Good morning, everyone. My name is Michael Haan, and I'm the Canada research chair in migration and ethnic relations at Western University.
My primary research interests are in the areas of immigrant recruitment, retention, and internal migration. I'm particularly interested in studying how research and policy can be used to effect changes in these domains, and I thank you for inviting me here today.
Coming to you today from London, Ontario, I may seem like an outsider to Atlantic Canada, but before I was at Western, I worked at the University of New Brunswick as the Canada research chair in population and social policy. I have worked with all four provincial governments in Atlantic Canada to increase success levels in terms of immigrant recruitment and retention, as have Howard and Yoko.
In preparation for today, I watched a lot of the footage from this committee—not all 77 sessions, but many of them. I'd like to put a finer point on one of the comments made on May 29 by the honourable David Tilson, who is not here today. He recalled high rates of out-migration from when he was studying at the University of New Brunswick, and I agree with him, but please allow me to provide you with a little bit more detail.
In 1951, Atlantic Canada was the heart of the Canadian baby boom, with each province posting fertility rates that ranged from between 4.8 and 5.1 children for every woman aged 15 to 64. Provincial governments at the time were fretting about how they would accommodate such huge population growth. Now, roughly 65 years later, the region occupies the bottom four spots, with fertility rates that range between 1.34 and 1.48 children per woman. Discussions today tend to centre on how the region will cope with population implosion rather than explosion.
Several things happened. What was most notable, however, was that in the 1960s and 1970s, nearly half of that earlier baby boom left the region—half. Forgive the morbid analogies, but that is a greater proportion than died in either World War, and it's approximately on par with the number of people who died from the black plague in the 1300s in Europe.
Most of the people who left Atlantic Canada headed west to capitalize on opportunities in the rest of the country, and capitalize they did. Citing statistics for only New Brunswick, I have found that those who left the province were twice as quick to own a business, three times as likely to have a university degree, and four times as likely to earn more than $100,000 per year than those who stayed. I have no reason to suspect huge differences across Atlantic Canadian provinces. Where did these out-migrants build their successes? I think it was in many of the communities that you and I live in. Although some went back to the Atlantic, most didn't. They built their fortunes in the rest of Canada and they built fortunes for the rest of Canada.
Profound demographic change has, as Mr. Tilson noted, been the norm in Atlantic Canada. Does that then mean that this will always be the case or that we should give up on trying to change the region? I would argue that we should be rooting for Atlantic Canada, because it was the hard work of Atlantic Canadians that helped make the country as prosperous and dynamic as it is today. It just didn't happen in their province of birth as often as it needed to for that region to prosper.
The Atlantic immigration pilot is radical. There is no doubt about it. It removes requirements that continue to apply to the rest of the country. I would say that the question of whether the region should receive special treatment or not is probably misplaced. Instead, we should be asking whether the program is likely to work and whether or not Atlantic Canada should get the first crack at this type of immigration reform. I think, when you consider the demographic duty that the region has done for the country as a whole, it's the least we can do.
Also, aside from the provincial nominee program and parts of the express entry program, this is one of the first major initiatives that allows local labour markets to fill their own shortages. It used to be predominantly the federal government that made the choices about who entered the country, and by and large, they did a good job, but arguably, centralized programs did not necessarily take smaller, shallower labour markets into account as much they could have.
Much like the Atlantic immigration pilot is radical, there are other radical thoughts and experiments that might be worth considering. Please note that, to my knowledge, none of these is currently being contemplated.
First, current taxation rules dictate that individuals must pay taxes in the province in which they reside on December 31st of the taxation year. What this does is encourage people to move from high-tax provinces like those of Atlantic Canada to low-tax provinces like those in western Canada.
There's another way to think about taxation: to allow people to pay the marginal tax rate of the province where they perform the majority of their work. If, for most of the year, an individual flies to Alberta for a 21-day shift, then heads back to Cape Breton, couldn't they pay Alberta income tax rates in Nova Scotia?
True, the Nova Scotia government wouldn't get quite as much money as they would under their own tax regime, but it's a lot more money than the zero they'd get when the individual decides to go to a lower tax area.
Second, perhaps we need to think about retention more broadly. I understand that the pilot is focused on keeping newcomers in Atlantic Canada, but let's suppose that it doesn't work very well and that some people move elsewhere after a few years. Is this necessarily such a bad thing? As someone who has lived all over Canada, I can say with certainty that they'd be starting out in one of the kindest, most welcoming regions in Canada and that this would position them well if they chose to go elsewhere. That may increase national retention rates, even if it doesn't necessarily affect the provincial or regional rate.
If, conversely, the pilot works perfectly and does exactly what it's supposed to, then great. Package up the best pieces and use them in other parts of the country that are struggling with population decline. Neither of these outcomes seems negative to me.
The key to the success of the pilot, in my opinion, is that administrators espouse a “what works” strategy as much as possible. If the removal of work experience does not increase retention, for example, abolish or tweak those provisions. If students don't stay in the region after graduation, then reconsider including them as part of the pilot. We have the data and we can test these things.
Central to this is having an evaluative framework that is both nimble and non-partisan. The United Nations expects us to reach global peak population by about 2025. What this means is that the surplus of people from other countries will come to an end. That is only eight years from now. After that, expect the recruitment and retention of immigrants to become far more competitive on a global basis. The time to get it right is now, and I think we should be running at least one experiment like the Atlantic pilot at all times.