Migration: Interprovincial, 2011/2012

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By Stephanie Willbond

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Interprovincial migration, or the movements of persons from one province or territory to another involving a change in usual place of residence, influences the distribution of the country’s population and the composition of the population within the provinces and territories. This article will describe interprovincial migration in Canada in 2011/2012 using final data. Analysis is based on trends beginning in 1976/1977, the first year of the current system of record-keeping. More specifically, the article will discuss overall interprovincial migration and how it affects Canada as a whole, the breakdown of migration by province/territory including the number of inflows, outflows, and net migration, and the migratory flows between individual provinces and territories. Also, due to Alberta’s high interprovincial migration rates, there will be a description of Alberta’s migration patterns, followed by a section on the particular age profile of migrants, and finally a brief examination of preliminary estimates for 2012/2013.

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Data source

Interprovincial migration estimates used for this article come from the Population Estimates Program at Statistics Canada. Since no provision is made to record interprovincial movement in Canada, Statistics Canada produces these estimates using the T1 Family file (T1FF), an administrative data file that is composed from individual T1 and T4 tax files and the Canada Child Tax Benefit (CCTB) file received from the Canada Revenue Agency. These data allow for the identification of migrants by comparing addresses indicated on personal income tax returns over two consecutive tax years. Refer to the Statistics Canada publication catalogue no. 91‑528‑X for additional information on the methodology.

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Number of interprovincial migrants in Canada

In 2011/2012, the total number of interprovincial migrants in Canada was 280,347 (Table 1). This number is higher than it has been in the past three years but still lower than it has been historically (Figure 1). Prior to 2011/2012, the number of interprovincial migrants decreased steadily from 305,062 in 2006/2007 to 257,085 in 2010/2011. A similar trend occurred between 1997/1998 and 2003/2004 where a decrease from 309,234 to 261,380 migrants was followed by a spike in 2004/2005 to 285,544.

Factors that may influence migratory patterns include the economy and job opportunities.Note 1,Note 2,Note 3 For example, persons may be more inclined to migrate to provinces/territories experiencing economic growth in hope for better opportunity, and more likely to leave provinces/territories experiencing economic difficulties or higher unemployment.

Patterns of interprovincial migration also vary by age and sex, with young adults, more specifically males aged 20 to 29 years, being the most likely to migrate Note 4,Note 5 During 2011/2012, the greatest number of male and female migrants were 27 years of age. In fact, while persons aged 27 years represented 1.4% of the total Canadian population; they represented 3.6% of all migrants.

As indicated previously, although the total number of Canadian migrants increased during 2011/2012, the number is still lower than it has been historically. This decrease can be explained in part by population aging as well as other factors. In fact, in 2011, the median age for Canada (40.0 years) was 12.3 years greater than it was in 1976 (27.7 years). A younger median age could to some extent explain higher migration rates, while the current median age belongs to an older age group where the migration rates decrease gradually but substantially.Note 6 However, with decreased migration rates across almost every age group (Figure 2), population aging can only partly explain this overall decrease in Canadian interprovincial migration.

Interprovincial in-migrants and out-migrants

Levels of in- and out-migration were generally higher for the provinces and territories in 2011/2012 compared to 2010/2011. More specifically, 9 out of 13 provinces and territories experienced increases in the number of entrants with exceptions being Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Eleven out of the 13 experienced increases in the number of exits (excluding Newfoundland and Labrador and Alberta).

Not only were the levels of migration higher in 2011/2012, but the increases in the number of interprovincial migrants that occurred between 2010/2011 and 2011/2012 were higher than those experienced between 2009/2010 and 2010/2011. Moreover, between 2010/2011 and 2011/2012, 7 out of the 13 jurisdictions experienced increases in out-migration of at least 10%, while no occurrences were seen the previous year. Finally, during 2011/2012, none of the provinces or territories experienced decreases in both the number of entrants and exits while 7 out of 13 experienced increases in both of these components, including Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Yukon.

