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You’re leaving already?

Six out of 10 business-class immigrants who land in Quebec quickly take their money elsewhere

You're leaving already?

Robert Estall photo agency/Getstock

When your province’s birth rate is hovering at replacement level, and when nearly a quarter of the population is nearing retirement, language politics tend to take a back seat to more pressing matters—like how to sustain the economy. No surprise, then, that Quebec has assumed a prominent spot on the immigration bandwagon, treating newcomers as a key to its economic future rather than a threat to its identity. By any measure, its efforts have paid off: in the last decade, the province has jacked up its intake of immigrants by more than 50 per cent, welcoming almost 49,500 last year.

The question now is how to keep the most wealthy and productive newcomers from flying the coop. A recent internal report by the federal immigration department suggests more than six out of 10 of the coveted business-class immigrants who declared Quebec as their destination during the early 2000s quickly fled to other provinces, taking their investment dollars and entrepreneurship potential with them. The big winners? Ontario and the two westernmost provinces. B.C. saw a 22 per cent net gain in the number of business-class immigrants who called it home, due to migration from other provinces. Ontario enjoyed a 14.5 per cent bump while Alberta saw a 9.5 per cent increase.

The report, which was obtained under Access to Information by Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland, calls into question the widespread belief in Quebec that newcomers will provide much of the province’s future economic momentum. The theory, promoted in policy circles and at all levels of government, assumes a heavy influx of business immigrants—an umbrella term for investors, entrepreneurs and the self-employed who are admitted to Canada on the basis of the wealth they will generate (investor-class immigrants to Canada must be willing to spend more than $800,000 in this country, and their net worth must exceed $1.6 million; entrepreneurs must have a $300,000 net worth and two years of business experience).

Certainly Quebec’s resident population seems disinclined to take up the flag of entrepreneurial dynamism. According to one study published last year, the province’s rate of business ownership is currently half that in the country as a whole, while the percentage of the population that intends to start a business is among the lowest in the country.

Why the wealthy newbies have itchy feet isn’t yet clear. The report compared the stated destinations of immigrants who arrived between 2000 and 2006 with the location from which they filed tax returns in 2006, but it offered no explanations for trends in migration. Curiously, new arrivals to Quebec in other immigration categories show no such flightiness: the province’s overall retention rate of immigrants stands at 79 per cent, which is far short of Ontario’s 91 per cent, but a whole lot better than Saskatchewan’s 48 per cent, or Atlantic Canada’s 43.

Brahim Boudarbat, an economics professor at the Université de Montreal’s School of Industrial Relations, says the exodus may stem in part from Quebec having its own immigration program, which can offer quicker entry to Canada than the one Ottawa provides for the rest of the country. “I think some investors are using the Quebec system as a pathway to other provinces,” he says, noting that the Constitution guarantees freedom of movement once a person has been admitted to Canada. “They know that once accepted by either of the two programs, they can go wherever they want.” The sizable portion of investor-class immigrants coming from China and Hong Kong might also be playing a role, Boudarbat adds. “We know that many Chinese immigrants settle in British Columbia. It seems like immigrant investors are moving close to their community.”

Whatever the reason, the trend is cause for soul-searching in Quebec, given how heavily the province is banking on external wealth to drive its future economy. “I think the general question would be: is Quebec a friendly place to do business?” says Jennifer Hunt, a McGill University economist who has studied the relationship between economics and immigration. “Answering that may have a broader economic payoff,” she adds, by stimulating non-immigrant commercial enterprises. It would also come at a cost—in business-friendly tax cuts, say, or less red tape for start-ups. But if the alternative is more years of recruiting foreign wealth for western provinces, Quebecers might find reform comes cheap at the price.

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You’re leaving already?

  1. Are we surprised by this?

  2. Successful business people find a way in and then go Galt when they see their first tax return. Or they (more likely) know the situation all along, got their in and took one of the first flights West.

    Quelle surprise!

    • Pas de surprise, mon ami.

  3. My understanding is that Mayor Ford will be doing all he can to help Quebec keep its immigrants.

    • Toronto has a reputation in the US as the Holy City of Neo-Nazi skinheads. Lots of non-white immigrants will soon be avoiding Toronto for BC, and little mosques on the Prairie might not be such a rare thing in the future. Quebec will endure, just like it has since The Conquest of 1759. The article fails to mention the 40 per cent of immigrants who stay in Quebec.

      • Can you cite a source to back up this ridiculous claim?

  4. Wait a second, entrepreneurs don't want to deal with big bureaucracy, high taxes, red tape, and intrusive legislation? Hmm, I don't get it.

  5. As an English speaking Quebec resident I can assure you that language is a problem. The goal to "stamp-out" English is alive and well in Quebec. The other problem is taxes, and plenty of them. Aproximately double that of Ontario

    • You can always lower taxes in Quebec, Wayne, but the separatists are very attached to Language Law 101.

  6. It would also come at a cost—in business-friendly tax cuts, say, or less red tape for start-ups.

    Excuse me? Less red tape for start-ups is a cost? Hello?

  7. Logic suggests anyone would prefer to live in a "have" Province. Only B.C, Alberta and Ontario send more Ottawa they they get back. The remaining seven "have not" Provinces rely on the largess of Ottawa to try to meet their budgets. Language may be part of the issue but being a "have not" Province is an important negative criteria for business minded people.

    • Actually there are only two so-called "have" provinces now. Ontario has become a net receiver. The entirety of Quebec's draw on the national treasury and a good chunk of the Maritime provinces' is funded by the taxpayers of Alberta.

      • Isn't Newfoundland a "have province" now?

        • Right you are!

      • Ontario still sends more out than it recieves back. It only gets an equalization pittance because the formula has been re-written into a joke over the past decade.

  8. To be fair, the doom and gloom isn't really backed up in this article. We hear about 49 thousand total immigrants to Quebec, but the vast, vast, majority are from other classes. We aren't given a number in regards to how many business immigrants are arriving to Quebec in the first place.

    Moreover, investor class business immigrants are, er, investing. So presumably it doesn't really matter too much where they happen to live, as their dollars are mobile across the country as they seek out opportunities. My scant investing dollars sure don't huddle in my home province.

    And, finally, the entrepreneur class is notoriously suspect as a class. 300k gets you a Macs Milk franchise these days, and convenience/food service franchises are known as entrepreneur class standbys (if only for bureaucratic reasons – try convincing a federal bureaucrat that you are talented enough to create a successful tech startup. It's easier to tell them, and to prove to them, that you're opening a new Subway sandwich outlet or Tim Hortons).

    Now, I'm not mocking these folks. Far from it, as I think they're hard working, or at least hard investing, people that Canada can use. But all we have is a marginally higher rate of migration of a small number of people, who are themselves making a positive but small contribution to the Canadian economy, and the Quebecois economy in particular (but not exclusively). And this relative discrepancy between provinces might be chalked up to the fact that the Quebecois system might be picking out candidates that originally wanted to go elsewhere, and that really shouldn't be characterized as "Quebecois" immigrants in any real sense, anyways.

    Yeah, sounds like Quebec's really screwed for sure. I'd be waiting up nights if I was them.

  9. Stamp out english speakers and stamp out the hard working cash earners. Forcing their kids into french schools stamp out and scare away the future hard working cash earners. Is anyone surprised at this coming from a province with it’s head in the sand? “I Remember” on their license plates? Pppfffttt!

    • I find it ironic that Quebec wants to ban Islamic headwear like the hijab and the niqab when so many immigrants who speak French come from Arab countries like Morocco and Algeria. Instead, maybe Quebec should consider instituting sharia, in the hope of drawing francophone immigrants from Muslim members of the French Community.

  10. "Six out of 10 business-class immigrants who land in Quebec quickly take their money elsewhere."

    A way to resolve this issue might be for Immigration-Québec to only accept as immigrants French unilingual entrepreneurs. It would be rather difficult for the latter to thrive in an English-speaking province, n'est-ce pas?

  11. Any country that condones if not promotes double and triple standards is destinedl for problems. Is this really a surprise?
    Oh well, the demogrpahic winter heading our way will resolve a bunch of these issues.

  12. The article fails to mention one main reason those business immigrants move to another province is because of 101. Language law 101 prevents immigrant parents from sending their children to English schools, but many of the parents want their children to be English speaking North Americans, not French speaking Quebecers.

    • All Canadians, not just Quebeckers, should be proficient in both languages. We should want our children to be bilingual. For Quebec francophones, proficiency in English would open up a lot of business opportunities in Canada and the rest of the world. For anglophones, proficiency in French would open up business opportunities in Quebec, and anglophones might not feel compelled to leave the belle province because they don't know French. Quebec francophones have a right to expect immigrants to learn French, though everybody in Canada needs to learn English to get by. We as Canadians should strive for a bilingual Canada.

  13. I find it rather strange that the article does not mention anything about taxes.
    I'm certain that plays a huge part.

  14. If I had a magic want….there would be only one type of school in Quebec where all children go no matter what …a bilingual school, where all children would learn and play together. No more of this two solitudes and all that jazz.

    • I agree with you completely, Renee. I think all Canadians, and not just Quebeckers, should be bilingual.

  15. There is no such thing as a bilingual institution. One language always dominates, and which language do you think that is?

  16. Look at what happens when you don't speak English. There was a story not too long ago about how teachers at CEGEPs in Quebec were baffled that students didn't want to continue their studies in French. Hopefully this is the start of the end in Quebec. They'll have to embrace English. Not switch over completely, but become more like NB.

    • Totally agree with you. Being myself "a former Quebeker", I can clearly see the issues coming out of this especially restrained openness to the English side. And I'm not talking about giving up on Quebec's culture, which, you've got to agree, is fairly different compared to any other provinces. The Bloc Quebecois & PQ are highly responsible for this total fear about English language…

      • There is no city in which I would rather live than Montreal, but the Bloc and the PQ have done more to make Toronto the largest city in Canada than anything else. Separatism has been good for Toronto.

    • La fin du Quebec? Jamais! Le Canada c'est mon pays, mais le Quebec, c'est ma nation. Maitres chez nous!

  17. Sad really, my wife and I left Montreal about three years ago. We are both professionals and we loved Montreal, had great jobs and paid our share of taxes. But we could never live in a province that will force our children to attend French schools. Why should they have to learn French when it is useless in the real world outside of Quebec and France? My advice to emigration officials is easy, get rid of this whole French language policy, reduce your taxes and you will see more emigrants stay there.

    • If you didn’t want to learn French, then why did you move to Quebec?