It is a question that has vexed Manitoba for years: How do we reverse the situation where more people move out of Manitoba for other parts of Canada than move in?
It’s a question that comes up practically every year when the interprovincial migration numbers come out. According to the Manitoba Bureau of Statistics, Manitoba has lost more people than it gained from interprovincial migration in 39 of the past 41 years.
The only exception was in 1982-84, when Manitoba and Saskatchewan were the least severely impacted provinces in a deep recession that saw unemployment soar past 10 percent simultaneously in all eight other provinces.
The latest figures from the Bureau show that 2012-13 is not likely to be much different, with the 6,994 who moved into the province from other parts of Canada in the first half of 2012 being offset by the 9,125 who moved out — a net loss of 2,131.
It would be wrong to portray this as a stampede for the exit: the net loss represents less than one-fifth of one percent of the province’s 2011 population, and is more than offset by arriving immigrants.
It’s also a far cry from the worst years — 1978-80 — when the province was not just losing an average of 235 people per week to other provinces, but actually depopulating.
Nevertheless, the annual news stories about Manitobans leaving for other provinces do serve a useful purpose by offering an opportunity to think about what makes a province or a city an interesting place to move to.
In 2011, this blog identified several factors that appear to pull people toward some cities and repel them from others:
- Jobs: Cities with a good job market — low unemployment rates and large business, financial, construction and scientific sectors — tend to be more attractive to domestic migrants. Manufacturing towns tend to be distinctly unattractive.
- Location and Climate: Cities closer to the coasts tend to be more attractive than inland cities, perhaps due to a milder climate and a more scenic setting
- Lifestyle: Cities where larger percentages of commuters walk or ride a bike to work appear to be more attractive than car-dependent cities, all other things being equal. Cities with high self-reported stress levels are more likely to lose people to other provinces than lower-stress cities.
There is also the U.S. Census Bureau’s research, showing that family reasons was the second most important reason, after employment, for Americans moving across state lines in 2010-11. This is likely a factor in Canada as well, both being vast countries with major centres spaced hundreds of miles apart.
More importantly, those most likely to take up the challenge of moving to a new province are not representative of the population as a whole. In 2004, Ross Finnie of Queen’s University looked at 13 years of data on people who moved between provinces between 1982 and 1995, and noticed some patterns.
- The smaller a province’s population, the more likely people were to move to another one, likely due to the size of the local labour market.
- Younger adults are the most likely to move, as age, marriage and children in due course become strong incentives to stay put.
- Unemployment and reliance on social assistance are also strong incentives to move.
- Small-town and rural Canadians are less likely to move to another province than city-dwellers are.
So far, this gives us a good idea of what prompts people to look elsewhere. The pull is strongest when they need to find work and they have the freedom to move without having to worry about spouses, children or parents.
The pull is particularly strong in smaller provinces, where opportunities are more limited. If possible, they would prefer to go to a place that offers a more pleasant lifestyle and climate.
Now, what can be done to give Manitoba the greater pull it needs to turn those net losses in the annual interprovincial migration figures into net gains?
There’s not much we can do about the climate. Climate just isn’t a strong selling point anywhere where the average daily high over the course of the year is a cool 8 °C (46 °F) and the average daily low is a chilly -3 °C (27 °F).
Nor is there much we can do about family reasons for moving.
But governments can help job creation as best they can, by providing a well-educated population, honest, open and transparent government, supportive tax policies, and by cultivating political stability by being predictable and by consulting as widely as possible on major policy changes before putting them into law.
In fact, the job picture works in Manitoba’s favour right now, with the province’s five percent unemployment rate in September 2012 being the country’s third-lowest after Alberta (4.4%) and Saskatchewan (4.7%), and well below the 7.4 percent national average.
But what about lifestyle?
Some aspects of the Manitoba lifestyle have been much-touted, such as Winnipeg’s proximity to “cottage country” and the province’s less-hurried way of life. But these don’t seem to match up well with what many non-Manitobans are looking for.
No doubt, it would be interesting to do a focus group with people who have moved to or from Manitoba to get a better sense of what draws them across provincial lines — but that would be well beyond this blog’s budget.
So let’s enlist some help from a site called SperlingViews.
There are hundreds of sites on the web that allow people to write reviews of their favourite restaurants, travel destinations, movies or businesses. SperlingViews allows people to write reviews of the cities they live in.
Regrettably, SperlingViews only covers the United States, and thus has no reviews from this side of the border. Yet, we can get a rough idea of what people might say about Winnipeg if they had the chance by looking at the reviews written about Des Moines, Ia. and Omaha, Nebr., both within 1,000 kilometres (621 miles) of Winnipeg, and similar to Winnipeg in size.
For this exercise, I specifically sought out those reviews that appeared to be written by those who had also experienced living in another city and were thus more likely to see things from an outsider’s perspective.
Comments have been cleaned up a bit for readability.
- I used to live in Park Slope in Brooklyn, have been in DSM since 2003 now and I love it here. I pay in mortgage and for a 2011 vehicle what I paid there in rent for a studio appt.
- I know that the price of homes is very affordable in comparison to other major cities. Also, the cost of living is good.
- The cost of living is relatively low compared to many other cities.
- I have a short commute to work.
- Unlike a bigger city you can get from one side of the city to the other in no more than 20-30 minutes.
Easygoing, Family-Friendly Way of Life
- Iowa may not be the most exciting place to live, but it’s easy to live here.
- You can be happy here — but remember that the overall pace of life is more laid-back, less frantic, and more traditional.
