Fewer new immigrants are choosing Red Deer as their new home, according to Statistics Canada census details released on Wednesday.
Census takers counted 3,925 new immigrants in the 2021 census, compared with 5,235 in 2016 when the last national head count and other population data was taken.
The percentage of new immigrants of Red Deer’s population also fell slightly to 0.3 per cent from 0.4 per cent.
Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston admits he was surprised by StatsCan’s numbers, which do not seem to reflect the vibrancy of the immigrant communities he has been welcomed into since becoming mayor.
“It’s not a huge variance, but it’s still a variance,” said Johnston.
“I can certainly say that the cultural societies and ethnic groups we have in the city are very healthy and very dynamic. There’s lots of gathering and lots of celebrations.”
Recent immigrant refers to a person who obtained a landed immigrant or permanent resident status up to five years prior to a given census year.
In Edmonton and Calgary, the number of new immigrants arriving also fell in the five years ending 2021. Calgary counted 85,615 new immigrants in 2021, compared with 93,260 in 2016 — a 1.3 per cent drop. The percentage of Calgarians considered new immigrants fell to 6.4 per cent from 7.7 per cent.
Edmonton saw 0.9 per cent decline — 74,700 in 2021 compared with 78,520 in 2016. As a percentage of population, new immigrants were 5.6 per cent in 2021, compared with 6.5 per cent five years earlier.
The only other Alberta community included among 41 largest urban areas (census metropolitan areas) in the StatsCan table is Lethbridge. The number of new immigrants increased to 3,645 in 2021 from 3,405 in 2016. The percentage of the city’s population considered new immigrants remained the same at 0.3 per cent between 2016 and 2021.
Overall, Alberta the proportion of new immigrants settling in Alberta fell from 17.1 per cent in 2016 to 14.5 per cent in 2021.
“Nevertheless, this was well above the proportion observed in 2006, when 9.3 per cent of new immigrants made Alberta their home,” says StatsCan.
Thursday, Johnston attended an open house hosted by Francophonie Albertaine au Plurielle, which has a new office in Red Deer. The Edmonton-based organization, which provides settlement services primarily for Francophones, expanded to central Alberta last spring.
“I’m encouraged by the ethnic health and the cultural health of our city, which is strong.”
Equally “puzzling” is that Red Deer’s recent immigrant decline is reflected in so many other communities across Western Canada, he said.
Johnston is optimistic that Red Deer will see its number of recent immigrants increase again as local ethnic communities become more established and attract other newcomers who share similar heritages.
Economists say attracting new immigrants will be crucial to the economic health of the country as the population ages.
According to Statistics Canada, employers across all sectors in Canada were actively seeking to fill nearly one million vacant positions in the second quarter, the highest quarterly number on record.
Chambers of commerce across Canada, including Red Deer’s, are advocating for policies to increase labour mobility, immigration, and international student worker flexibility.
Johnston said the whole community plays a role in its future prosperity, in which immigrants will be an important part.
“I think it’s incumbent on us to recognize the contribution, both culturally and economically, of these immigrant groups that are coming to the city and support them in any way we can.
“The more we can make ourselves a welcoming city and dedicated to their future, the more we’ll be a city of choice.”
Paritosh Ghosh, head of Red Deer Polytechnic’s economics department, said he has not looked into Red Deer’s situation closely enough to offer specifics on local immigrant fluctuations.
However, he points to the city’s population, which has remained largely unchanged in recent years.
“Which is telling me there are lower employment opportunities. If there are fewer people coming, in general, probably there are also fewer immigrants coming. It’s related to the opportunities.”
With the Alberta economy picking up, that could change. “I hope in the coming months Red Deer’s economy will grow as well and then people will come again.”
Among Canada’s 41 largest urban centres, the proportion of immigrants was above the national average of 23 per cent in Calgary, where it is 31.5 per cent and Edmonton, where it is 26 per cent.
Abbotsford–Mission (26.1), Kitchener–Cambridge–Waterloo (25.8), Hamilton (25.6), Winnipeg (25.4), Montréal (24.3) and Windsor (23.3) were also above the national average.