Section 1: Total population

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The analysis in this publication is based mainly on preliminary data. Since these data will be revised in the coming years, some trends described in this publication could change as a result of these revisions. Therefore, the data in this publication should be interpreted with caution.

This section presents the population estimates for Canada, the provinces and territories on July 1, 2016, along with a concise analysis of the various components of population growth.

In the past year, Canada’s population growth accelerated

On July 1, 2016, Canada’s population was estimated at 36,286,425, up 437,815 in the past year (2015/2016). The country’s population growth rate was 1.2%, 1  up from 0.9% in 2014/2015. In absolute numbers, Canada’s population growth in the past year was the largest since 1988/1989 (+485,034). This growth can be expressed as an increase of 1,200 persons per day.

Canada posts the strongest population growth among G7 countries

Over the last year, population growth in Canada remained the strongest among G7 countries. 2  Canada outpaced Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States, all with a population growth rate of 0.8%, as well as France (+0.5%). Canada’s population growth rate of 1.2% contrasts with the decreases recorded in Italy (-0.2%) and Japan (-0.4%). However, Canada’s population growth was not the highest among industrialized countries; it was lower than the increase posted in Australia (+1.4%) and New Zealand (+2.1%). 3 

International migration accounts for most of the population growth

Population growth at the national level is based on two factors: natural increase 4  and net international migration, 5  while provincial and territorial population estimates also factor in interprovincial migration. In the past year, natural increase was estimated at 123,890, based on the difference between 392,902 births and 269,012 deaths according to preliminary estimates. During the same period, net international migration totalled 313,925, the highest level since the start of the period covered by the current system of demographic accounts in July 1971.

Since 1995/1996, international migration has consistently been the main factor in population growth in Canada, and the contribution of international migratory increase in the past year (71.7%) was the largest in the recent past. By comparison, the proportion of population growth explained by net international migration averaged 38.3% during the 1980s.

Net international migration reached record levels in 5 of 10 provinces

At no point since July 1971, the beginning of the period covered by the current demographic accounting system, has Canada ever registered such high net international migration as in the past year (+313,925). Five provinces also posted new highs in net international migration: Newfoundland and Labrador (+2,015), Nova Scotia (+7,528), New Brunswick (+5,069), Manitoba (+21,351) and Saskatchewan (+15 693). In the three Atlantic provinces mentioned above, net international migration in 2015/2016 was roughly double recent levels.

The increase in net international migration in 2015/2016 is mainly due to the arrival of a large number of immigrants. Canada received 320,932 immigrants in the past year, a record high since the beginning of the period covered by the current demographic accounting system in July 1971. The previous peak was recorded in 2009/2010 (270,581 immigrants), and the country had not received as many immigrants in a single annual period since the early 1910s, during the settlement of Western Canada. By comparison, the number of immigrants was 240,844 in 2014/2015, which indicates an increase of 33.3% this past year. The arrival of Syrian refugees accounts in part for the rise in immigrant numbers posted in the last year. 6 

Over the past year, all the provinces received more immigrants than in 2014/2015, and six received a record number: Newfoundland and Labrador (1,406), Nova Scotia (5,390), New Brunswick (4,435), Manitoba (17,238), Saskatchewan (15,006) and Alberta (57,384).

At the same time, the number of non-permanent residents grew by 38,152 in the past year, following a decline of 15,615 in 2014/2015. Also, net non-permanent residents reached record levels in four provinces: Prince Edward Island (+685), Nova Scotia (+2,795), New Brunswick (+947) and Manitoba (+4,856). The number of non-permanent residents fell in two provinces: Alberta (-9,816) and British Columbia (-3,267).