Excluding the territories, for a second year in a row, Alberta was the province that welcomed the most in-migrants, both in number and proportion of the population (80,837 and 2.1%, respectively). In absolute terms, Ontario briefly held this title during the 2009/2010 period, but fell back into second position the following year and remained in second place for 2011/2012, with 60,459 in-migrants. However, due to Ontario’s large population size, the high number of in‑migrants had little effect on Ontario’s population. In fact, Ontario’s in-migration rate was the second lowest out of all the provinces and territories (0.5%), surpassing only Quebec (0.3%). For over 15 years, Alberta and Ontario were the two provinces that held the highest number of in-migrants, with earlier years also including British Columbia. Other than Ontario’s brief lead in 2009/2010, Alberta has consistently welcomed the largest numbers of in‑migrants since 2001/2002.

From 2010/2011 to 2011/2012, Alberta posted the largest relative increase in the number of in‑migrants (26.4%), followed by Saskatchewan (16.8%). Alberta’s relative increase during this period was the strongest it has been since the 2003/2004 to 2004/2005 period (35.5%).

Ontario, the most populous province, remained the largest source of out‑migrants (71,070) in 2011/2012, followed by Alberta and British Columbia with 53,185 and 51,304 exits, respectively. However, when looking at the number of out‑migrants relative to population size, these three provinces had some of the lowest rates among all provinces and territories. In relative terms, with the exception of the territories, Prince Edward Island posted the highest out-migration rate in 2011/2012 (2.2%).

The largest relative increase in the number of out‑migrants occurred in the less populous Nunavut with a 22.2% increase from 2010/2011 to 2011/2012. Among the provinces, the largest relative increases were seen in Prince Edward Island (19.7%) and Nova Scotia (18.4%). The largest absolute increase (8,746) in number of out‑migrants occurred in Ontario.

Net interprovincial migration

This next section examines net interprovincial migration and looks into migrant flows by origin and destination. Net interprovincial migration is defined as the difference between the number of in‑migrants and out‑migrants for a given province or territory. Negative net migration occurs when more individuals are lost to other provinces and territories than those who entered from elsewhere in Canada, while the reverse is true for positive net migration.

The origin and destination matrix provides a breakdown of the number of migrants entering a jurisdiction from another province/territory in Canada as well as the number of migrants leaving a jurisdiction for another province/territory in Canada. For example, this matrix identifies which province/territory Alberta is receiving most of its migrants from and which province/territory Ontario is losing most of its migrants to. Finally, a migration balance can be determined between an individual province/territory and its partner by calculating the difference between the number of people entering the province/territory from its partner and subtracting the number of exits from that province/territory to its partner.

The origin and destination matrix indicates major sources of migratory exchange between provinces and territories and highlights that generally, individual provinces/territories exchange migrants with few other jurisdictions in Canada. For example, Quebec and Ontario have always been major sources of migratory exchange, as are British Columbia and Alberta. The migration between these pairs can be explained in part by their geographic proximity to each other, while the migration between Alberta and Ontario for example may be explained by other factors such as the economy or job opportunity (Table 2).

An overall loss for the Atlantic provinces

In 2011/2012, the Atlantic provinces experienced an overall net loss, a trend continuing from the previous year and a continuation of a long-term pattern. In fact, only Newfoundland and Labrador incurred a positive net gain during this period, while the other three provinces maintained negative balances. In comparison to 2010/2011, Newfoundland and Labrador’s net balance became even more positive (increase of 515 migrants) in 2011/2012, while those for Prince Edward Island (decrease of 408 migrants), Nova Scotia (decrease of 2,825 migrants) and New Brunswick (decrease of 1,648 migrants) became more negative.

Newfoundland and Labrador has maintained its positive migratory balance since 2008/2009, with 545 more entrants than exits during 2011/2012. Newfoundland and Labrador’s recent gains in interprovincial migration are unlike the historical losses observed for that province, suggesting that a new pattern might be arising for the province. In 2011/2012, the province gained 8,173 persons from other provinces/territories while losing the lesser 7,628. A continued trend saw that Alberta and Ontario were the biggest sources of migratory exchange with Newfoundland and Labrador. The province’s negative balance (-606) with Alberta was the result of 3,145 people leaving for Alberta while only 2,539 persons made the reverse move. On the other hand, Newfoundland and Labrador has maintained a positive balance with Ontario since 2004/2005 (850 in 2011/2012). . Finally, Nova Scotia also played a substantial part in the migratory exchanges with Newfoundland and Labrador, with 937 exits to Nova Scotia and 1,117 entrants from Nova Scotia.

