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Labour Mobility an Essential Feature of Canada's Regional Labour Markets

Canada’s labour market is dynamic.  People move freely across provincial borders for a mix of reasons, including varying economic and labour market conditions. Given Canada’s vast geography and differing industrial structures across the provinces, the ability of people to migrate to other regions is an essential element of the Canadian “common market.” Extensive within-country migration partly explains why a country as diverse as Canada can function well with a single monetary policy and currency. Workers in one region can re-locate to other provinces and partake in the benefits afforded by trade and economic growth elsewhere.            

Historically, interprovincial migration has played a larger role than immigration in meeting regional labour market needs in Canada.  As Figure 1 shows, for most of the past three decades interprovincial migration has exceeded international migration by a sizable margin. Interestingly, despite the national population being smaller at the time, movement within the country was greater in absolute terms in the late 1970s and early 1980s than it is today; in part, this reflects a younger Canadian population in the earlier period, as interprovincial migration is more common among those under age 45. In more recent years, the number of interprovincial migrants has been similar to the number of immigrants coming to Canada. While not all interprovincial migrants work, and not all immigrants enter the labour market, in general immigration and interprovincial migration now make roughly equal contributions to balancing regional labour market needs.

Report Highlights

  • People are free to move within Canada.  The ability of working-age individuals to migrate to regions with better opportunities strengthens Canada’s economy and is important to the efficient functioning of the national labour market.
  • Historically, interprovincial migration has played a greater role than foreign immigration in meeting regional labour market needs in Canada.
  • Over the past few decades, interprovincial migration has essentially been a story of westward movement: since 1995, only BC and Alberta, on a cumulative basis, have been net recipients of people from other provinces. Every other province has recorded net outflows. 
  • Over the past two decades, interprovincial migration has added a remarkable 470,000 people to Alberta’s population, while BC has gained 69,000.
  • Reflecting the availability of jobs and other economic factors, Alberta has attracted a disproportionate number of younger interprovincial migrants.
  • The New West Partnership Agreement is a significant advancement in improving labour mobility in western Canada. Extension of the agreement to other provinces would significantly enhance national labour mobility.

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