According to Statistics Canada, Canada’s population stood at 36.5 million at the end of 2016, an increase of 465,000 (+1.29%) over the final quarter of 2015. In absolute terms this was the largest annual increase since 1971. As has been the pattern over the past twenty years, this gain was due primarily (75%) to strong growth of international net migration which rose by an unprecedented 342,000.
Fuelled by a sustained net inflow of 1,324,000 international migrants over the past five years, Canada's population growth has averaged 1.1%, the highest among the Group of Seven highly industrialized countries and eighth among the Group of Twenty major economies.
From a provincial perspective, despite a steady outflow of Manitobans to other provinces over the past several years up to and including 2016, the keystone province's population increased by 1.7% year over year in the final quarter of 2016. This gain, the highest among the ten provinces, was due entirely to a net inflow of 21,700 international migrants, the bulk of whom were permanent.
Turning to Ontario, the combination of an inflow of 154,800 international migrants (a fifteen-year high) and a net inflow of 19,800 migrants from other provinces (the largest since 1988) boosted Ontario's population by 219,000 in 2016, up from 139,000 in 2015.
This was the largest net population gain that the trillium province has exhibited since 1990. While the province has consistently attracted its fair (36% to 45%) share of international migrants, over the past six quarters, the combination of a slowdown in the number of Ontarians moving to other provinces was significantly offset by a significant (15% y/y) acceleration in the volume of migrants from other provinces.
Despite the precipitous drop in energy prices over the past two-and-a-half years, population growth in both Alberta and Saskatchewan, at 1.5% y/y, outpaced the country as a whole (1.3%) in 2016. While Alberta and Saskatchewan both experienced a significant outflow of residents to other provinces over the year of 10,000 and 5,600 respectively, these loses were more than offset by a sustained net inflow of migrants from outside the country. As noted in a recent Statistics Canada article titled Canadian Megatrends: From east to west: 140 years of interprovincial migration, there is reason to expect the recent outflow of residents to other provinces will not persist.
Moving further west, fuelled by the combination of solid gains in interprovincial net migration and a gradual strengthening in international net migration over the past four quarters, the population of British Columbia increased by 1.3% y/y in the final quarter of 2016. The net inflow of 32,900 international migrants was largely due to a combination of gains in permanent migrants and returning migrants.
East of the Ontario/Quebec border, the only province to grow faster than the country as a whole was Prince Edward Island. During 2016 it saw a population increase of 1.5% y/y, well ahead of its 0.7% gain a year earlier. After posting growth of 0.6% y/y in 2015, Quebec's population rose by 0.8% in 2016 primarily on account of an unprecedented net inflow of 57,600 migrants from other countries, which more than offset a net outflow of 12,000
Quebecers to other provinces. Among the Atlantic provinces, Nova Scotia's population growth accelerated from 0.2% y/y in 2015 to 0.7% in 2016 while New Brunswick saw its population rise by 0.4% in 2016 after flatlining in 2015. Over the course of 2016, the combination of a net increase in international migrants and a roughly equivalent exodus of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to other provinces left the population of The Rock unchanged compared to 2016.
From our perspective, the pattern and the magnitude of Canada's population growth over the past year sends two messages. First, despite the headwinds facing the energy sector in Western Canada, it appears that growth in both Alberta and Saskatchewan during 2017 will be underpinned by sustained gains in population. Second, the near record population gain in Ontario, due to net inflows of migrants from other countries and from other provinces, suggests that attempts to restrain housing demand in the province in general and in the Greater Golden Horseshoe in particular, will have as much success as did King Canute in his attempt to hold back the tide.