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Opinion: Don Curry, How many international students in city were missed in census?

'If city planners are working with the wrong numbers, it obviously affects the most pressing issue of the day, which is housing'
census 2016 statistics canada turl
File. The Statistics Canada 2016 census.

A story in the Globe and Mail on August 30 by Marie Woolf of the Globe’s Ottawa bureau confirms something I wrote about in this space after the last census figures were announced.

International students were undercounted.

The article quotes Benjamin Tal, deputy chief economist at CIBC Capital Markets, who briefed federal cabinet members at their recent retreat in Charlottetown, PEI.

Census instructions said students should complete the forms if they were living in their main residence. The instruction was confusing, and many students did not complete the census because they felt their main residence was not in Canada.

Tal says even Statistics Canada believes the census continues to undercount temporary residents with valid visas. He says the census undercounted the number of temporary residents in Canada by one million people, citing another main reason for the undercounting—people who remain in Canada after their visas expire. These people either apply for extensions or go underground.

Why is this important?

Because it affects planning at all levels—municipal, provincial, and federal.

If city planners are working with the wrong numbers, it obviously affects the most pressing issue of the day, which is housing.

What the effect is on North Bay is hard to measure, if not impossible. How many international students in North Bay did not complete the census? 

I suspect the number is high. Statistics Canada has to make the instructions on the forms clearer, defining what a “main residence’” is for starters. When I look at how many addresses in North Bay my clients have had, I wonder if they even saw a census form. They move, a lot.

There is no question there is a housing crunch in our city. Canadore College and Nipissing University are reaching out to homeowners to rent a room to students. Single-family homes are increasingly being turned into student housing in many neighbourhoods. 

The 2021 census said the population of North Bay proper was 52,662 and the North Bay Census Agglomeration population was 71,736. That figure includes the townships of East Ferris, Bonfield, Chisholm and Nipissing, plus Callander and Powassan.

The numbers are two years old, and with the census being conducted every five years, it will be a while before we see new figures. The Globe article brings into question how valid these numbers are, if Statistics Canada missed one million people in the 2021 census.

The number of international students in North Bay is rising every year. Canadore has been serious about international student recruitment for a number of years, and now Nipissing University is back in the game. 

With cost-cutting efforts a few years ago, it reduced its efforts in that area and has since realized how important it is, not only for the bottom line but also for creating a diverse student body.

Colleges and universities will continue to recruit international students, despite recent calls for quotas by some, because they have to pay the bills.

Doug Ford’s government cut tuition fees for domestic students by 10 per cent in 2019-20, and followed that by freezing charges at the new rate. Colleges and universities swiftly reacted by dramatically increasing international student numbers.

At Canadore, domestic students pay a little more than $2,000 for tuition, while international students pay more than $10,000 for the same program.

You can’t fault colleges and universities for doing what they’re doing. Ford cut them off at the knees and they had to react. Many were already courting international students, and they upped their game some more.

But it’s an issue when you don’t have accurate numbers.  Colleges and universities can easily count their international students, but if planners are working with census numbers, that’s a problem.

See related: Removing one of life’s most memorable days with a Zoom call

Editor’s Note:  Don Curry is a Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant working in North Bay, and a member of Bay Today’s community advisory committee.

Don Curry

About the Author: Don Curry

Don Curry is a Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant and president of Curry Immigration Consulting and a former journalism instructor
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