Census gives us data to address pressing issues

November 3, 2017

By Vancouver Sun |

The census data Statistics Canada didn’t tell us much we didn’t already know but it put some hard numbers on the anecdotal evidence that has been building over the last few years.

For example, it was apparent from casual observation that the top sources of immigrants to British Columbia were China, India and the Philippines. The census confirmed that between 2011 and 2016 they accounted for 21.7 per cent, 15.6 per cent 15.2 per cent respectively.

It was equally clear that visible minorities had become the majority in some Canadian cities. And, sure enough, according to the census, whites and aboriginals accounted for 36.4 per cent of those who live in Burnaby, 42.5 per cent in Surrey, 48.4 per cent in the City of Vancouver and 49.8 per cent in Coquitlam.

Given the high profile of immigration issues in B.C., it may have come as a surprise to many to learn that B.C.’s share of recently settled immigrants fell to 14.5 per cent in 2016 from 20.8 per cent in 2001, and trailed Ontario at 39 per cent, Quebec at 17.8 per cent and Alberta at 17.1 per cent.

The cost of housing is one reason cited for the drop in B.C.’s share of immigrants and, indeed, the census confirmed that home ownership is in decline. In fact, Vancouver’s home-ownership rate in 2016 was 63.7 per cent, below the national average of 67.8 per cent. Nearly a third of homeowners in Vancouver live in condominiums; nationally only 13.3 per cent of households call a condo home. Millennials, the census found, are more likely to be renters than baby boomers were at the same age.

One other significant take-away from the census data was the growth in the Aboriginal population, more than four times the growth rate of the non-Aboriginal population. The increase is attributed to greater life expectancy, higher fertility rates and more people self-identifying as Aboriginal.

All of these numbers present challenges for policy-makers. Should Canada maintain its immigration intake at 300,000 a year? What measures need to be in place to ensure they are welcomed, housed, educated, integrated and employed? How best do we promote tolerance, acceptance and inclusiveness?

After decades of promoting home ownership as the brass ring, is it time to acknowledge that renting is a viable option and to provide purpose-built rental units to meet domestic market demand rather than building condos for foreign investors?

As B.C.’s Aboriginal population in B.C. continues to grow, up 38 per cent since 2006, what needs to be done to make sure all who identify as Aboriginal have the same opportunities for education and employment as non-Aboriginals, that their life outcomes mirror those of other Canadians?

These are not issues that can be resolved in weeks or months but it shouldn’t be necessary to wait until the next census to determine whether we’ve been successful in addressing them.

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