A growing share of immigrants settle in the Prairie provinces

The geographic distribution of new immigrants continued to shift in favour of the Prairie provinces. In the past year, 27.9% of immigrants settled in one of the three Prairie provinces, a record high since the beginning of the period covered by the current demographic accounting system in July 1971. In comparison, this proportion was three times lower 20 years ago (8.9% in 1995/1996). Conversely, the share of immigrants who settled in Canada’s central provinces (Quebec and Ontario) reached its lowest level in 2015/2016, at 54.4%. Nevertheless, Ontario was still the province that received the largest proportion of immigrants (37.3%). Alberta received the second largest number of immigrants in Canada (57,384). This represents a break in recent historical trends, since up to now Quebec or British Columbia had always ranked second behind Ontario for the number of new immigrants.

The estimate of the number of immigrants is based on their intended province or territory of residence, as collected by the IRCC. This also applies to the calculation of international migratory increase and provincial and territorial population growth.

In the last year, the proportion of immigrants received by each Western Canadian province exceeded those provinces’ demographic weight. Among Canada’s other six provinces, only Prince Edward Island was in the same situation. Although on a national scale, the Atlantic provinces received a limited share of total immigrants (4.1%), this proportion exceeded 4% for the first time in 2015/2016. This was due in part to the arrival of Syrian refugees in the past year. In the Atlantic provinces, more than one immigrant in five (21.9%) was a Syrian refugee, compared with just over 1 in 12 (8.7%) in the rest of Canada.

More than four out of five Canadians live in four provinces

On July 1, 2016, more than 31.3 million Canadians (86.3%) lived in four provinces: Ontario (38.5%), Quebec (22.9%), British Columbia (13.1%) and Alberta (11.7%). Ontario remained Canada’s most populous province, with 13,982,984 residents. The least populous province was Prince Edward Island, with 148,649 residents. Quebec, with 8,326,089 residents, continued to be the second most populous province in Canada, followed by British Columbia (4,751,612) and Alberta (4,252,879).

Population growth accelerated in the large majority of the provinces

Compared with 2014/2015, population growth 7  in the past year increased at the national level and in 9 out of 10 provinces. Alberta was the sole exception, with a population growth rate remaining unchanged at 1.7%. Despite this stability, and even though it registered negative net interprovincial migration for the first time since 2009/2010, Alberta was again the province with the strongest population growth in Canada, tied with Manitoba (+1.7%). It should be noted that Manitoba’s population growth (+22,147) in the past year was the strongest for that province since the start of the period covered by the current demographic accounting system in July 1971. Saskatchewan (+1.6%) also registered strong population growth in the past year. The Prairie provinces therefore posted the three strongest population growth rates in Canada in 2015/2016.

Although population growth in the Atlantic provinces was not as strong as in the Prairie provinces, it nevertheless markedly increased over recent levels. After three straight years of population decline, New Brunswick (+0.3%) saw an increase in 2015/2016. Nova Scotia (+0.6%) recorded its strongest population growth since 1989/1990 (+0.7%). Prince Edward Island (+1.3%) was the province in this regional subset with the highest population growth rate. Lastly, the population growth rate of Newfoundland and Labrador (+0.3%) exceeded the previous three annual periods.

In the past year, Ontario’s population growth rate (+1.3%) was up substantially from the 2014/2015 level (+0.8%) and reached its highest point since 2001/2002 (+1.6%). Quebec’s population growth (+0.8%) exceeded the levels of the previous two years (+0.7% in 2013/2014 and +0.5% in 2014/2015), but remained below the national average for a fifth consecutive year. Lastly, the population growth rate in British Columbia (+1.2%) was equal to Canada’s growth rate.

In the territories in the past year, only Nunavut (+1.5%) posted an increase in its population growth compared with 2014/2015 (+1.4%). The population grew at a rate below the national average in Yukon (+0.3%) and the Northwest Territories (+0.5%).

Net international migration is the main driver of population growth in all provinces

Since they had more deaths than births and their net interprovincial migration was negative, three Atlantic provinces had only international migration to expand their population in the past year. Newfoundland and Labrador was the only exception; its net interprovincial migration (+0.1%) was slightly positive.

