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

February 9, 2017

By Joe Friesen and Tom Cardoso, Globe and News |

As of last year’s census day, there were 35,151,728 people in Canada, and nearly one in three now live in the West. That was one of the important takeaways from the first of Statscan’s reports, which will give policy makers, urban planners and businesses a clearer picture of the nation in 2016. Joe Friesen and Tom Cardoso explain the highlights

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.

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