Newcomers fuel city's growth rate

By Charles Hamilton, The StarPhoenix, February 27, 2014 - Saskatoon was one of the fastest growing cities in the country in 2013 thanks in large part to an influx of new international immigrants, according to new data released by Statistics Canada. But just because the numbers are high doesn't mean governments should be complacent, according to one expert.

"If you use immigration simply as labour and skill substitution and you are not fully developing the skills and potential that are already here, you are going to get a backlash," said Joe Garcea, a politicalscience professor at the University of Saskatchewan.

Garcea recently released a study commissioned by the city of Saskatoon that calls for improved services for new immigrants to the city - everything from English language training to professional development opportunities.

But he says improving the lives and job opportunities for people who already live here is key to maintaining positive relations between newcomers and people already living in the city.

"As important as it is that we give attention to new immigrants, we have to make sure we pay equal attention to those who live here," Garcea said.

With a growth rate of 3.9 per cent from July 2012 to July 2013, the Saskatoon region fell just behind the Calgary region that had a rate of 4.3 per cent.

Nearly half of newcomers to the Saskatoon region were international immigrants. The region - which includes the cities of Saskatoon, Martensville and Warman and large swaths of surrounding communities - recorded the highest growth rate among international immigrants at a rate of 2.1 per cent.

"I'm sure we have half the population of the Philippines here in Saskatoon by now," joked Ayesha Baig, a co-ordinator with the Newcomer Information Centre. "You can't go anywhere without hearing Tagalog."

On a busy day, the three or four staff at the centre can see up to 60 people walk through the doors. In 2013, 200 more people visited the centre than in 2012, but Baig said that is likely only a small fraction of new international immigrants who have moved here.

She said hits on the centre's website have been increasing and she thinks people in other countries are starting to see Saskatoon as a viable place to live.

"There are lot of people out there who are looking at Saskatoon. Word of mouth is a powerful thing. People who know people who know people," Baig said.

Tony Butler, 43, married a woman from Saskatoon and moved to the city from Glasgow, Scotland, about two years ago. In his short time in the city, he's noticed how fast Saskatoon's immigrant community is growing.

"Just go into a bar or restaurant and you can hear all the different accents," said Butler, a golf pro at Riverside Country Club.

"When you drive down Faithful Avenue you can see all the 'help wanted' signs. I guess that's why people are moving here. I was talking to a couple of Irish guys last week who moved here because there's no work in Dublin." City of Saskatoon officials are banking on the fact the growth will continue. City planners are estimating a growth rate of at least 2.5 per cent per year as they chart a path for the city's future growth. At that rate, the city would hit a population of one million by 2072.

Regina's CMA had a growth rate of 3.1 per cent or an increase of 7,100 during the same period, bringing that area's total population to 232,100.

With files from Jeremy Warren

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