Canada’s close to 37 millionpopulation fuelled by immigration

Vancouver, B.C.

B.C. exceeds 5 five million

Charmaine Rodriguez Kara

For the first time, the population of British Columbia exceeded five million people, overtaking Canada’s three fastest growing provinces, the 2021 Census revealed.

It is the lone province in Western Canada where population growth (+7.6%) exceeded the national average of 5.2% from 2016.

The provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta—which previously led the list in terms of increases—saw slower population growths from 2011 to 2016

The census showed the increase for Manitoba was at 5.0% to become 1,342,153. Alberta’s population grew 4.8% to reach 4,262,635) while Saskatchewan saw a 3.1% increase to become 1,132,505.

In total, BC’s population in 2021 reached 5,000,879.

There were 2,041,834 occupied homes in the province, which represents an increase of 8.5% over five years, the reported.

About 61% of the province’s population resides within the Lower Mainland; 3.05 million people live in the combined areas of Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley. Moreover, 89.5% of the population of BC resides within a census metropolitan area (CMA), it added.

Similar to Canada overall, immigration was the main reason for the population growth in Western Canada.

British Columbia was also the lone province in Western Canada that saw more people move into the province from elsewhere in Canada than move out from 2016 to 2021, with interprovincial migration gains (+97,424) reaching their highest level since 1991 to 1996, Statistics Canada’s report reads.

In contrast, Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan all saw more people moving out than settling in from other parts of Canada against a backdrop of lower oil prices that started in 2014 and higher unemployment, especially in Alberta.

For Alberta, this marked the first decline in interprovincial migration over a five-year census period since 1986 to 1991.

However, according to Statistics Canada, international migration levels have changed little in Western Canada since the last intercensal period, unlike in most other provinces, where they rose significantly prior to the pandemic.

This partially explains why Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta are no longer the provinces with the highest population growth.

Ontario welcomed almost twice as many permanent and temporary immigrants from 2016 to 2021 compared to figures in the previous five-year census cycle.

Quebec’s population also grew at a faster pace (+4.1% to 8,501,833) from 2016 to 2021 and most of the growth was attributed to international migration pre-pandemic. Permanent and temporary immigration increased compared with 2011 to 2016, to account for about four-fifths of the population growth from 2016 to 2021, the census revealed.

More jobs also contributed to the population growth in these provinces.

Between 2016 and 2017, total employment rose by 336,500 or 1.9%, making it the fastest annual rate of growth in a decade.

Employment gains were spread across several provinces, led by Ontario, Quebec and BC.

“Provincially, the lowest unemployment rate was in British Columbia (5.1%), and the highest was in Newfoundland and Labrador (14.8%),” the report reads.

Canada remains the fastest growing country in the G7. Highlights of the 2021 Census include:

  • Canada’s population grew at almost twice the pace of other G7 countries from 2016 to 2021.
  • Although the pandemic halted Canada’s strong population growth in 2020, it continued to be the fastest among G7 countries.
  • Canada is home to almost 37 million people, 1.8 million (+5.2%) more than in 2016. Most of the increase occurred prior to the pandemic, with Canada’s population rising by a record high of 583,000 people (+1.6%) in 2019.
  • Immigration, not fertility, mostly drove Canada’s population growth from 2016 to 2021 and was also the main reason for the slowdown since 2020 due to border restrictions put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19.
  • The population of the Maritimes grew at a faster pace than the Prairies for the first time in the census since the 1940s.
  • The population of Yukon (+12.1%) grew at the fastest pace nationally from 2016 to 2021, while Prince Edward Island (+8.0%) and British Columbia (+7.6%) had the highest growth rates among the provinces.
  • Newfoundland and Labrador (-1.8%) was the lone province to see its population decline from 2016 to 2021.
  • Canada continues to urbanize. The population rose in all 41 large urban centres from 2016 to 2021, with growth accelerating in most of them.
  • The census counted just over 6.6 million Canadians (6,601,982) living in a rural area in May 2021, up 0.4% compared with five years earlier, but well below the pace of growth in urban areas (+6.3%). Immigrants are far more likely to settle in an urban area than a rural setting, which explains most of the difference in growth.
  • In 2021, Canada had 41 census metropolitan areas with more than 100,000 people, up from 35 in the previous census. The six new large urban centres are Fredericton, Drummondville, Red Deer, Kamloops, Chilliwack and Nanaimo.
  • Resort destinations such as Squamish, British Columbia; Canmore, Alberta; as well as Wasaga Beach and Collingwood in Ontario, are among the fastest growing communities in Canada.
  • Within large urban centres, downtowns grew at a faster pace from 2016 to 2021 than during the previous census (2011 to 2016).

The data show Canada’s population grew by 5.2 per cent from 2016 through 2021, bringing the total to 36,991,981 people. Most of that increase came in the first four of those years. The final year, during the pandemic, had the lowest growth since the First World War. The agency said it did not model how much more the population might have grown had the pandemic not emerged.

The census data also show a turnaround in the long trend of population loss in the Maritimes, and an increased rate of population growth in city centres.

“For most of the downtowns of the 41 large urban centres of the country, population growth actually accelerated in the last five years, compared to the previous five-year period,” said Laurent Martel, director of the Centre for Demography at Statistics Canada.

The agency acknowledged it was difficult to conduct a census during a pandemic and praised Canadians who participated in spite of the third wave of COVID-19. It said the response rate was 98 per cent.

This is only one of seven tranches of census 2021 data Statscan is expected to release. The agency will publish data on the country’s shifting demographic profile in April. Additional data on income, housing, mobility and other themes will come throughout the year.

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