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Stuck in Canada

You want to encourage talent to follow the jobs, but Canadians resist migration. Why?
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Toronto, the capital of Ontario. (PHOTO: JOHN VETTERLI/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Toronto, the capital of Ontario. (PHOTO: JOHN VETTERLI/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Ideally, the unemployed move where the jobs are. U.S. workers are among the most geographically mobile in the world. Canada is in the tier below.  Less moving is a drag on economic productivity. Provincial borders are barriers to migration:

Mr. Amirault and his co-writers show that both distance and language are important factors in determining population flows, reinforcing previous research. But their work also suggests that these factors don’t fully explain Canadians’ rootedness.

In their simulations, they controlled for well-known variables, including distance and language. Their results showed that over a five-year period, total migration between two representative economic regions would be higher by 104 individuals if there was no provincial border.

They also created a scenario where there were no provincial borders separating any of the economic regions. The result: Gross migration would increase by 63 percent, “implying the gains from removing the border would be significant.”

The research referenced can be found here. You go where you know. That's why distance and language impede relocation. Knowledge transfer and venture capital also mind distance decay. See Silicon Valley's 20-minute rule. The apple rarely falls far from the tree because we are risk averse.

The provincial border barrier is more difficult to explain. The study leaves that issue open to further inquiry. Canada has tried to pave the way for more migration. The efficacy of these efforts, say the researchers, needs to be quantified.

Canadian geographic immobility should serve as a cautionary tale for places trying to attract people. Catalyzing migration is hard to do. We're not sure what is effective. The reasons behind declining mobility in the United States remain a mystery.

With that bit of humility aired, I'd still like to take a stab at explaining the power of the provincial border. Political geography matters long after the legal playing field is leveled. The regulations shape culture. The beaten path dies a hard death. You go where you know and few are intimate with Atlantic Canada.