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The high cost of living in Canada prompts certain Ukrainian immigrants to depart

Canada has historically been an attractive choice for newcomers seeking a better life in a prosperous nation. Nearly a quarter of the Canadian population comprises immigrants, and the country has warmly received close to 200,000 Ukrainians since the beginning of the war. However, the demanding daily life in Canada’s bustling metropolises – not just in Toronto but also in Vancouver, Montreal, and Calgary – coupled with soaring expenses, is increasingly challenging for many.

Social service organizations caution that the country’s most vulnerable citizens, often newcomers, are bearing the brunt of higher costs, particularly in housing. Andrei Zavialov, a settlement worker with Ukrainian Canadian Social Services Toronto, mentioned that he’s aware of at least 15 Ukrainians who have returned to Ukraine from the Greater Toronto Area since the conflict began. He noted that while reasons for leaving vary, financial pressures, notably high rent and grocery expenses, are frequently cited factors.

“Individuals struggle to make ends meet; they face high rents, escalating grocery costs,” explained Zavialov. “Such expenses heavily impact an immigrant’s finances. Without a job or money, they return to the familiarity of Ukraine.”

These anecdotes align with recent research indicating that more newcomers have opted to leave Canada due to worsening housing affordability, strained healthcare systems, and underemployment, causing disillusionment with the country’s promised opportunities.

An escalation of this trend could undermine Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s ambitious plans, reliant on relaxed immigration policies, to prevent economic decline. Similar to other developed nations, Canada’s declining birthrate would lead to a population decrease without incoming migrants. Despite efforts, real GDP per capita has remained stagnant over the last decade, while surging home prices have outpaced disposable income.

The Trudeau government aims to welcome roughly half a million new permanent residents annually, supplementing a recent influx that propelled Canada’s population growth rate to 2.7% in 2022, the highest among advanced economies.

However, the challenge lies in retaining these newcomers. They grapple with multiple challenges, primarily housing costs. Even smaller Canadian cities face limited rental supplies due to higher interest rates deterring potential buyers, resulting in intense competition for rental units. According to research by Urbanation, the average rent in Canada reached a record of C$2,149 in September, marking an 11% increase from the previous year. In Toronto, it soared to C$2,614, nearly consuming the entire pretax income of a person earning minimum wage working full-time.

Additionally, other expenses are on the rise. Although inflation is moderating, it remains at 3.8%, deemed “too high for comfort” by Benjamin Reitzes, a rates and macro strategist at the Bank of Montreal. Grocery prices surged by 5.8% annually in September, and gas prices jumped by 7.5%.

Certainly, many newcomers aspire to stay in Canada. Zavialov noted that most Ukrainian newcomers he’s interacted with express strong admiration for Canada – its diverse population, socialized healthcare system, and resilient social safety nets. The decision whether to remain in Canada or return to Ukraine is also influenced by factors beyond financial constraints, including proximity to war, safety concerns, or a sense of national duty.

For Anna-Maria Lyakhovetska, a 17-year-old who recently moved to Canada from Germany and intends to return to Ukraine when circumstances allow, the decision is influenced by both financial challenges in a new country and a desire to contribute to the war effort. Inspired by Russia’s invasion, she aims to pursue a career in political organizing.

“Living here is expensive,” she said. “But I also want to go back and assist my country.”

Most of Canada’s Ukrainian immigrant population is concentrated in Ontario, the country’s most populous province, as highlighted by Operation Ukrainian Safe Haven, a social services group. Based on financial assistance data, 40% of recent Ukrainian immigrants settled in Ontario, while 21.4% chose Alberta, and 10.3% opted for Manitoba.

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