WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE LATEST POPULATION CHANGES IN CANADA • Last year, Canada registered its lowest rate of annual population growth since 1916, with the national population expanding by only 0.4% in 2020 • The drivers of this slow growth were both related to the pandemic: an elevated number of deaths and suppressed international migration • In British Columbia, 2020’s population growth rate of 0.4% was its lowest since 1874 • 2020 will prove to be an anomaly for Canada’s demography, with increased immigration in the coming years boosting population growth
the rennie brief
Historically-slow population growth in Canada in 2020 was a direct consequence of the pandemic, as the number of deaths rose and international migration slowed to a veritable trickle. This transitory phenomenon will give way to increased growth in the coming years.
Statistics Canada recently published its latest population estimates for Canada and its provinces and territories. These data, which include the period Q4 2020, allow us to consider the impacts that Covid-19 had on the components of population growth for the full-year 2020, and how this in turn impacted the overall rate of growth nationally and here in British Columbia. Below are some highlights from this latest data release. THE CANADIAN CONTEXT Last year, Canada registered its lowest rate of annual population growth since 1916, with the national population expanding by only 0.4% in 2020 (which nudged it just past the 38-million-person mark). Of the almost 150,000 people that were added to the Canadian population during 2020, 40,700 were added in Q4—well in excess of the 2,800 people added in Q3 and the 25,000 added in Q2, when population growth was most suppressed by Covid-19. That said, Q4 growth was roughly 25% of the average growth that Canada experienced in Q4s over the past decade. Generally-speaking, the pandemic served to slow population growth in Canada in 2020 in two ways: by increasing deaths and through the suppression of international migration. For example, Canada tallied more than 300,000 deaths in 2020 for the first time ever, with 1 in 20 of those deaths (5.1%) being attributed to the pandemic. While this share feels startlingly high, it was much lower than in the UK (12.3%) and the US (11.2%). On the migration front, Canada had anticipated welcoming 341,000 immigrants in 2020, based on a target that had been established prior to the pandemic. In the end, the realized number of immigrants to Canada was only 184,600—46% below the original target and the fewest immigrants we have welcomed since 1998.
BRITISH COLUMBIA HIGHLIGHTS Here in BC, our 2020 population growth rate of 0.4% was its lowest since 1874. Interestingly, had it not been for relatively robust net interprovincial migration to the province, growth would have been even more muted. The 4,878-person net inflow from other parts of Canada in Q4, for example, compared to net inflows of 702 and 460 people to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, respectively, while every other province and territory lost people through interprovincial migration. On the international migration front (which includes immigrants, emigrants, and changes in temporary workers and students), BC actually lost 599 people in 2020—a staggering observation when one considers BC added 66,000 people from other countries in 2019. Meanwhile, the 1,064 more deaths than births in Q4 in BC was the largest quarterly population deficit through so-called “natural increase” in the province’s history. WHY THIS MATTERS The changing pace of population growth has significant implications for many aspects of our communities, such as impacting the capacity for our economy to grow and shaping the number and types of homes that are demanded. With Covid-19 vaccinations underway across Canada, and with immigration targets having been raised to in excess of 400,000 for each of the next three years, the demographic story that will unfold in the near-term will undoubtedly differ from the one that played out in 2020. Instead of slow or no growth, we have to prepare for robust growth—which will bring its own set of challenges and opportunities.
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