Hilary Paige Smith lived in Montreal for three years — and loved it.

The native of Saint John, N.B., lived in the city's Plateau neighbourhood and took full advantage of restaurants and cafés a short walk from her apartment. 

But when an opportunity to work remotely from her native province came along, she took it. Paige Smith says the Maritimes offered better options when it came to housing, commuting and job opportunities in her first language, English.

"I'm from New Brunswick; my family is here, and if I were to settle down and have kids, I'd have support around me," explained Paige Smith, a marketing specialist.

The 27-year-old is among thousands of young Quebec residents who opt to leave for elsewhere in Canada every year. 

In fact, the province lost more than 7,000 people a year to interprovincial migration between 2011 and 2016, for a total of 36,955 residents, according to Statistics Canada data compiled by the Montreal-based Association for Canadian Studies.

Between 2006 and 2011, by comparison, the net loss was 20,245.

The new figures come as employers across the province struggle with a labour shortage caused by the bustling economy and shrinking labour pool.

The figures do not, however, include the current year. 

Jack Jedwab, president of the Association for Canadian Studies, said most of the people leaving Quebec are between 25 and 34 years old — an age when most are just starting their careers.

"It's an important group, relative to meeting our demographic challenge," he said.

And it's not, in fact, anglophones leading the charge, as was the case a few decades ago when thousands of English-speakers flocked to Ontario.

In total, over the five-year period, the province had a net loss of:

  • 15,440 allophones.
  • 10,175 anglophones.
  • 9,225 francophones.

Ontario is the top target for relocation, followed by Alberta, British Columbia and New Brunswick.

Jedwab maintains the primary driver for relocation is jobs.

He said quarterly results from the current year suggest people are still leaving the province at a significant rate. 

But the economy isn't the only factor. 

Like Paige Smith, Ronit Milo and her husband decided to move east for a better quality of life and more manageable cost of living.

Hilary Paige Smith

Hilary Paige Smith lived in Montreal for three years, but she moved back to New Brunswick. (Submitted by Hilary Paige Smith)

They moved to Dartmouth, N.S. last summer.

"Certainly, affordability of buying a house for us as a middle-class family was a big incentive ... combined with the fact that we have access to the ocean, and we're still in a city," she said.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said Tuesday he is optimistic that things will change.

"I'm sure that, given the fact that the economy is so much stronger now, we will see a progressive — it will not happen overnight — reversal of the trend."

With files from Verity Stevenson and Lauren McCallum