Immigration shifts west from Ontario

Canadian immigrants are turning their backs on Ontario and Quebec in favour of the booming economies in Canada's western provinces.

Booming economies lead new arrivals away from Ontario and Quebec

Canada's western provinces are reaping the benefits of a change in immigration patterns. (CBC)

Canada's immigration patterns are changing, experts say, and western provinces are the beneficiaries.

Only a decade ago, Ontario took in the lion's share of Canada's immigrants, with half going to Toronto and 60 per cent to Ontario as a whole. Last year, only 42 per cent of all immigrants went to Ontario, statistics show.

At the same time, immigration to Western Canada has surged, especially in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Peter Showler of the University of Ottawa says the federal government can do more to aid new immigrants to Canada. (University of Ottawa)

One of the biggest reasons is a booming western economy, particularly in the farming and resource sectors, according to B.C.-based immigration expert Nick Noorani.

"Immigrants are going where they get jobs," Noorani told CBC News.

The change has also been fuelled by the provincial nominee program, which allows provinces to choose a certain number of immigrants each year, Noorani said. The program ensures those who come to Canada enter the workforce immediately, he said.

"What's happening is a lot of immigrants are coming in with prearranged employment," Noorani said, "and that's good because then you're reducing the unemployment or underemployment rate that immigrants seem to have."

The system is a far cry from previous decades, when the federal points system for skilled workers kept many aspiring newcomers waiting for years to immigrate and failed to meet the need for skilled tradespeople in the provinces.

The provincial system has resulted in economic payoffs for communities, Noorani said.

"From an economic perspective," he said, "let's remember every time you get people coming into a new community, business increases. So suddenly you'll have people putting up stores where they're going to have ethnic foods. Real estate has been bolstered tremendously by immigrants and their desire to own homes, more than Canadian-born."

Nevertheless, challenges remain, according to the University of Ottawa's Peter Showler.

Not all temporary foreign workers get the same level of support to become permanent residents, the former chairman of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada said, something that could leave too much power in the hands of employers.

"When you have very positive, future-looking employers, that works very well," he said. "If you have abusive employers, they can use that as a kind of threat or control to sometimes sustain improper labour practices."

As well, Showler said, the federal government needs to reduce wait times: The current immigration backlog has grown to more than a million people.

With files from the CBC's Louise Elliot