Tuesday, October 13, 2009

On Prince Edward Island's recent migration-driven population growth

I was surprised by this Globe and Mail article about my native province of Prince Edward Island, located in eastern Canada near the Atlantic. Apparently the Island has become something of a hotspot for international immigration.

An aggressive marketing strategy – focused on selling a lifestyle over poster-perfect vistas – along with investment and settlement help for newcomers may be paying off for PEI: Recent numbers from Statistics Canada show the province reporting one of its largest population spikes in more than 20 years, mostly because of immigrants choosing island life for a fresh start. Although statistics bounce up and down, in the second quarter of 2009, the population growth of PEI was second among provinces only to Alberta and well ahead of the rest of the Maritimes, continuing a trend that started in January.

It was the slower, safer lifestyle that won over Cherry (Cuiling) Xie, a 47-year-old clothing-factory owner from Shenzhen, China, who arrived in Canada in May, along with her husband and 17-year-old son. She now lives in her “dream house” in Stratford, a small town next door to Charlottetown, with a backyard that slopes to the river. Her son has settled into school – soaring to the top of his class in math – and she is studying English at Holland College, courtesy of the province. Her list of the island's pros: cheap housing, lobster dinners and no traffic jams.

“In Shenzhen, it would always take an hour to travel by car somewhere 10 minutes away,” she says.

Her classmate, Min Jiant, an engineer from Beijing who also came with her 17-year-old son (her husband is still working in China), offers the same sentiment. “We wanted to change our lifestyle. We wanted to find a place that was peaceful.”

More than a year after arriving, she says PEI, where her son no longer crams for school until midnight and a friendly neighbour shovels her driveway in the winter, has lived up to its marketing.

The overall numbers are small--just over 700 people, as this commenter at the corresponding article in the Charlottetown Guardian notes--but it differentiates the province from the other three provinces of Atlantic Canada, all of which have seen population declines of various degrees. This document makes the point that, between 1 July 2007 and 1 July 2008 the Island's population grew by some 1.23%, the highest rate of any Canadian province other than Alberta. The promotion of Prince Edward Island as a place with a more relaxed, hence superior, lifestyle that I
blogged back in December 2007 seems to be working. Certainly the web presence helps direct the curious towards a province with a relatively aggressive immigration policy.

This migration can't necessarily be considered a net plus to the province. Firstly, as a commenter at the Guardian article notes, this doesn't count as a rejuvenating replacement migration.

Let's get something straight here:

The majority of people moving TO this province are retirees - former Islanders returning home after a big career in Ontario or the U.S.

A small minority are immigrants, who, once they come here, use PEI as a stepping stone to move to a larger centre in Canada which has more economic opportunities (and possibly other cultural communities similar to wherever they came from).

PEI is forecast to decrease its school enrollment by 40% (that's PERCENT) by 2015-2020. You think the school closures this spring were painful? Can't wait to see the whining in 5 years time.

Schools, hospitals, public services - everything is going to be forced to retract.

And at the same time, we're going to be stuck with an ever-increasing number of elderly pensioners requiring more complex health care in a tiny province with a declining tax base.

Secondly, as one of Canada's poorest provinces there isn't necessarily much to keep international migrants from moving to larger centres.

provincial officials are realistic about the province's challenges – long walks on the beach and quick cross-town errands won't offset a past-due mortgage payment. Says Allan Campbell, the Minister of Innovation and Advanced Learning, whose portfolio includes immigration: “PEI is a very attractive option for people. But at the end of the day we all have to eat and pay our bills.”

And that means competing with Montreal and Vancouver – not an easy feat for a province with a capital city of 35,000 people. For Jim Ferguson, executive director with the recently created Population Secretariat, whose mandate is boosting PEI's population by 1.5 per cent a year, that means ensuring that newcomers remain long-term islanders. “Our job is to make sure they don't get off the plane [in Toronto].”

For as much as Ms. Xie and Ms. Jiant gush about the province, they are also realistic. When their English gets stronger, they want good jobs – Ms. Xie already explored opening a clothing store in Charlottetown and found the market too small. Soon, their sons will be off to university – they might want to follow them. But for now, Ms. Jiant brightly concludes: “So far, so good.”


This migr


Anonymous said...

PEI will soon reap the so called "benefits" of Indian and Chinese immigration. No matter where you live in the world, the curse of immigration, especially from India is a reality. Sure, one or two of the earlier immigrants seem to have strong educational backgrounds. But their families, their offspring? Not long before you are swamped with an alien culture that doesnt try to fit into the Canadian model. Curry houses, driving taxis and owning gas stations doesnt make them a welcome addition. Europe, the Middle East, parts of the USA regret the day the first one came in and certainly regret their generous family re unification programs. Keep them out or PEI, which is a small place is doomed.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anonymous. I live in the UK and we are swamped with Indians. Despite the rhetoric, they certainly do not seem educated or willing to work. Most are on welfare. Our recent elections are showing up voter fraud in their communities and they made a pigs breakfast of the recent Commonwealth games. If you think for one moment that the future is bright letting them into PEI, you will regret this and in future your children will wonder what the heck you did.

Anonymous said...

thanks for share.