Patrick Grady
The Poor Performance of Recent Immigrants: Quebec versus Ontario
February 13, 2006
French Version available in

The 2001 Census has revealed that recent cohorts of immigrants to Canada, most particularly those arriving since 1990, have performed poorly in the labour market and have bolstered the ranks of those living below Statistics Canada’s low income cutoff, which serves as a proxy for poverty in Canada.1

It is abundantly clear that immigration policy is not working very well for Canada as a whole. What about Quebec?

Under the Canada-Quebec Accord, which was signed in 1991, the Quebec Government entered into the first comprehensive immigration agreement with the Federal Government. This was a consolation prize for the rejection of the Meech Lake Accord, which would have enshrined some of Quebec's traditional demands for greater powers over immigration in the Constitution. Within the overarching Federal Government policy framework and immigration targets for Canada, the Canada-Quebec Accord granted Quebec the sole responsibility to select all independent immigrants and refugees abroad who want to live in that province. With a “certificat de sélection du Québec” granted by the Quebec Government, the prospective immigrant to Quebec is guaranteed a visa from the Canadian Government office abroad provided he or she meets all the other immigration requirements, including medical, security and criminality checks such as they are. Quebec is also responsible for providing reception and integration services to the new immigrants. In contrast, Ontario, which did not reach an immigration accord with the Federal Government until late 2005, did not select its own immigrants in the past, leaving the responsibility to the Federal Government.

Given the differing responsibilities for immigrant selection in Quebec and Ontario, it is interesting to compare the experience of immigrants who settle in Quebec with those who settle in Ontario. The first thing worthy of note is the much larger number of immigrants to Ontario, which over the decade from 1996 to 2005 admitted 1.235.123 or 55.3 per cent of the total allowed into Canada, compared to Quebec, which only admitted 348.295 or 15.6 per cent of the total. And even in relative terms, Ontario admitted more immigrants. The Ontario share of the total was much higher than its share of population in Canada, which was 38.9 per cent in 2005, whereas the Quebec share was much smaller than its population share of 23.5. This shortfall, which contrasted with the undertaking of the two parties in article 6 and 7 of the accord aiming for a share of share of immigration equal to its population share (plus 5 per cent), contributed to the continued decline of Quebec’s demographic weight in Confederation that has been a source of much concern in Quebec. It also provides evidence that it is much more difficult to recruit suitable francophone than anglophone immigrants.

The smaller relative number of immigrants need not necessarily be a problem. It may simply reflect the Quebec Government’s different view of the absorptive capacity of the Quebec labour market and society compared to the Federal Government’s expansive view of the Ontario market, which certainly appears to be overly optimistic based on the labour market performance of recent immigrants. However, a comparison of the performance of immigrants in Quebec and Ontario (Table 1) makes it evident that, in spite of the lower numbers arriving, immigrants are doing much worse in Quebec than in Ontario.

While the employment income of full-time, full-year workers was slightly higher relative to non-immigrants in Quebec than in Ontario in 2000, the actual level of employment income was considerably lower. And, more importantly, the employment rate and unemployment rate of the latest cohort of immigrants in Quebec was much worse than for non-immigrants than it was in Ontario. It is especially striking that the 1996 to 2001 cohort of immigrants admitted to Quebec had an unemployment rate of 21.9 per cent compared to an unemployment rate of 13 per cent. The employment rate for the latest cohort of immigrants was 48.6 per centin Quebec, 12.6 percentage points lower than for non-immigrants and 56.8 per cent in Ontario, 9 percentage points lower than that for non-immigrants. And, perhaps even more telling, the unemployment rate of the most recent cohort of immigrants was almost three times that of non-immigrants in Quebec compared to twice in Ontario, which, of course, is already bad enough. It's true that much of this may be due to family class immigration, which is still subject to Federal rules. But family class immigration responds to previous decisions about economic class immigrants and refugees, which are made by Quebec, and is in accordance with principles presumably accepted by Quebec. There is always the hope that the performance of this most recent cohort will improve over time, but the performance of the 1991 to 1995 cohort suggests that the improvement will not be rapid and may not be complete.

The double whammy of lower earnings and lower employment caused a higher number of new immigrants to fall below the low income cut-off in Quebec than in Ontario. The percentage of new immigrants in the latest cohort in economic families in Quebec who fell below the low income cut-off was 51.8 per cent compared to 38.4 per cent in Ontario. In contrast, the percentage of non-immigrants in economic families who were below the low income cut-off was only 12.9 per cent in Quebec and 9.4 per cent in Ontario. In Quebec, even more than in Ontario, poverty is becoming concentrated in urban communities of new immigrants.

Quebeckers may be proud that the Quebec Government has exercised much of the responsibility for its own immigration policy since 1991, but they are not likely to be pleased to hear that the reward for their efforts are results that are worse than in Ontario where the Federal Government calls all the shots. And it will add insult to injury to learn how badly the Federal Government is doing in selecting immigrants.

Quebeckers need to ask two hard questions of their government about the disappointing performance of recent immigrants. First, is it the result of poor selection of immigrants or of worse economic conditions for immigrants in Quebec than Ontario? Second, has the government been too willing to sacrifice employability in its search for french-speaking immigrants? It goes without saying that it is important that Quebec preserve its distinct french-speaking society, but it is also clear that francophone immigration is not a economically viable substitute for an increase in the Quebec birth rate.

Table 1
Comparison of Recent Performance of Immigrants in Canada and Quebec in 2001

Ontario Quebec
of 91-95
of 96-01
of 91-95
of 96-01
Avg. Employment Income for those working full year, full time in 2000 ($) 48,207 36,039 36,651 39,336 29,843 31,212
% of Non-Immigrant 74.76 76.03 75.87 79.35
Number in Economic Families
% below low income cutoff in 2000 9.4 22.5 38.4 12.9 35.5 51.8
Number of Unattached Individuals
% below low income cutoff in 2000 31.1 45.7 55.5 42.4 56.5 68.6
Employment Rate (%) 65.8 62.7 56.8 59.8 57.6 48.6
Unemployment Rate (%) 5.9 8.5 13.0 7.8 13.7 21.9

Source: Statistics Canada, 2001 Census, Topic-based tabulations provided on

1.   See Parick Grady, "What the Immigration Minister should have known, December 5, 2005. December 5, 2005

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