Quebec, Manitoba and Saskatchewan were all characterized by international migration (+0.7%, +1.6% and +1.4% respectively) that accounted for a sizable share of their growth, as well as by positive natural increase (+0.3%, +0.5% and +0.6% respectively) and negative net interprovincial migration (-0.1%, -0.5% and -0.3% respectively). For Ontario too, international migration (+1.0%) was the driver of its population growth. The province saw more births than deaths (natural increase rate of +0.3%) but no interprovincial migration losses (0.0%). In Alberta, natural increase (+0.8%) remained the highest for any province, accounting for a considerable share of the population growth. Nevertheless, increased international migration (+1.0%) was the main factor, while net interprovincial migration (-0.1%) was slightly negative. Finally, net international migration was also the main source of population growth in British Columbia (+0.6%), but unlike the other nine provinces, this factor accounted for slightly less than half of its growth. This was because the province’s natural increase was also positive (+0.2%) and its net interprovincial migration was the highest in Canada (+0.5%).

In the territories, especially because of higher fertility levels, natural increase was a more substantial source of population growth. Natural increase in the Northwest Territories (+1.0%) and Nunavut (+1.9%)—the highest in Canada—represented most of these territories’ population growth. In Yukon, however, the rate of international migratory increase (+0.9%) exceeded the rate of natural increase (+0.6%).

Alberta registers interprovincial migration losses for the first time since 2009/2010

At the provincial and territorial level, population growth is also the result of internal migratory exchanges. The total number of interprovincial migrants in Canada in 2015/2016 (284,902) peaked since 2007/2008 (301,237). After having the largest interprovincial migration gains for five consecutive years, Alberta recorded a loss of 2,877 persons (-0.1%) in 2015/2016. This is a turnaround, since that province posted migratory gains of 21,594 in 2014/2015, 35,382 in 2013/2014 and 38,598 in 2012/2013. The decrease in Alberta’s net interprovincial migration was mainly due to a decrease in the number of in-migrants (down 17,145, from 81,540 to 64,395), rather than to an increase in out-migrants (up 7,326, from 59,946 to 67,272).

In the past year, British Columbia had the strongest interprovincial migration gains in Canada (+23,260). Its net interprovincial migration rate last year (+0.5%) was the highest since 1995/1996 (+0.6%). Newfoundland and Labrador (+271) and Ontario (+6,154) were the only two other provinces not to see any interprovincial migration losses. For Ontario, this was the first year since 2002/2003 without losses in interprovincial migration.

The largest migration flows involve exchanges with Ontario or Alberta

The 30 largest migration flows are shown in the circular chart 8  below, in which each province or territory is assigned a colour. Origins and destinations are represented by the circle’s segments. Flows have the same colour as their origin, the width indicates their size and the arrow their direction.

Over the past year, the largest interprovincial migration flow was from Alberta to British Columbia (27,648). The flow in the opposite direction (from British Columbia to Alberta) totalled 17,574 migrants, translating into gains of 10,074 persons for British Columbia. These migration flows were key to interpreting the net interprovincial migration of each of these two provinces. On the one hand, Alberta’s losses in interprovincial migration were almost entirely due to this deficit with British Columbia, since its migratory exchanges were positive with all the other provinces except Newfoundland and Labrador (-574). On the other hand, nearly half of British Columbia’s interprovincial migration gains (43.3% of the total) were explained by its exchanges with Alberta. In the last year, British Columbia was the only province to have gained in its migratory exchanges with each of the other Canadian provinces.

The second largest interprovincial migration flow in Canada was from Quebec to Ontario (19,196), and the third largest flow was from Ontario to Alberta (17,909), but that flow was down substantially from the previous year (25,660). This was the main reason why Ontario did not register interprovincial migration losses in 2015/2016.

In relative terms expressed as rates, 9  the largest interprovincial migration flows were from Prince Edward Island to Ontario (+0.9%), from Saskatchewan to Alberta (+0.8%) and from Alberta to British Columbia (+0.7%).

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