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Which Canadian province welcomes the most immigrants?

Masked mature couple receving groceries from a gloved person

Much has been made about immigration levels in recent times, with stakeholders debating how many immigrants Canada and Quebec should welcome in the years to come. Such debates tend to focus on two metrics: the absolute number of new immigrant arrivals, and the share of new immigrants in proportion to the population.

As Canada celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) in 2018, it is worth assessing how the provinces fare in relation to each other in terms of their immigrant intake. The obvious answer is that Ontario leads the pack. However, when we assess the second metric, the answer is likely to surprise you.

Background of Provincial Involvement in Immigration

Quebec was an immigration pioneer among the provinces. Concerned by its low birth rate and the possibility that it would see its francophone character—and demographic weight and influence—within Canada wane, Quebec launched the country’s first provincial immigration ministry in 1968 to attract more francophone newcomers. The rest of Canada’s provinces became more engaged in the immigration system in the decades to follow, with the 1990s and 2000s seeing the most intense period of provincial activity. (See Table 1.)

Table 1

Federal and Provincial/Territorial Immigration Agreements

Jurisdiction Date agreement signed Start of selection program
Quebec February 20, 1978 1978
Manitoba June 28, 1998 1999
New Brunswick February 22, 1999 1999
Newfoundland and Labrador September 1, 1999 1999
Saskatchewan March 16, 1998 2001
Prince Edward Island March 29, 2001 2001
British Columbia April 19, 1998 2001
Alberta March 2, 2002 2002
Yukon April 1, 2001 2002
Nova Scotia August 27, 2002 2003
Ontario November 21, 2005 2007
Northwest Territories August 7, 2009 2009

Sources: Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada; The Conference Board of Canada.

The launch of the Provincial Nominee Program in 1998 was one of the most important developments in Canadian immigration history. A joint initiative by the federal government and provinces, the PNP enabled jurisdictions across Canada to address their demographic and workforce needs by allowing them to shape economic class immigrant selection criteria.

At the time of the PNP’s launch, Ontario, Quebec, and B.C. dominated Canada’s immigrant intake while the Prairie and Atlantic provinces were the “have nots” of immigration. This was problematic because the Prairie provinces needed labour to support their growing economies while the Atlantic provinces needed people to alleviate their demographic challenges.

The federal government assigns PNP allocations to each jurisdiction based on its annual immigration levels planning and consultations with the provinces. (See Table 2.) The PNP has proven to be most important in the Atlantic provinces, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan—all six jurisdictions depend on the PNP for the lion’s share of their economic class immigrant arrivals. (See Table 3.) This is because the PNP allows them to specifically target immigrants that meet their needs and few immigrants selected by the federal government choose to land in these provinces.

Table 2

PNP Allocations

(principal applicants)

  2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
British Columbia 3,000 3,500 3,500 3,500 3,800 4,150 5,800 5,800 6,000 6,250
Alberta 4,000 5,000 5,000 5,000 5,500 5,500 5,500 5,500 5,500 5,600
Saskatchewan 3,400 4,000 4,000 4,000 4,450 4,725 5,500 5,500 5,600 5,750
Manitoba 4,000 5,000 5,000 5,000 5,000 5,000 5,500 5,500 5,500 5,700
Ontario 1,000 ,1000 1,000 1,000 1,300 2,500 5,200 5,500 6,000 6,600
Nova Scotia 350 500 500 500 600 700 1,350 1,350 1,350 1,350
Newfoundland
and Labrador
225 300 300 300 300 300 1,050 1,050 1,050 1,050
New Brunswick 550 625 625 625 625 625 1,050 1,050 1,050 1,050
Prince Edward Island 350 400 400 400 400 400 850 850 850 850
Yukon 190 190 190 190 190 190 250 250 250 250
Northwest Territories n.a 150 150 150 150 150 250 250 250 250
Total 17,065 20,665 20,665 20,665 22,315 24,240 32,300 32,600 33,400 34,700

Sources: Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada; The Conference Board of Canada.