Prince Edward Island’s negative balance was maintained for a second year in a row (from 2010/2011 to 2011/2012), with a net migration of -618. This increased negative balance is the result of a gain of 2,620 migrants (126 more persons than the previous year) and a loss of 3,238 migrants (534 more persons than the previous year). Ontario, Alberta and Nova Scotia continued to be major sources of migratory exchange with Prince Edward Island. Its migratory balances with Ontario and Alberta remained negative for a second year in a row, with 2011/2012 balances of -151 and -399, respectively.

Nova Scotia’s negative net migration was maintained for a second year in a row (from 2010/2011 to 2011/2012), this time with a net loss of 2,866 people, resulting from 14,410 entrants and 17,276 exits. The increase in the number of exits can largely be attributed to the loss that Nova Scotia witnessed to Alberta. Moreover, 1,413 more persons were lost to Alberta in 2011/2012 than during 2010/2011, producing a migratory balance of -2,717, three times more negative than what was experienced the previous year. On the other hand, Nova Scotia was able to maintain its positive (though lower) migratory balance with Ontario (376) and achieved a positive balance (139) with New Brunswick for the first time since 2008/2009.

New Brunswick witnessed a negative migratory balance for the second year in a row, continuing a long-term pattern for the province. With a greater negative net migration balance (‑1,806) this period than the previous period, New Brunswick lost more persons (11,850) to other provinces/territories in 2011/2012, an increase of 1,525 from 2010/2011, while gaining a lesser amount (10,044) than was gained during the previous period. New Brunswick’s net balances with its major migratory partners were negative, with the biggest deficit occurring to Alberta (‑1,343). The positive balances that New Brunswick held with Ontario and Nova Scotia in 2010/2011 became negative in 2011/2012 with net losses of ‑54 and ‑139 respectively.

Quebec continues to lose more people than it gains

Quebec continues to experience interprovincial migration losses, a trend that has been uninterrupted since 1976/1977. More specifically, Quebec’s net migratory loss was ‑6,915 in 2011/2012 resulting from an outflow of 27,094 persons, 2,447 more persons than were lost in 2010/2011, and an inflow of 20,179, a slight increase from the previous year. Quebec’s biggest exchanges occurred with Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia. During 2011/2012, the net migratory exchanges with these three provinces became more negative than they had been the previous year. Quebec lost most of its migrant population to Ontario, its nearest neighbour, with an overall net loss of ‑4,332.

Ontario’s net loss doubles in 2011/2012

Ontario, the most populated province, and therefore one of Canada’s more important contributors to migration continued to see negative net migration in 2011/2012, a consistent trend that can be seen dating back to 2003/2004. In 2011/2012, Ontario’s net migratory loss (‑10,611) more than doubled in comparison to the previous period, resulting largely from the spike (+8,746) in persons leaving Ontario (71,070) for other provinces/territories. Although the number of entrants to Ontario also increased, the increase (+2,142) was not enough to offset the greater loss. Ontario continued to lose more people to Alberta and British Columbia than it gained. Its biggest net loss (‑10,798) occurred to Alberta, with a loss of 22,896 persons and a gain of 12,098 persons. Finally, Ontario’s net gain (4,332) with Quebec was not large enough to offset the losses it experienced to both British Columbia (‑952) and Alberta (‑10,798).

Manitoba maintains its negative balance

Manitoba experienced negative net migration in 2011/2012, a trend that has been apparent since 1984/1985. The net balance (‑4,212) was more negative in 2011/2012 than during the previous four periods due to a greater increase in the number of out‑migrants in comparison to the smaller increase in number of in-migrants. Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia were Manitoba’s biggest migration partners. More specifically, Manitoba maintained negative migratory balances with these three provinces, with its greatest net loss occurring to Alberta (‑2,129), followed by British Columbia (‑1,135) and Ontario (‑458).

Saskatchewan retains a positive migratory balance for the sixth year in a row

Since 2006/2007, a new trend has emerged for Saskatchewan in regards to interprovincial migration, with the province maintaining positive net migration. In fact, Saskatchewan was one of only four provinces and territories to experience net interprovincial migration gains in 2011/2012. Saskatchewan had an overall net gain of 1,878 people in 2011/2012, a more than threefold increase from the previous period (2010/2011). The increase (+1,451) in the number of exits from Saskatchewan was less apparent than the increase (+2,784) in the number of in‑migrants, which allowed for this year’s greater positive migration balance.

Major sources of migratory exchange with Saskatchewan include Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. Saskatchewan witnessed positive migration balances with Ontario and British Columbia with values of 2,448 and 167 respectively, while experiencing a negative migratory balance with Alberta (‑1,762) for a second year in a row. The loss to Alberta was greater during 2011/2012 as a result of the increased number of migrants leaving Saskatchewan for Alberta. Moreover, Saskatchewan lost an additional 1,071 persons to Alberta during 2011/2012 than during 2010/2011, while only gaining 243 entrants from Alberta during this same period. On the other hand, Saskatchewan’s net gain with Ontario was nearly two times greater, receiving 1,316 more entrants than it had the previous period.

Alberta’s migratory balance is back on the rise

In 2011/2012, Alberta gained more persons than it lost to other areas in Canada, sustaining its long history of net gains. Net migration (27,652) was more than three times higher in 2011/2012 than during the previous period, and the highest it has been since 2006/2007 where net migration of 33,809 was observed. The higher net migration is the result of a large increase (26.4%) in the number of in‑migrants (80,837), while there was only a slight decrease in the number of out‑migrants (53,185).

Alberta’s recent net migration level was similar to those observed in the early to mid-2000s. The brief period of negative net migration in 2009/2010 could be partly attributed to the effects of the 2008/2009 recession where unemployment levels increased by almost four percentage points, peaking at 7.7%.Note 7 More specifically, construction, manufacturing and oil and gas sectors were the hardest hit with unemployment rates of 12.9%, 10.3% and 9.7%, respectively, between July 2008 and January 2010.Note 8 The unemployment rate began to fall after the recession, reaching a rate of 4.5%, the lowest rate of all provinces and territories, in December 2012.Note 9 At the same time (during the 2011/2012 period), Alberta experienced the three-fold increase in net migration.

Ontario and British Columbia remained Alberta’s biggest sources of migratory exchange. Alberta achieved large positive net migratory balances with Ontario (10,798) and British Columbia (5,361) in 2011/2012. In fact, Alberta experienced positive net migration with all provinces and territories. In 2010/2011, Alberta held a negative balance with British Columbia, a value that changed significantly in 2011/2012 due largely to the increase (+5,728) in migrants leaving British Columbia (26,629) for Alberta.

British Columbia experiences its first net loss in almost a decade

British Columbia dropped to a negative net migratory balance (‑2,711) with the other provinces and territories in 2011/2012, largely due to a 15.5% increase (+6,871 persons) in the number of out‑migrants (51,304). The last time British Columbia experienced negative net migration (‑1,037) was in 2002/2003. Ontario and Alberta remained British Columbia’s biggest migratory partners. British Columbia’s net balance with Ontario (952) continued to be positive in 2011/2012, a trend beginning in 2002/2003, while its balance with Alberta (‑5,361) became negative for the first time in six years.

An overall net loss for the territories

Historically, the territories have experienced low numbers of interprovincial migrants, partly a result of their small population sizes. In 2011/2012, all three territories experienced lower levels of interprovincial migration than all other provinces. However, when looking at migration relative to population size, that is rates instead of numbers, the territories have the highest rates of in‑ and out‑migration out of all the provinces and territories.

Yukon experienced a net gain (313 persons) in 2011/2012, a continuation of a trend that has been apparent since 2006/2007. Yukon’s biggest migratory partner is British Columbia where Yukon lost 510 persons and gained 639 persons causing a positive net balance of 129 persons, a trend that was also seen in the two previous periods.

Northwest Territories experienced a net loss of ‑496 persons to other provinces/territories in Canada during 2011/2012. This negative trend has been consistent for this territory for the past eight years with 2002/2003 being the last year a positive net migration was observed. Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia are the major sources of exchange with Northwest Territories. The territory lost more people to Alberta (‑450) and British Columbia (-22) than it gained. This negative trend has been consistent for many years with the last positive migration balance occurring in 2002/2003 with British Columbia, and in 1984/1985 with Alberta. Finally, Northwest Territories has maintained its positive migration balance with Ontario (93) since 2006/2007.

Nunavut returned to a negative migratory balance (‑153) in 2011/2012. In fact, the previous year (2010/2011) was the only period in the past ten years where positive net migration was witnessed for Nunavut. Ontario continues to be Nunavut’s major migratory partner in 2011/2012.

A closer look at Alberta

For more than a decade, Alberta’s favorable economic conditions, related both directly and indirectly to the development of the oil and gas industry, have played a role in attracting Canadians seeking employment in these industries. In 2011/2012, Alberta’s net interprovincial migration was quite high, returning to a level comparable to those of the early 2000’s. Indeed, Alberta welcomed over 80,000 interprovincial migrants in 2011/2012 (Table 2), or 28.8% of all interprovincial migrants, which is the same proportion as the combined number of migrants received by the two most populous provinces in the country, Ontario and Quebec.

Although Alberta’s interprovincial migration level was high, interprovincial migration within Alberta was not evenly distributed, resulting in some census divisions (CDs)Note 10 experiencing high levels of migration and others experiencing much less.

Figure 3 shows net migration rates in selected CDs in Alberta during the previous five-year period. Division No. 16 (Wood Buffalo), home to the majority of the oil sands in Alberta (including Fort McMurray)Note 11, attracts the greatest proportion of migrants entering Alberta. In 2011/2012, this CD’s net migration rate was almost two times greater than the second highest, Division No. 19 (Grande Prairie), which also tends to attract migrants for its job opportunities related to the oil and gas sector. In absolute terms, Division No. 6 (Calgary) and Division No. 11 (Edmonton) experienced the greatest net migration followed by Division No. 16 (Wood Buffalo), while the others CDs experienced significantly less (Figure 4). Similar trends were apparent when assessing the previous five-year period (2007/2008 to 2011/2012), including the 2008/2009 recession.

The recession had a significant impact on Alberta’s economy and employment rate, affecting crude oil receipts, manufacturing sales and wholesale trade.Note 12 During the same period, Alberta witnessed changes in interprovincial migration. Even with Alberta’s lower migration level, the discrepancies in CD net migration were still apparent during this period. Further, the levels of migration were reduced in the majority of Alberta’s CDs, with all but two experiencing null or negative migration balances in 2009/2010. Although Division No. 16 (Wood Buffalo) and Division No. 18 (Greenview) maintained migration gains during this period, their levels were lower than they had been previously.

Following the economic recession, the net migration rates began to increase (Figure 3) with most CDs attaining higher levels than were witnessed prior to the recession. In fact, 11 of the 18 CDs experienced rates that were at least two times as high as those prior to the recession. Further, Division No. 14 (Yellowhead), Division No. 18 (Greenview) and Division No. 19 (Grand Prairie) experienced some of the largest increases in rate post recession, reaching levels of 1% and above. Although Division No. 16 (Wood Buffalo) did experience a significant decrease in its net migration rate following the recession, this rate remained positive and higher than any other net migration rate experienced by an Alberta CD during the five‑year period (2007/2008 to 2011/2012). Finally, only this division, along with Division No. 2 (Lethbridge) and Division No. 4 (Hanna), had yet to reach pre-recession migration values by 2011/2012.

Who are the movers?

