Immigration not enough to save P.E.I. population

June 15, 2015

By Kevin Yan, CBC News |

Immigration has kept P.E.I. the youngest province in Atlantic Canada over the last decade, but importing youth won’t be enough to keep the provincial population sustainable into the future.

Like the rest of the Western world, P.E.I. is facing the problem of an aging population. This problem is made worse on P.E.I. because many young people are leaving, while at the same time older people are moving into the province.

Over the past decade, P.E.I. has lost more than 6,500 people aged under 45 to interprovincial migration. During that same period it has gained more 1,400 people who have passed their 45th birthday.

As a result the proportion of people aged 45 and older on the Island increased from 41.4 per cent in 2005 to 47.7 per cent in 2014.

Success at attracting immigrants

The Island’s population would be much older today but for a plan, which was at the same time successful and controversial, that attracted thousands of immigrants in the last decade.

That early version immigrant investor program of the provincial nominee program, which ended in 2008, drew accusations of corruption for the way it was administered, but it also provided a huge boost to immigration. Just a few hundred immigrants a year were coming to the Island in the early years of the century, but it peaked at 2,609 in 2010-11. More than three quarters of those immigrants were younger than 45.

It is immigration that gave P.E.I. the highest population growth rate in Atlantic Canada in the last decade, and kept the province relatively young. It has also changed the face of the Island. As an ethnic group, the Chinese have catapulted from insignificant numbers to being the most prominent visible minority on the Island.

While the change is dramatic relative to what the Island is used to, Don Mills of the market research firm Corporate Research Associates argues the whole Atlantic region needs to be more accepting of immigration. He notes about five per cent of people living in Atlantic Canada were born in another country. The Canadian average is 22 per cent.

“We are the least diverse area of the country, and by a mile,” said Mills.

“We need to be, first of all, willing and able to accept immigrants coming in from other countries, and be more welcoming than we currently are, and, number two, we need to have a strategy across this region to attract and retain these people.”

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