Vancouver benefits from influx of mainland Chinese migrants, says mayor

Chinese arrivals are bringing talent to city, says Gregor Robertson, not driving up home prices

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 November, 2013, 11:25pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 November, 2013, 1:13pm

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson says a flood of mainland Chinese immigrants, tourists and investors is creating new economic development opportunities in the Canadian port city, not driving up property prices, as some city residents have complained.

In Hong Kong yesterday to wrap up an eight-day China tour, Robertson said Vancouver's property market had been attracting international investors long before the current rush of mainland Chinese buyers.

"It is ridiculous to think that what's happening now is much different," he said. "I think the boom with mainland Chinese immigrants has been another great influx of talent and culture that benefits the city."

Nonetheless, Robertson acknowledged that the number of mainland Chinese had been growing rapidly in recent years and now accounted for 10 per cent of the city's 603,000 residents. The rise coincides with a decline in Hong Kong Chinese.

The number of mainland-Chinese-born immigrants living in greater Vancouver -- which includes the city and its satellite suburbs -- increased 88 per cent to 137,200 between 1996 and 2006. The number of Hong Kong immigrants fell 12 per cent to 75,800 during the same period.

I think the boom has been another great influx of talent and culture

"It took 125 years for the Cantonese population to become 25 per cent of Vancouver," Robertson said.

The mayor's trip, in which he also visited Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai, comes as Canada as a whole is experiencing a huge influx of Chinese immigrants and visitors.

China became the No1 source country for immigration to Canada last year, with 32,990 permanent residents admitted. The country also issued a record 235,000 visitor visas to Chinese applicants.

"We are seeing a lot of students," Robertson said. "In [my children's] high school, the majority of students are kids from mainland China who are now at home in Vancouver."

In one indication of Chinese interest in the city, Robertson's Sina Weibo account has more than 79,000 followers, compared with 39,000 followers on his Twitter account.

Robertson was travelling with 180 representatives from the city's business and cultural sectors - the largest delegation Vancouver has ever sent overseas. While in Beijing last week, representatives from the two cities signed five memorandums of understanding.

Other agreements include identifying potential partnerships or business start-up opportunities in China and Vancouver and establishing a joint research and development centre on energy efficiency in Beijing.

Vancouver is also seeking to boost local innovation and the development of digital media industries, pledging tax incentives and grants to investors.

Robertson said the digital media industry was one of Vancouver's fastest growing sectors. He added that social media management firm HootSuite, which supports social network integration for Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, is looking to help integrate various social media streams in China.

"For Vancouver companies, most have contact opportunities mapped out in China," he said. "But they need to deepen the connection."

The story was updated at November 19, 2013 to clarify that the figures quoted in the 5th paragraph were of the greater Vancouver area, not the city of Vancouver itself.