Recent Population Growth & Migration Trends in Canada (Q2 2013)
Yazmin Hernandez, Andrew Ramlo & Ryan Berlin
The Urban Futures Institute


Statistics Canada’s most recent release of quarterly population estimates (for Q2 2013) shows that Canada added 133,008 over the previous quarter, reaching a total population of 35,158,304 by the end of June. Consistent with past trends, net immigration accounted for the lion’s share of this growth (73 percent), as 97,583 immigrants (on a net basis) came to Canada in Q2 2013. The process of natural increase (the number of births minus the number of deaths) added the remaining 35,425 people between April and June 2013.

Looking at population growth by province reveals some continued, and some more surprising, trends in the drivers to provincial population change. With Canada’s population growing by 0.4 percent between Q1 and Q2 2013, only Alberta (1.1 percent growth; 42,834 new residents) and Saskatchewan (0.6 percent growth; 6,895 new residents) experienced above-average growth rates, while the Northwest Territories (including Nunavut and hereafter simply referred to as NWT) grew at the national average of 0.4 percent. Newfoundland & Labrador and Nova Scotia declined, losing 0.1 and 0.2 percent of their populations (respectively) during Q2. All other provinces saw population growth in the range of 0.3 percent.

For all of the provinces except NWT, net immigration—immigrants, returning emigrants, and changes in the number of non-permanent residents minus emigrants and Canadians temporarily abroad—is the main source of population growth. Looking at the distribution of net immigration to Canada, Ontario welcomed 33 percent of all net immigrants during Q2 2013 (31,852 people), while Quebec and Alberta each welcomed over 20,000 new immigrants during this time, representing just under a quarter of Canada’s net immigrants. British Columbia had the fourth-largest number of net immigrants over this quarter, with 12,881 people settling in BC from other countries (13 percent of Canada’s net immigrants). Manitoba and Saskatchewan each accounted for just over four percent of Canada’s net immigrants in Q2, with each welcoming just over 4,000 people. All other provinces and territories received less than one percent of immigrants to Canada between April and June 2013. 

In considering the flow of domestic migrants (interprovincial migration), a couple of intriguing trends emerge, including population losses in all provinces and territories outside of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and NWT. Although Saskatchewan and NWT only experienced small net interprovincial migration gains (of 1,207 and 143 additional people, respectively), Alberta welcomed, on a net basis, 13,791 domestic migrants in Q2, a level only previously attained in 2006, 1998, and then way back in 1981.

Alberta has generally experienced net gains from domestic migration through much of the historical record, with consecutive quarterly losses from domestic migration only recorded in the 1980s and the early- to mid-1990s. More recently, the third and fourth quarters of 2009 also saw a loss of about 2,000 net domestic migrants each quarter. Over the past ten quarters (Q1 2011 to Q2 2013), Alberta has attracted the largest number net domestic migrants of all provinces—by far—averaging over 8,700 net additions annually through domestic migration.

Although domestic migration historically took more people away from Saskatchewan than it brought to it, this trend shifted in Q3 2006, making the loss of population through domestic migration a sporadic occurrence. More specifically, over the past 27 quarters Saskatchewan experienced declines in net domestic migration in only three of them: Q1 2011, Q4 2012, and Q2 2013.

On the other end of the domestic migration spectrum, Atlantic Canada continues to lose population through domestic migration, while Ontario and Quebec have experienced quarterly losses in net domestic migration for close to a decade. As such, the most recent migration data merely represent one additional point along a trend line for these parts of Canada.

In the case of British Columbia in Q2 2013, net domestic migration was, once again, negative. While relatively small in number (1,258 more people moved from BC to other provinces than came back the other way), this net loss is a significant trend for two reasons. First, this quarterly loss follows on the heels of losses through the previous five quarters, representing the first time since 1997 that the province has seen this many consecutive quarters of net interprovincial out-migration. Second, while the wash and backwash of labour force migrants between BC and Alberta is evident in the migration data back to 1972 (54 percent of those who left BC went to Alberta), a significant proportion of the losses in the most recent quarter were to Ontario (4,178 people; 23 percent) and Saskatchewan (1,352 people; seven percent).

While these numbers and trends are interesting in and of themselves, the migration data may be good leading indicators of overall economic activity (as we have shown in the past); it follows, then, that the resource-rich prairie provinces (Saskatchewan and Alberta) could outperform the national average in terms of GDP growth over the near-term. With economic growth being facilitated by a growing labour force—and implicitly a growing population—the recent pattern of domestic migration flows should be food for thought for all other Canadian provinces and territories.