Census 2016: Western provinces’ populations are the fastest-growing in Canada

February 9, 2017

Canada’s population growth is shifting westward, as the latest census results show the Prairie region and British Columbia leading the country in growth.

For the first time since Confederation the three Prairie provinces all rank at the top of provincial growth charts, nosing out a slowing Ontario. British Columbia, in fourth place, also grew at a rate higher than the national average. Nearly one in three residents now live in Western Canada, the highest share ever recorded.

Statistics Canada counted a total of 35,151,728 people living in Canada on the day of the census, May 10, 2016. Over the five years since the previous census the population grew at a rate of about one per cent a year, or 5 per cent overall since 2011, for a total of 1.7 million additional residents since 2011.

Global context

As it has been for the last 15 years, Canada remains the fastest-growing country in the G7 group of industrialized nations, with a growth rate which exceeds those of the United States and the United Kingdom. Canada ranked eighth among the G20 nations, behind countries such as Turkey, South Africa, Mexico and Australia.

Where population growth comes from

The main reason for Canada’s steady growth is its commitment to relatively high levels of immigration. Roughly two-thirds of Canada’s population increase is due to international migration, the amount by which the number of new immigrants exceeds the number of people who leave Canada, according to Laurent Martel of Statistics Canada. The other third stems from what’s known as “natural growth,” the difference between the rates of births and deaths. Some countries such as Germany, Italy and Japan have already seen the annual number of deaths exceed births, meaning all their growth now depends on migration.

For much of the census period Canada’s annual intake of immigrants exceeded 250,000 per year. In 2017 the government has projected an immigration level of between 280,000 and 320,000, the highest it has been in some time. At a time when many countries are considering further restrictions on immigration, Canada, under both Liberal and Conservative governments, has chosen a different path. Projections show that Canada could reach the point at which migration accounts for nearly all population growth some time after 2050.

While population growth is fairly steady nationally, there are major differences at the regional level. As population booms in Western Canada, Central Canada has seen growth slide below the national average, and Atlantic Canada is barely growing at all.

Alberta was the fastest-growing province in Canada again during this period. Despite the downturn in the provincial economy in the past two years, Alberta grew by 11.6 per cent, an even faster rate of growth than from 2006 to 2011 and more than twice the national average. That growth slowed after 2014, following the drop in the price of oil, but not enough to change the broader trend, as people both within Canada and from abroad head west in search of economic opportunity. Since 1951 Alberta has grown by more than 330 per cent, by far the highest rate among provinces. Alberta also has the highest percentage of residents born in other Canadian provinces, a testament to its pull within the country.

Martha Hall Findlay, president of the Canada West Foundation, said the census numbers reflect the dynamism and openness of the region. A former Liberal MP from Ontario, she moved to Alberta a year ago and already considers herself a Calgarian. The place is full of people like her, she said – people who have moved from elsewhere and who have found an exciting, younger population, growing, affordable cities and plenty of opportunity.

“Attention needs to be paid to what’s going on in the West,” Ms. Hall Findlay said. “There’s a sense here of ‘What can we do?’ Not what can we keep doing.”


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