Rural and Small Town Canada Analysis Bulletin

    Self-contained labour areas: A proposed delineation and classification by degree of rurality


    Warning View the most recent version.

    Archived Content

    Information identified as archived is provided for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It is not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards and has not been altered or updated since it was archived. Please "contact us" to request a format other than those available.

    One of the most common terms in economic and social reporting is that of "labour market".  This concept is normally used with two main connotations, which to some extent overlap. The first emphasizes a set of employment norms, practices and trends that are in some cases specific to certain occupations or industries. The second connotation emphasizes the spatial dimension of the market, as the geographicarea in which a multitude of labour activities occur. In this bulletin, our focus is on this second aspect:  we identify a set of self-contained labour areas (SLAs), which in broad terms can be described as geographic spaces in which the majority of the residents in the labour force also have their place of work.

    The analysis of spatial labour areas focuses on the connectivity between smaller geographic units through labour force commuting flows. In the Canadian context, this type of analysis has been centred on metropolitan areas and major agglomerations as the primary destination of commuting for non-metropolitan residents. Outside of larger urban centres, the most well known and comprehensive example of a delineation of a type of labour market is the Metropolitan Influenced Zone (MIZ) classification system1 (McNiven et al., 2000) (Box 1).

    The MIZ approach emphasizes the connectivity between core metropolitan areas and their surrounding areas, while at the same time paying less attention to the connectivity of smaller geographic areas outside the labour market areas of Census Metropolitan Areas (CMAs) and Census Agglomerations (CAs). Although the MIZ provides a useful structure for the comparison of areas, the system considers each rural and small town area as inherently disjoint from each other and classifies each unit only in terms of its relationship with the larger urban centres. This is a periphery-to-core (and vice versa) model of commuting. A recent study has shown that, for residents of areas outside a CMA or CA, the commuting exchange with other non-CMA/CA areas is as significant as the commuting toward larger urban centres (Harris, Alasia and Bollman, 2008). In other words, for Canadian residents of rural and small town (RST) areas, the labour markets represented by small towns and rural settlements are as important as the labour markets of larger urban centres.

    The self-contained labour areas delineated in this analysis address this issue by placing greater attention on the multidirectional nature of commuting flows and by accounting for the actual strength of commuting relationship between municipalities, regardless of their settlement structure. Our analysis considers the commuting linkages among smaller settlement areas and thus allows a clearer identification and better understanding of self-contained labour areas that are predominantly rural in nature.

    The data used to create self-contained labour areas are based on commuting flows (journey-to-work) generated from the 2006 Census of Population (Box 2). Although journey-to-work data are available at many different levels of geography, the census subdivision (CSD) geography (Box 1) is the one that combines national coverage with the smallest possible geographic scale, on the one hand, and a relatively close match with actual administrative units (the municipality), on the other hand. For this reason, the analysis is conducted at the geographic scale of CSDs.


    1. First, the labour market area of a larger urban centre (LUC) is defined using data on commuting flows to the urban core of a census metropolitan area (CMA) or a census agglomeration (CA) (Statistics Canada, 2007). The rural and small town (RST) areas, outside the spatial labour market of a LUC, are classified according to the degree of metropolitan influence, as measured by commuting flow linkages (du Plessis et al., 2001). The result is a classification of the RST areas of Canada into five categories of metropolitan influence (Box 1).A small group of CSDs are not contiguous to the SLA to which they are assigned, as noted in Appendix Table A.7 (full table available upon request from the authors). Specifically, twenty CSDs are more than 50 kilometres apart from the SLA to which they are attached.

    Date modified: