an effort to stem the flow.

The suburbs of major cities have seen tremendous growth. While Toronto grew by 4 percent, Greater Toronto grew by 9.8 percent. This trend has put additional pressure on urban planning.

"There is gridlock in transportation and congestion in the suburbs, rather than downtown," says Mr. Foot, whose book on demographics spent three years on the Canadian bestseller list. "It's hard to plan a public transportation system when people are not traveling into the urban hub, but all over the region."

Toronto's public transit system is feeling the additional pressure. The mayor of Toronto, Mel Lastman, says the city isn't getting its share of new tax dollars and that transportation services may have to be cut back. The Toronto Transit Commission is being forced to raise fares.

Ontario is Canada's largest province with the broadest-based economy in the country. It is home to everything from the headquarters of all the big banks to car plants and nickel mines. During the past five years it passed British Columbia to grab the second fastest growth rate in the county. "Political and economic stability is what I like about Ontario," says Alok Sood, a professional who moved to Toronto from Montreal with his wife, a lawyer, in 1999. "Work wasn't the reason I moved, but now that I'm here I can see the strong economy means you're more protected from a downturn."

Migration – along with increased immigration – has meant rising demand, and prices, for housing in Toronto. Frank Clayton, a real estate analyst, expects this trend will continue.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to It's all in the provinces
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today