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Immigrants drove Canada's record population growth this year: StatCan report

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Thanks to immigrants, Canada was likely one of the fastest growing countries in the world between July 2022 and July 2023, according to a new Statistics Canada report.

Canada's population surpassed 40 million on June 16 and grew to 40,097,761 by July 1, an increase of 1,158,705 people – or 2.9 per cent – from July 1, 2022. In a demographic report released on Tuesday, StatCan said this rate of growth places Canada ahead of all other G7 countries and among the top 20 fastest growing countries in the world during that period.

While the difference between births and deaths accounts for two per cent of this growth, the agency said 98 per cent came from net international migration. In fact, Canada's fertility rate reached a record low in 2022, with 1.33 children born per woman, compared with 1.44 in 2021.

"As of July 1, 2023, an estimated 2,198,679 non-permanent residents lived in Canada, a 46 per cent increase from the same date one year prior," the report reads. "This represents the largest year-over-year increase in the population of non-permanent residents living in Canada since comparable data are available."

POPULATION DRIVERS

The report explains that increases in work and study permits account for most of the change in the last year, which is in line with the government’s plans to settle more immigrants to help address labour shortages in various sectors. Immigration targets will increase every year for the next three years, according to the government's 2023-2025 Immigration Levels Plan, tabled Nov. 1, 2022. The goal is to bring in 465,000 new permanent residents this year, 485,000 in 2024, and 500,000 in 2025.

In March this year, the federal government made it possible for graduates with a recently expired or expiring post-graduation work permit to receive an additional or extended work permit to stay in Canada and gain job experience for up to 18 months. At the time, there were approximately 127,000 post-graduation work permits set to expire in 2023.

Among the 2.2 million non-permanent residents recorded as of July, there are also tens of thousands of Ukrainians who were able to relocate to Canada under the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel launched in March 2022 in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

This year's numbers also reflect a change to the way StatCan counts non-permanent residents. The agency applied a new methodology this year in an effort to improve the accuracy of its record keeping after a CIBC Capital Markets report said it was undercounting the actual number of non-permanent residents by almost one million.

The estimated population of temporary immigrants in Canada now outnumbers the 1.8 million Indigenous people recorded during the 2021 census. The last time Canada experienced as much relative growth within a 12-month period was in 1957, during the Hungarian refugee crisis, as well as at the height of the baby boom. In absolute numbers, though, last year's increase is more than twice the increase observed in 1957.

If the rate of population growth seen this past year remained constant in the future, StatCan reports, Canada's population would double in 25 years.

BOOM OR BUST?

While Canada welcomed more immigrants as part of the government's plan to shore up labour shortages across multiple sectors, some economists question how well the country can accommodate such a steep rate of population growth.

Certainly, there are benefits to counting so many new people among Canada's population, says James Orlando, a senior economist at TD Economics who published a report on the topic on July 26.

According to Orlando, non-permanent residents not only help solve the labour shortage problem by filling job vacancies, but they can also stimulate economic growth in other ways.

"When you have rapid population increases, everyone that comes here is not just a worker, but they're also a consumer," Orlando told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview on Wednesday. "So consumer spending in Canada gets increased by the number of people here having increased. And that really supports the GDP growth for Canada at a time when interest rates are starting to bite."

However, Orlando warned already-strained sectors like health care and housing are not set up to meet the needs of Canada's rapidly growing population. In fact, they're failing.

In an interview on CTV’s Question Period with Vassy Kapelos earlier this month, Canada's housing minister, Sean Fraser, said the government isn't ruling out changes to its immigration targets that would better align with the "absorptive capacity of communities that includes housing, that includes health care, that includes infrastructure."

Fraser said he believes the federal government has "some work to do" with its temporary immigration programs, but stressed that conversations around addressing the country's housing crisis should not revolve solely around immigration.

Orlando agrees that high immigration targets are not to blame for Canada's housing crisis, but said they are also not a permanent solution to any of Canada's longstanding issues.

If anything, he said, they are a temporary solution that allows the public and private sectors to continue putting off investment in meaningful, long term solutions, to the detriment of everyone in Canada, including immigrants.

"Canada is famous for being able to bring in and integrate new Canadians. But we're also getting really well known for our lack of investment," he said. "When we don't prepare by not investing in things like health care, roads, sewer systems, houses…it creates a quality of life issue for people."

GROWTH BY PROVINCE

Across the country, population growth from 2022 to 2023 varied by as much as almost three per cent, depending on the province.

StatCan reports that from July 2022 to July 2023, Alberta experienced the fastest demographic growth of all provinces and territories, at four per cent. This growth coincides with the Alberta government’s ad campaign "Alberta is calling," which was launched in August 2022 with the aim of luring people to the Prairie province.

"This growth was not only due to international migration but was also the result of record net gains from migratory exchanges between provinces," the report reads.

During that period, 56,245 more people moved into the province than out of it, representing the highest ever annual net interprovincial gain recorded for any single province or territory since data collection began in 1971.

The Maritime provinces each recorded a population growth of at least three per cent, with Prince Edward Island topping out at 3.9 per cent, followed by Nova Scotia, at 3.2 per cent and New Brunswick at 3.1 per cent.

Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec also saw their populations increase at rates not seen since record keeping began, though their growth rates were lower than those of Alberta and the Maritime provinces.

Ontario and British Columbia's populations both grew by three per cent, Manitoba's grew by 2.9 per cent and Saskatchewan's grew by 2.6 per cent.

While its population growth also hit a record-high this year, Quebec saw the second lowest growth among all provinces, at 2.3 per cent, ahead of Newfoundland and Labrador, where the population grew by 1.3 per cent.

As of July 1, Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia had the largest populations of non-permanent residents, with close to a million living in Ontario, almost half a million in Quebec and around 400,000 in British Columbia.

– With files from CTV News Parliamentary Bureau Writer Spencer Van Dyk and CTVNews.ca Writer Sissi De Flaviis 

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