Manitobans make tracks Manitoba's cities experience largest mass exodus in decades
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Manitoba’s cities experienced their largest exodus of people to other provinces in at least two decades, according to recently released Statistics Canada data.
Winnipeg faced a net loss of 7,140 people to interprovincial migration between July 1 of 2021 and 2022. For Brandon, the drop was 981 residents; for Thompson, it was 163.
“As a province, we need to look at… what’s the causes,” said Chris Ferris, Economic Development Winnipeg’s senior economist.
Currently, no government tracks why people leave. Ferris plans to “deep dive” into the data over the next months.
“This is the biggest (loss) we’ve seen in some time, but it was lower last year,” Ferris noted. “I think some of it was pent up (demand). People hadn’t moved.”
Winnipeg has consistently seen net losses in interprovincial migration since at least 2002 but 2021-22 was the biggest dip.
It’s a similar story for the province in general. Only once since 1971 has Manitoba welcomed more Canadians incoming than outgoing in 1983-84 with a net gain of 339 people.
Net out-migration from Winnipeg in 2020-21 was 2,166 people, low for the city in recent years.
Brianne Fiebelkorn, 26, traded Winnipeg for Calgary in March of 2020. She followed her fiancé who needed to move there for work.
Alberta provided career advancement for him, Fiebelkorn said.
“I’m not hemming and hawing over my decision,” she added. “It feels like the right choice that I left Manitoba.”
Calgary’s transit is better, and the downtown is more walkable, Fiebelkorn said. She feels safer in the core.
“A really stellar job opportunity” might bring Fiebelkorn back, but she’d also like more Manitoba funding to schools, health care and community centres.
These are things she looks for as a new mother.
“We know that people, by and large, move for economic opportunity,” said Loren Remillard, the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce’s president.
Youth usually move at three points in life — for post-secondary education, for their first career job, and to settle in a career-advancing role and raise a family, according to a 2022 Canada West Foundation study.
“We don’t, as Manitobans, get the full return on investment for someone that graduates with their medicine degree and decides to practice in southern Ontario,” Remillard noted.
He envisions a “co-ordinated, focused economic development strategy” to retain Manitobans. It includes revitalizing the downtown, removing Manitoba’s payroll tax and advertising the province’s advantages, like its centrality and relatively low cost of living.
“It wasn’t about the idea of leaving Winnipeg,” said Rachel Young.
She swapped Winnipeg for Vancouver in 2021. Along for the ride were her partner, her laptop (for remote work) and her childhood dream of living somewhere different.
“I think we were just like, ‘How can we make a change that is within our control?’ when everything felt so out of control,” Young said.
She’d heard “great things” about British Columbia. Living in the province has “gone way beyond expectations,” she added.
There are coffee shops to explore and ocean views to absorb. Still, when it’s time to buy a house, the couple plans to return to Manitoba. Young wants to live near family, and homes are cheaper in the prairies.
“Now that I’ve moved away, if anything, I love Winnipeg even more,” she said. “It has that warmth and that community feeling.”
Many people leave Winnipeg but return mid-career to settle, said Ryan Kuffner, Economic Development Winnipeg’s vice-president of sales and business development.
He believes further economic growth, and more promotion of Manitoba’s qualities, are needed to attract and retain Canadians.
In 2021-22, Manitobans mainly migrated to Alberta (6,863), Ontario (6,316) and British Columbia (5,461). Another 1,690 Manitobans left for Saskatchewan.
Riley Davidson, 30, has lived in Kenora, Ont., Vancouver, Calgary and, most recently, Winnipeg.
“I do like Winnipeg,” Davidson said. “It’s a nice city once you get to know it. It kind of grows on you.”
The former Ontarian moved to Manitoba for university. Of the places he’s lived, Winnipeg might rank dead last for three-week vacation spots, he said.
However, it’s the place he’d choose to settle.
“The people are great, the community’s great… It’s just a real working class town.”
And it’s relatively affordable, he noted.
“We know that people, by and large, move for economic opportunity… We don’t, as Manitobans, get the full return on investment for someone that graduates with their medicine degree and decides to practice in southern Ontario.”–Loren Remillard, Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce president
“I don’t think it matters where you live if you’re too poor to do anything,” Davidson said, adding his time in Vancouver was short.
Canadians have moved out of the country’s largest cities in hordes amid the rising cost of living. Nearly 100,000 Torontonians left between July 1 of 2021 and 2022, according to Statistics Canada data.
About 78 per cent chose to land in other parts of Ontario.
Montreal and Vancouver saw around 35,000 and 14,000 people leave, respectively.
Davidson is pursuing his education degree. He’ll stay in Manitoba if he can find a job, he said.
Manitoba is in a good spot, even with consistent net losses in interprovincial migration, Remillard stated.
“We’re growing the pie,” he said, pointing to immigration numbers.
Winnipeg’s population increased 1.5 per cent between July 1, 2021, and 2022. The rise is due to international migration — a net gain of 19,239 people.
Immigrants sometimes arrive in Manitoba and then transfer to a bigger city like Toronto. Often, they hear about work opportunities elsewhere, said Lori Wilkinson, a University of Manitoba sociology professor who studies immigration.
“The perception that there’s something better somewhere else is kind of human nature,” she said.
The COVID-19 pandemic may have changed people’s reasons for moving, she added.
“Our government recognizes that out-migration is a concern, and we will continue to (monitor) everything that we can to further correct this trend,” a provincial spokesperson wrote in a statement.
“The perception that there’s something better somewhere else is kind of human nature.” – Lori Wilkinson, University of Manitoba sociology professor
Manitoba’s provincial nominee program processed a record number of nominations, and the province has asked Ottawa for more nominations this year, the spokesperson wrote.
“We remain focused on growing the overall number of skilled workers and entrepreneurs successfully settling in Manitoba to meet the province’s economic and demographic needs,” they added.
That includes spending $5.1 million in 2022 on a program to support newcomer integration, creating the Work in Manitoba job portal to connect immigrants with employment, and lowering taxes, including payroll and retail sales taxes, the spokesperson wrote.
Last February, the government created a council to research improvements on current immigration policies and programs.
Urban centres in Saskatchewan and Ontario lost more people to other provinces and territories than they gained in 2021-22. Cities in Alberta, Quebec (except for Montreal) and Atlantic provinces saw gains.
The country continues to urbanize — 71.9 per cent of Canadians now live in a city, up 0.1 percentage point from a year earlier.
— with files from The Canadian Press
Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.