Although many rural communities in Canada are experiencing population declines or stagnation, one Manitoba community has found a way to use immigration to help increase its workforce and keep the town flourishing.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney launched two new programs in February to help draw new Canadians into rural towns that were diminishing owing to the province’s urbanization trend. For years, the municipality of Morden, Man., has used immigration to support its population and economy, and Kenney said the programs being implemented in Alberta were informed by the success witnessed a few provinces away.
“There has been a huge success. … Morden, Manitoba, has doubled their population over the last decade through smart use of the provincial immigration … program,” Kenney said.
“They actively promoted immigrants to settle there, and it’s really revitalized towns like that.”
Morden Mayor Brandon Burley said the program, now known as the Morden Community Driven Immigration Initiative, began initially roughly ten years ago when the town of 9,929 people struggled to fill positions. Initially, the area was looking for highly qualified workers such as accountants, doctors, and dentists, but they soon discovered that they also required tradesmen and other people with specific talents.
The town therefore resorted to the provincial immigration program to assist in the integration of newcomers. The initiative ran quietly for around seven years, but Burley says the municipality has made it more public in the last three years to help tell the story of Morden’s success.
“Over the last few years, [it has] been a cog of our economic wheel, rather than just a spoke,” Burley said.
Burley said the municipality fostered so much business activity in the community that more children who grew up there were able to stay or move home because of the job prospects as the town welcomed more new Canadians. He believes that the program has attracted more than 1,000 people to Morden since its inception, with members hailing from more than 90 countries.
According to the mayor, the municipality is the most varied in the country per capita. Morden was the fourth fastest-growing community in the province, according to the most current census data issued by Statistics Canada in February, with a 14.5 percent rise from 2016. The population of the municipality increased from 8,668 to 9,929 persons, according to the mayor, and the immigration program had a significant role in that rise.
Several rural communities in Canada have seen a reversal of this tendency. In Alberta, the fastest expanding villages are those surrounding major cities, such as Beaumont, Airdrie, and Cochrane, whereas rural communities are declining. Populations in Athabasca County, Lac la Biche County, Brazeau County, and Barrhead County shrank drastically, ranging from 11.6 percent to 6.5 percent.
Burley said that harnessing immigration to assist boost the economy is a viable way to combat the tendency of decreasing rural communities. Burley explained that in order for the program to succeed, the town listens to local companies to find out what jobs they are having difficulty filling.
The town then reviews a list of resumes from thousands of people who wish to come to Canada and chooses someone to fill the vacancy. The town contacts the candidate, who then pays a five-day exploratory visit to the town. The individual then meets with the Manitoba immigration program, returns to his or her home country, and waits for permanent status. They don’t necessarily come to the town to fill the precise position that prompted the search.
“That’s kind of the peculiarity of our program. They’re not coming over with a job offer in hand all the time,” Burley said, adding the community always has more jobs and nearly every company in town is hiring.
Currently, recruiting for the town isn’t tough because Morden has a strong reputation for being a welcoming place to newcomers. Because the town has been so popular, many people who want to move to Morden already have friends or family in the area who tell them it’s a reasonably quick procedure, and many choose to directly apply with the town instead of through a third-party immigration firm.
Burley believes the municipality does an excellent job of keeping new Canadians in the community after they come. According to him, the entire community has embraced the status of being a town of newcomers. The program has received top-down endorsement and has been the focus of the local council’s emphasis in order to help Morden attract and retain immigrants.
The town hosts events and initiatives for newcomers, such as gaming nights for new Canadians. The town also has a multicultural winter festival, where individuals from all countries gather to share their food and traditions with the community. The mayor is personally invested in the immigration scheme. He travels to Winnipeg once a month to meet and greet a group of curious guests. When people arrive and settle in Morden, the mayor believes it is critical to pay close attention to how they settle in and ensure they are contributing to the community.
The town provides settlement services and transitional housing to alleviate some of the stress associated with the first few months in a new country. Burley believes it is critical to listen to and tailor the program to their requirements because they have made a significant life investment to be a part of the community.
Although the initiative has been extremely effective in Morden, Burley believes it may not be the best fit for every municipality. Kenney and the new immigration streams might generate similar effects as a municipality in Alberta has used immigration to help support its population. Brooks Mayor John Petrie stated that the community’s meat-packing facility has been a driving force in attracting immigrants and that Brooks now has at least 30% new Canadians.
When the facility developed, it triggered a flood of immigration into Brooks, according to Petrie, and the community worked hard to welcome the new Canadians. The meat-packing factory, which has changed hands several times, brought in the new Canadians, and the owners would go throughout Canada to search for jobs that needed to be filled. Petrie said the town collaborated with the factory to bring in Canadians and temporary foreign workers to fill the vacancies.
However, the communities surrounding Brooks and throughout southern Alberta experienced population declines or instability. Medicine Hat, a city of 65,000 people approximately an hour distant, has grown by 11 persons in the last four years.
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