Immigrants are driving Canada’s growth, as they have done for many years. The 2021 census showed that Canada increased its population faster than any other leading industrial country during the five-year period beginning in 2016 – and immigration accounted for four-fifths of the increase.
Statistics Canada last week started publishing results of the census conducted last May. The results included a few surprises: tiny Prince Edward Island had the fastest population growth rate of any province, and the whole Maritime region for the first time grew faster than the three Prairie provinces.
The importance of immigration to Canada’s prosperity was not a surprise, but rather a scientific confirmation of what any observer can see with the naked eye. With every passing year, the people starting up small businesses and the people serving the public in shops, in restaurants and in health and social services are increasingly those born outside Canada. The Canadian-born still play a role, but the census data suggest that role will keep shrinking.
The birth rate of Canadian-born people is barely enough to maintain a stable population. The rate of natural increase (births minus deaths) fell to 0.1 per cent in 2021, the statisticians found. That was the lowest level on record.
Canada’s total population grew by 5.2 per cent during the five years ending in 2021 to reach just under 37 million people. Four-fifths of the increase consisted of newly arrived Canadians.
Other advanced industrial countries are also seeing low birth rates. Japan, Italy and Russia have declining populations because their natural increase has been negative and more migrants leave those countries than arrive. The population of the whole European Union grew by just 0.5 per cent over the last five years. The United States grew by 2.5 per cent.
In the coming decades, European governments will have increasing difficulty finding workers for industry and for public services. They may also have more difficulty finding enough taxpayers to finance the accustomed level of government spending.
As long as Canada can keep bringing in immigrants to take jobs, start businesses and pay the taxes, this country can hope to continue taking good care of the Canadian-born, who will increasingly be enjoying their retirement years. The COVID-19 pandemic sharply cut Canada’s intake of migrants in 2021, but the flow should quickly resume as travel restrictions are lifted.
The pandemic also altered migratory flows within Canada. As employers told their workers to stop coming to the office and to work from home instead, many families found new freedom to live where they wanted. This may be the main reason why, from 2016 to 2021, Prince Edward Island enjoyed the fastest rate of population increase of any province at eight per cent, and British Columbia enjoyed the second-fastest at 7.6 per cent.
When technology and job requirements leave Canadians free to vote with their feet, many seem inclined to head for the coasts. The Prairie provinces may continue to have a tough time matching the attractions of locations such as P.E.I and B.C.
Canada has to keep recruiting migrants to sustain gradual economic expansion. Japan is already in economic decline for want of immigration. The EU and Russia may soon start down a similar slope. Canada should keep its doors open, keep the migrants coming and keep the economic future bright.