Table 3

Provincial Nominee Arrivals

(principal applicants and dependants, percentage of province’s total economic class arrivals)

Province 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
Newfoundland
and Labrador
0 0 23 19 26 50 38 32 28 34 55 52 69 72 79 74 78 69 63
Prince Edward Island 0 0 0 40 63 76 87 93 96 95 96 97 97 93 93 95 95 98 94
Nova Scotia 0 0 1 0 0 6 27 49 50 47 50 38 55 59 71 72 56 77 83
New Brunswick 0 6 19 30 46 45 67 81 79 76 78 78 83 88 87 89 87 93 90
Ontario 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 1 2 2 2 3 4 5 5 6 9 13
Manitoba 22 43 42 57 67 81 81 90 92 92 93 92 94 94 92 95 91 93 94
Saskatchewan 2 5 6 11 26 36 46 61 78 83 91 86 91 93 93 89 86 90 90
Alberta 0 0 0 0 2 5 5 9 15 23 32 33 43 42 40 38 31 28 32
British Columbia 0 0 0 1 2 3 3 7 11 13 18 16 20 27 36 33 31 33 34

Sources: Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada; The Conference Board of Canada.

The PNP has been a tremendous success. Whereas Ontario, Quebec, and B.C. received 90 per cent of all of Canada’s economic class arrivals in 1999, this share has fallen to 62 per cent in 2017. (See Chart 1.) This shows the PNP is meeting its intended goal: to spread immigration’s benefits across Canada.

Chart 1

Economic class arrivals

(principal applicants and dependants)

immigrationch1 1 99 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 1 0 1 1 1 2 1 3 1 4 1 5 1 6 1 7 0 1 0 , 00 0 2 0 , 00 0 3 0 , 00 0 4 0 , 00 0 5 0 , 00 0 6 0 , 00 0 7 0 , 00 0 8 0 , 00 0 9 0 , 00 0 1 0 0 , 00 0 N e w f ou n d l a n d a n d L a b r a do r P r i n c e E d w a r d I s l a n d N o v a S c o t i a N e w B r u n s w i c k Q u e b e c O n t a r i o M a n i t o b a S a s k a t c h e w a n A l b e r t a B r i t i s h C o l u m b i a

* Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island admitted 237 economic immigrants combined in 1999.
Sources: Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada; The Conference Board of Canada.

How the Provinces Rank Against Each Other

While Ontario easily welcomes the most immigrants in Canada—nearly 40 per cent of all newcomers—it lags when we assess immigration as a share of each province’s population. Nationally, Canada’s annual newcomer intake is about 0.8 per cent of the population, and this is set to rise to about 0.9 per cent under the federal government’s 2019–21 Immigration Levels Plan. (See Chart 2.)

P.E.I. leads Canada in terms of its newcomer intake as a share of its population. In 2017, it welcomed 1.64 per cent of its population in newcomers. (See Table 4.) Saskatchewan ranked second (1.34 per cent), followed by Manitoba (1.15 per cent) and Alberta (1.15 per cent). Using this metric, Ontario falls to fifth among the provinces (0.83 per cent).

Table 4

Immigration as a Share of Population

  Newcomers (2017) Population (2016) Percentage of population
Prince Edward Island 2,349 14,2907 1.64
Saskatchewan 14,679 1,098,352 1.34
Manitoba 14,695 1,278,365 1.15
Alberta 42,098 4,067,175 1.04
Ontario 111,923 13,448,494 0.83
British Columbia 38,447 4,648,055 0.83
Quebec 52,388 8,164,361 0.64
Nova Scotia 4,513 923,598 0.49
New Brunswick 3,649 747,101 0.49
Newfoundland and Labrador 1,174 519,716 0.23
Canada 286,482 35,151,728 0.81

Sources: Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada; Statistics Canada; The Conference Board of Canada.

There are numerous implications from these findings, including the following:

  • P.E.I.’s intake is impressive, but the province has had retention challenges due to its small population. Nonetheless, immigration is enabling P.E.I.’s population and economic growth to outpace the national average.
  • One can argue that Saskatchewan and Manitoba have been the two biggest beneficiaries of the PNP. They are enjoying high levels of attraction under the PNP, as well as retention.
  • While Ontario and B.C. have seen their national share of immigration decline, their intake is in line with the national per capita average.
  • Quebec, on the other hand, significantly lags the national per capita average even though it welcomes the second most immigrants among all jurisdictions—its absolute and per capita intakes look poised to decline under its new immigration plan.

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