The conversation about ‘retention’ – whether referring to immigrants or those born in Canada – is virtually the first thing that comes up when trying to have a conversation about efforts to expand the number of people in the New Brunswick labour market. Why do we need immigrants? We should just keep people already here from moving.
The reality is that labour mobility is as Canadiana as Tim Horton’s and Don Cherry. We have a country where it is relatively easy to be mobile. Some economists have said that the migration of people within Canada is one of its strengths and, in fact, some economists have advocated for public policies to incentivize even higher rates of interprovincial mobility.
Sparsely populated places like New Brunswick with small urban centres are even more susceptible to this issue. Lots of young people want to see the world. Lots do not want to work the jobs on offer in New Brunswick.
We need to stop wringing hands over this. Look at the data for Toronto. The orange bar shows the net intraprovincial migration numbers for the Toronto CMA (that is the city and all the surrounding municipalities such as Brampton, Vaughan and Mississauga). Every year it is negative – more people move out than in (interprovincially) by the tens of thousands. Is there widespread hand wringing in Toronto? No. Look at the immigration numbers. For every one lost through intraprovincial migration they get three back from immigration.
That should be our focus too. For every one out the door to migration, we need to bring in 2-3.
This doesn’t mean that retention doesn’t matter. It matters a great deal and communities and governments should do a lot to encourage people to stay – but too much obsession with retention leads to fewer immigrants, fewer international students, and distorted incentives to stay in New Brunswick.
That is not the solution.