Migration at 20-year high
Nicolas Van Praet, Financial Post · Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011
MONTREAL — The number of Canadians moving to another province has punched to a high not seen in 20 years as people pack up in search of better jobs and salaries elsewhere.
Roughly 337,000 Canadians were on the move in 2010, says a report on interprovincial migration published Thursday by TD Economics. That’s 45,000 more than the year before and the most since the late 1980s. It also represents the largest share of the overall population since 1998.
“It’s a good sign in the sense that whenever you see that kind of movement, it’s an expression of a labour market that’s healing after a pretty severe recession,” said TD senior economist Pascal Gauthier, who wrote the study. “People are either returning home or moving to areas that didn’t have employment before. For those that are already employed, they’re finding potentially better prospects.”
Interprovincial migration matters because when there is a net movement of people to higher-employment and higher-productivity areas, that generates net economic output gains on a national basis. It’s also crucial for businesses because people often make big-ticket purchases when they move, which can have a significant impact on local housing and retail markets.
Canada’s situation lies in stark contrast with the United States, where census data show long-distance moves across states fell last year to the lowest level since the government began tracking them in 1948. Americans used to be a nation of big movers, with as many as one in five relocating for work every year in the 1950s. Now, experts are debating why they’ve become a nation of “hunkered-down homebodies,” as the New York Times put it.
Richard Florida, director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto, says the United States is experiencing a new kind of class divide now between “mobile” people who have the resources and flexibility to pursue economic opportunity, and “stuck” citizens who are tied to places with weaker economies.
He argues the U.S. housing crisis is a big factor slowing mobility down. When the housing bubble popped, it left millions of Americans unable to sell their homes. “It’s bitterly ironic that housing, for so many Americans, has gone from being a cornerstone of their American dream to being a burden,” he wrote in a recent opinion piece.
Mr. Gauthier agrees that the housing crash is partly to blame for keeping Americans put. “There’s such a glut of supply that it’s just difficult to sell your house. In Canada, that’s not been an issue.”
In Canada, the biggest impediment to the free flow of labour between provinces and territories remains regulation as occupational requirements fall under provincial jurisdiction.
Workers in regulated professions and skilled trades, such as teachers and engineers, still face major barriers trying to work in provinces other than their own. Solving that problem will be key ahead of the looming labour force crunch, Mr. Gauthier argues.
Alberta, B.C. and Saskatchewan have seen the strongest net inflow of people of all provinces for the past three years and that will not change in the short term, the TD report forecasts. The three jurisdictions are working to implement a newly signed trade and labour mobility agreement between them that could eventually see seamless movement of workers between their borders.
TD says Ontario and Quebec will continue to lose residents to other provinces on a net basis, but the bleeding will be at a slower pace than in previous years. It says Manitoba and Prince Edward Island will be the only provinces still shedding a significant share of residents through the end of 2012.
In Manitoba’s case, it’s not that there aren’t any jobs. The province’s unemployment rate has been consistently lower than that of the rest of Canada since the 1990s. It’s that people are being lured by the prospect of higher-paying jobs in neighbouring provinces.