Immigrants bring culture change for the better

To say that immigration is important to Manitoba’s population growth is almost an understatement. Of the 21,170 people who moved into Manitoba during the 12 months leading up to the 2006 Census, 46 percent were from abroad — giving us the fourth-highest dependence on immigration as a source of newcomers after Ontario (70%), Quebec (68%) and B.C. (52%).

While it might not be a hot destination in the minds of other Canadians, with Manitoba ranking only 11th out of 13 provinces and territories in the 2006 Census in terms of incoming domestic migrants per capita, for many international newcomers a move to Manitoba can be the first step to a better life.

For immigrants from Colombia and Mexico, it means an escape from the violence that plagues those countries, in comparison to which life in the North End might seem like a walk in the park. Even for immigrants from more prosperous England, where the average price of a flat (i.e., condo) in Greater London was a stunning £351,655 ($558,400 Cdn.) in mid-2010, a move to Manitoba could mean the opportunity to own a spacious home with a yard — a £827,477 ($1.3 million Cdn.) luxury beyond the reach of the London middle class.

The drive to attract immigrants to Manitoba might appear on the surface to be part of an effort to ease the effect of upcoming “baby boomer” retirements that, if left unchecked, could play havoc with the province’s finances by simultaneously slashing income tax revenues at a time when health and social service costs are rising.

But a desirable side effect could be to change the province’s culture for the better.

Manitoba has long struggled with the lack of an “education culture”. In the 2006 Census, only 56 percent of Manitoba’s 25-34 year olds had any form of post-secondary education, ranking us 12th out of the 13 provinces and territories, with only Nunavut having fewer well-educated young people per capita.

In terms of high school dropouts, Manitoba’s 16 percent of 25-34 year olds without a high school diploma ranked us #3 after the Northwest Territories (22%) and Nunavut (46%).

Needless to say, the economic effects were not good. Even though 2003 statistics showed that Ontarians on average worked just 1.6 percent more hours per job than Manitobans, and even Albertans only worked 5.3 percent more hours than their Manitoba counterparts, output per hour worked in Manitoba was the third-lowest in the country, ahead of New Brunswick and P.E.I.

Likewise, per capita spending on research and development — a strong driver of economic growth, but reliant on a well-educated population — had us in 8th place among the 10 provinces in 2008, again just ahead of P.E.I. and New Brunswick.

Manitoba’s ambitions — I hope we have those ambitions — to play a more meaningful role in the Canadian economy than merely as an exporter of talent to Alberta, Ontario and B.C. requires us to develop a culture of education.

A continuing influx of immigrants is one of our best hopes of that.

A 2008 Statistics Canada analysis based on their Ethnic Diversity Study found that the 25-to-34 year old children of immigrant parents were significantly more likely to have completed university than the children of Canadian-born parents — 38 percent among the former group, 28 percent among the latter.

Immigrant groups that brought a strong culture of education to our shores included those from China (70% of whose children went on to become university graduates), India (65%), Africa (56%), “other” Asian countries (52%), “other” European countries (45%) and the U.K. (38%).

If there’s one thing Manitoba needs, it is a larger number of parents committed to steering their children toward whichever form of post-secondary education makes best use of their talents.

While it should in no way let Manitoba-born parents off the hook, continuing to welcome large numbers of immigrants to Manitoba — as many as we can reasonably handle — will be necessary to accomplish the culture change we need to not just survive, but thrive.

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About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

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