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Ontario must encourage immigration outside the Greater Toronto Area, new study says

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Ontario must identify new ways of ensuring more immigrants settle outside the Greater Toronto Area in order to guarantee more balanced population growth across the province and maintain a “high quality of life” for all its residents in the coming years, a new Conference Board of Canada study shows.

The Greater Toronto Area, or GTA, currently welcomes 77 per cent of new immigrants to Ontario, which translated to 106,000 newcomers to the GTA in 2018.

The remaining 23 per cent of newcomers to the province settle in other areas of the province, with 15 census metropolitan areas (CMAs) outside the GTA taking in 20.5 per cent.

With a population of more than 6.4 million people — 46 per cent of whom are immigrants — the GTA is Canada’s most populous and multicultural metropolitan area. It encompasses the city of Toronto and 25 other municipalities and is considered Canada’s business and financial capital, producing nearly 20 per cent of Canada’s GDP.

This reality, the study says, “puts the rest of [Ontario’s] CMAs at a disadvantage in attracting immigrants,” who typically seek settlement destinations with reliable job opportunities and “community and family ties.”

This disparity will have important economic consequences for Ontario’s other CMAs if they fail to draw a greater share of immigrants in the coming years and grow their labour force, which the Conference Board says is key to spurring economic growth and “crucial to maintaining a high quality of life for [Ontario’s] residents.”

“If they do not attract more immigrants, Ontario’s CMAs will see their potential economic output slow, and face the possibility of fiscal resources being directed away from them to fund the increasing demand for infrastructure and services in the GTA,” the report reads.

Create a Regional Immigration Strategy

While noting steps taken by Ontario’s municipal and provincial governments to regionalize immigration and the federal government’s new Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot, the Conference Board study says such efforts could be assisted by the creation of an Ontario Regional Immigration Strategy.

The purpose of the strategy would be to encompass “a shared vision for the future, including short-, medium-, and long-term regionalization targets, regional economic priorities, performance measures to track progress, and an operational plan featuring the roles and responsibilities of each party in achieving the targets.”

Parties to the strategy would include Ontario’s Municipal Immigration Committee, government representatives and stakeholders such as business, workforce development groups, immigrant-serving organizations, universities and colleges, among others.

The Conference Board study provides the example of a medium-term target that would see the share of newcomers settling outside the GTA increase to 35 per cent by 2030.

Refine the OINP

The Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program (OINP) could also be used “to help steer more immigrants to CMAs beyond the GTA,” the study says.

The OINP allows Ontario to nominate a set number of economic class principal applicants who meet its labour market and economic development priorities for Canadian permanent residence each year.

The Conference Board said the OINP could establish an annual regional allocation target for areas of the province that have had difficulties recruiting immigrants, such as northeast and northwest Ontario, and refine the eligibility requirements for certain immigration streams to reflect local economic conditions.

The study also calls for the creation of a new Community and Family Support Stream under the OINP.

The Conference Board says examples of similar streams, such as Nova Scotia’s Community-Identified Stream, suggest they support regionalization by channelling immigrants to CMAs where they have existing community or family ties.

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