In the majority of provinces and territories, the percentage of interprovincial movers is fairly consistent across age groups; however there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, Figure 5 highlights the regions where migration levels differ significantly across age groups. Net migration in the Atlantic provinces is considerably more negative during young adulthood (20 to 24 years) but then becomes less negative, even reaching positive values between 50 and 70 years, which are ages often associated with retirement. The opposite trend is noted in Alberta, where a strong positive net migration rate occurs in the 20 to 24 age group followed by a decrease in the later years.

Similar to Alberta and the Atlantic provinces, a mirror image effect is seen when looking at the patterns for British Columbia and Saskatchewan. Moreover, Saskatchewan’s trend, similar to but less pronounced than Alberta, has a greater level of movers in the younger age groups followed by a drop during the retirement years. On the other hand, British Columbia, with a negative net migration rate in the working years, shows gains in interprovincial migration in the early retirement years. In conclusion, these regions seemed to have experienced work‑related migration with Alberta and Saskatchewan attracting younger persons to their workforce and British Columbia and the Atlantic provinces losing young adults but then gaining persons in the retirement years.

A look into 2012/2013

The 2012/2013 interprovincial migration data are considered preliminary estimates, subject to revision. Different sources are used to produce preliminary and final estimates of interprovincial migration leading to a slight overestimation of migration flows in the preliminary estimates, but having very little impact on net migration and total population estimates. For this reason, only net migration will be analysed below.

Newfoundland and Labrador dropped to a net migratory loss (‑875) in 2012/2013, for the first time since 2007/2008 (‑528). Historically, negative net migration was common for Newfoundland and Labrador with only a few periods of positive net migration. Alberta, Saskatchewan and Yukon were the only jurisdictions that maintained a positive net migration from 2011/2012 to 2012/2013, with Alberta achieving an even greater gain this period; almost double that of 2011/2012. Moreover, Alberta’s net gain (52,677) in 2012/2013 was the greatest net migration ever experienced by Alberta or any other province in Canada dating back to 1976/1977. In fact, the interprovincial migration level this period is comparable, though slightly higher, to those experienced during previous oil booms. Saskatchewan and Yukon’s positive migratory balances were lower in 2012/2013 than during the previous period. Nunavut returned to a net gain (218 persons) in 2012/2013, making it the second time in 11 years that positive net migration was witnessed in Nunavut.

Ontario continued to have the greatest absolute net loss for a second year in a row, with a two‑fold more negative net migration compared to 2011/2012, followed by Quebec which has witnessed increasing net losses since 2009/2010. Finally, all other provinces continued to have negative migratory balances in 2012/2013, with even greater negative values than were witnessed previously in 2011/2012.


Interprovincial migration in Canada contributes to the growth and distribution of the country’s population by affecting the population size, demographic composition and sociocultural make-up of each province and territory.Note 13 In 2011/2012, the total number of interprovincial migrants in Canada (280,347) was higher than it had been in the previous three years but still lower than it had been historically, with young adults experiencing the greatest levels of migration.

Alberta maintained the highest positive migratory balance (27,652 persons) for 2011/2012 and had the highest number of in‑migrants overall out of the provinces and territories for a second year in a row. Excluding Alberta’s brief period of negative net migration in 2009/2010, its net migration levels have been positive and greater than those of all other provinces since 1996/1997. It is important to note that although the overall level of interprovincial migration into Alberta was high, this migration was benefiting some census divisions more than others, with Division No. 16 (Wood Buffalo) experiencing the highest net migration rate during the previous five-year period. Out of the Atlantic provinces, only Newfoundland and Labrador had a net gain during this period, a continuation of a trend which began in 2008/2009. The other Atlantic provinces saw significantly greater net losses in the recent period. The territories continued to experience small numbers of interprovincial migrants with only Yukon experiencing positive net migration during this period.

For 2011/2012, only Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador, Alberta and Yukon saw net gains, a trend that continued from the previous year, while the other provinces and territories experienced net losses. Finally, Ontario, being the most populous province, continued to provide the greatest number of migrants to other provinces/territories and Quebec remains the only province to have never had positive annual net migration.


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