“Why do so few stay?”: Explaining and addressing the lack of immigrant retention in Atlantic Canada

By Ainslie Pierrynowski (AIMS on Campus Student Fellow)

Earlier on this blog, AIMS on-campus fellow James O’Keefe-Daw delved into the demographic challenges facing Atlantic Canada. Mr. O’Keefe-Daw has joined other commentators, including a number of AIMS researchers, in drawing attention to the region’s ageing, declining population—and its fiscal consequences. Atlantic Canada’s shrinking labour force impedes the region’s “ability to generate output and income,” according to a 2006 AIMS study. This demographic shift also affects investment and production levels, the number of taxpayers, and the demands put on government services and spending. In light of these difficulties, AIMS as well as multiple scholars, advocates, and policymakers in the region have pushed for increased immigration to mitigate Atlantic Canada’s population decline. Despite growing immigration numbers and the launch of a federal government pilot program designed to attract newcomers to Atlantic Canada, immigrant retention rates remain low, with almost half of those who come to Atlantic Canada leaving after five years. As AIMS President Marco Navarro-Génie suggests, Atlantic Canada faces a Catch-22, in that the region needs more people to purchase products and services, start businesses, and support government services, but Atlantic Canada needs to provide economic incentives so immigrants come to and remain within Atlantic Canada. Therefore, several concrete steps need to be taken to retain immigrants in Atlantic Canada.

In particular, additional support is needed for those who come to Atlantic Canada via private sponsors. Canada’s private sponsorship program for refugees has attracted international praise for its ability to foster support and belonging, by having community members help refugees with matters like housing, language training, and accessing health and education services for a twelve month period. In fact, when the Syrian refugee crisis came on to the scene in Canadian news media in 2014-2015, ordinary people banded together to form private sponsorship groups from Cape Breton to St. John’s and beyond. Yet, come “Month 13”—the point when the sponsorship period ends—refugees can find themselves facing new risks as they strike out on their own. Since most established support organizations for immigrants and refugees tend to be concentrated in urban centres like Halifax, these organizations and local advocates and private sponsors must work to expand their services to more rural and isolated areas. One potential model is Nova Scotia Interpreting Services, which provides language interpretation over the telephone at hospitals, government departments, and other organizations serving the public throughout the Maritime provinces. Likewise, given that Atlantic Canada’s Resettlement Assistance Program communities—which provide services like job-seeking assistance and referrals to local resources—remain limited to a few locations (namely, Halifax, Moncton, Fredericton, St. John, Charlottetown, and St. John’s), the expansion of this program to other, more distant areas could encourage immigration—and retention—throughout the region, instead of being concentrated in a few isolated pockets.

Further, since Atlantic Canada’s economic stagnation may deter immigrants from staying in the area, policies are needed to ensure that newcomers in the region can start businesses, seek jobs, and pursue training and education. One particular issue in this vein involves credential transfers. The experience of Tareq Hadhad, a Syrian medical student who found himself facing substantial difficulties in obtaining recognition for his studies and appropriate training upon arriving in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, attests to this challenge. To set the stage for economic growth and development—and to prevent more prosperous areas from drawing immigrants away from Atlantic Canada—policymakers, universities, colleges, immigrant services and training centres, and professional accreditation bodies must work together to streamline the credential transfer process. They also need to make sure that immigrants to Atlantic Canada have the opportunity to complete recertification and training courses in a cost-efficient, affordable, and timely manner.

When it comes to Atlantic Canada’s current demographic trends, in the words of former AIMS President and CEO Charles Cirtwill, “the crunch is happening now, and we will continue to lose ground. We have to recognize that this will hurt our economy, our region, our future.” Immigration can help to mitigate the region’s projected population decline—and the resulting economic consequences. Nonetheless, it is clear that in order to not merely attract, but retain immigrants, substantial changes are needed. And given Atlantic Canada’s dire financial situation, these changes cannot come soon enough.

What Canada stands to gain from ‘America First’

by Henry Gray (AIMS on Campus Student Fellow)


A central plank of Donald Trump’s platform from the day he announced his candidacy has been what he euphemistically refers to as his commitment to “fair trade,” by which he means renegotiating free trade agreements like NAFTA so that they are more favourable to American industry.

One of the key requests from the American side of the negotiation table so far has been to ask Canada to open up our protected dairy market. Canada’s dairy industry is regulated by a deeply protectionist scheme known as ‘supply management’ that sets the price of milk (as well as cheese, eggs, chicken, and turkey) based on intended usage, bars most external produce with exceedingly high tariffs, and even decides how much Canadian farmers are allowed to produce. The technical term for such a competition-restricting arrangement is a ‘cartel’.

Now, as part of the ongoing NAFTA negotiations, the United States is asking Canada to wind up the supply management regime within the next 10 years. Canada should acquiesce to this demand. Not only will this allow us to gain concessions from the US elsewhere, but liberalizing our dairy sector will allow Canadians to pay far less for basic nutrition and will also allow Canadian producers to compete in the much bigger global markets. Rather than worrying about American dairy producers coveting the Canadian market, we should turn our attention to other, larger markets, such as the burgeoning Asian market.

Our Antipodean cousins in Australia and New Zealand both formerly operated under the supply management system, and both countries abolished this policy – in 2000 and 2001, respectively. The dairy sector in both countries is flourishing today as a consequence of massive growth in exports to the growing markets that Canada could and should be capitalizing on.

Those who claim that the end of supply management will result in a doomsday scenario don’t have the facts or history on their side. Similar gloomy predictions were pronounced about our wine industry, to take but one example, around the time of the original NAFTA negotiations. The climate and soil of the United States was said to lend American producers an unfair leg-up over Canadian producers. The record shows, however, that Canadian producers, far from finding themselves uncompetitive, take advantage of the opportunities of the free market when they are presented with them. Not only have Canadian producers profited significantly from greater access to markets, but greater competition means that Canadian consumers have gotten to enjoy better and better wine over the years.

Liberalizing our wine industry was a true win-win. The reform of this industry has led to better outcomes for all involved. There is no reason to assume that the same will not hold for our dairy industry. Some may object that our wine industry’s transition to the open market required transition assistance and compensation, and this could very well be appropriate in the case of the dairy industry too. In the long run, however, the gains from the free market have far outweighed the losses. Rather than battening down the hatches in an effort to “protect” our industry, Canada should look for opportunities in the NAFTA renegotiation and confidently embrace the future.


AIMS on Campus is holding the first essay competition of the year. Students are invited to submit an opinion piece, with the top three receiving cash prizes and the opportunity to be published by AIMS! 

Topic: What distribution model should be adopted for legalized cannabis?

Canada_Marijuana_-_THINKSTOCKFirst Place-          $750

Second Place- $500

Third Place- $250   

Maximum length of 750 words

All submissions are due by December 27th, 2017.

*Submissions should be emailed to intern2@aims.ca