- [J]ust big enough to have most of everything you would want, and small enough to still maintain that sense of community.
- [P]eople are more genuine and honest
- I love to travel and experience many different places, but as far as raising a family and settling down, I want to be in the Midwest.
- There is a lot to be said for the pace of life there. It may be more family oriented… I’d rather my kids had been reared there.
- It’s pretty peaceful and quiet here.
- People here are so nice and the pace is relaxed and you just don’t see the stress that you find in most cities.
Limited Cultural and Nightlife Scene
- Having lived in multiple Major cities in North America (Canada and the U.S.A.) I’d rank Des Moines as a 2, no more than 3 for Culture, Arts, Theatre, Events and Night Life. However it is trying to improve.
- This city appeals more for family oriented people. Not too much for singles, but most people are nice.
- For young, unmarried people, there is not much to do. This is a great place to raise a family, but not so good for younger people.
- If you are single and want 365-day access to every “single-friendly” event possible, then Des Moines won’t work.
- There is not as much for a single person to do, I agree, except socialize/party.
- The zoo is nice, the Old Market can be fun, and they have a few events like the College World Series, concerts, and theatre shows every now and then. Outside of those things, not much else.
- Occasional good concert comes through town now and again not a whole lot else going on.
- [W]e are too young in spirit to go quietly into the night of typical Midwestern pastimes such as scrap-booking, watching sports, eating, etc.
- It’s not a terrible place by any means, but there’s just not enough to do.
- [E]veryone loves eating and watching the boob tube to pass the time. Obesity is a rampant problem here.
Getting Around Town
- Public Transportation is a JOKE, the majority of the bus routes shut down after 7:30 AM, return for approx 2 hours in the evening, and then you are on your own.
- A poor bus system, tons of gridlock on the side streets, too few expressways, pot holes, pot holes pot holes!
- Drivers often view pedestrians and cyclists as a nuisance and often cruelly display their displeasure by blaring on horns inappropriately, cutting you very close as they drive by, etc.
- Living in temperatures below 0C (32F) can be very frustrating. Des Moines is a nice city, but I’m planning to move back to Florida. Too cold.
- My only personal dislike is the humidity of the hot summer months…
- The climate is horrible and inconsistent. One day it could be 85 and 90% humidity and the next 65, no humidity. The winters are harsh with terrible winds and a lot of snow.
- The summers are unbearable and the winters are unbearable.
- [W]e have a temperature fluctuation of 150 degrees [Fahrenheit] throughout the year.
- The bugs are terrible here too (hornets the size of your thumb, tons of wasps and creepy spiders too), and prepare to be eaten alive by mosquitos and gnats.
- The weather is unpredictable.
- Cold in the winter, hot and humid in the summer.
Limited Career Options
- A few industries dominate this town. (It is not Los Angeles with EVERY kind of industry.)
- Job opportunities are limited to only a few industries and are not well paying positions.
- Sure 5% unemployment sounds good, but the jobs don’t pay enough to make a decent living on.
- Very hard to meet people as many people are insular and very close with their cliques from high school.
- It is really, really difficult to make friends here. Most people really keep to themselves and are wrapped up in their own home lives and the groups that they’ve been with since they were born pretty much.
- People here tend to ascribe to a “herd mentality” and would not think of bucking convention.
- The town is catered to about 30 people that are millionaires and are able to use the things like Qwest Center, the pork-spending bridge, the unnecessary baseball stadium or one of the other frivolous things that gets built here.
Though these comments originate from the U.S., could they just as easily apply to Winnipeg? Many would say so.
As with climate and family issues, many of these factors are difficult to fix through public policy. Some things, like the climate, we can really do nothing about.
But if we seriously want to see more people move into Manitoba than move out to other provinces, we do have to pay attention to lifestyle issues in the province’s largest city. This includes:
- Building a better nightlife scene.Winnipeg lacks a default, year-round place to go to see and be seen, aside from The Forks during operating hours. We are pretty much a town where dinner is served at 6 p.m. and bedtime is at a sensibly early 10:30 or 11 p.m. Progress is likely to be made through the development of the Sports, Hospitality and Entertainment District (SHED), but how much progress is yet to be seen.
- Continuing to work to make Winnipeg the kind of place where those who want to can get some exercise as part of their daily commute or going about their daily errands. In fact, the first thing you notice upon returning from a city where walking or cycling is a key feature of daily life is how devoid of life most of Winnipeg’s neighbourhoods are. The Winnipeg lifestyle is not necessarily conducive to keeping healthy. (And, yes, crime reduction also has to be a part of this. Fear of crime does keep people off the streets.)
- Reducing the level of insularity. This requires a culture change that extends beyond what public policy can allow for. As discussed before on this blog, and reinforced by comments seen and heard elsewhere, the province’s “Friendly Manitoba” moniker tends to obscure the fact that Winnipeg is not the easiest place for outsiders to fit in — Winnipeg is more “nice” than “friendly”, and this is a big small town where middle-aged people still hang out with their high school friends, limiting social opportunities for newcomers. Perhaps the influx of immigrants in recent years will force change through a composition effect, but perhaps Winnipeggers also need to pay more attention to how the city looks and feels through a newcomer’s eyes.
If we can do some self-improvement in these areas, emphasize the city’s positives such as its low cost of living, short commutes and easygoing Midwesterness, and stay competitive in job creation, then perhaps there is hope of someday turning the population losses to other provinces into handsome gains.
Audience Participation Time: Make up your own list of Winnipeg’s or even your own home town pros and cons in the comments section. After all, if no one speaks up, people will tend to assume that everything is just fine.