The Conference Board of Canada says the country's smaller cities have an opportunity to make a bigger economic impact in the coming years thanks to pandemic-driven trends and the federal government's immigration plan. 

The research organization says in a new briefing that the COVID-19 pandemic shifted migration patterns in Canada, sending people outside of major cities to work remotely even as international migration was stalled. 

It says many people are still working remotely and some of Canada's smaller centres have seen an uptick in population since the pandemic began,  

Before 2020, Canada's four major cities — Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver — were the key drivers of economic growth for the country, says the Conference Board, and were major beneficiaries of increased immigration pre-pandemic too. 

But the organization says smaller centres have tighter labour markets than major cities and could benefit from higher immigration levels. 

The Conference Board says that more evenly distributed migration would not only benefit smaller cities, but also help ease the challenges in infrastructure demands faced by major centres like Vancouver or Toronto.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 23, 2023.