Statistics Canada just released the first in a series of data from the 2016 census, and this release was all about population growth. Population growth can give us some important insight into the future of housing markets in locations all across Canada, and what that means in terms of housing needs.

From 2011 to 2016, the population of Canada increased by 1.7 million or five per cent.

“In the coming years, population growth in Canada is projected to be increasingly linked to migratory increase rather than natural increase, mainly because of low fertility and an aging population,” according to Statistics Canada.

Two-thirds of the growth is being attributed to the number of immigrants
entering the country and the number of emigrants leaving the country, while one-third of the population growth is accounted for through the natural process of births versus deaths. If the recent couple of years is any indication, the number of immigrants entering Canada doesn't seem like to reverse its trend anytime soon. So when planning how our cities are going to adapt to this growth, we should keep in mind how our housing needs will change: what kind of housing we need, how to settle immigrants quickly so they’re able to afford homes, and whether or not we need more programs that cater to Canadian newcomers and educate them on how the mortgage process works here, such as those currently offered by Genworth, CMHC, and a number of other mortgage lenders.

Statistics Canada projections suggest natural, fertility-fuelled growth will decline to less than one per cent in the coming years, making migration by far the dominant source of growth by 2056. Because of this, the federal government's economic growth council has recommended increasing immigration levels to ensure there are enough workers in the country to keep Canada's economy going.

It should be noted that immigration is distinctly different from the issue of foreign buyers, who have been thought to influence the inflated housing prices in Vancouver, and, increasingly, Toronto. Those foreign buyers causing concern are investors who are buying homes in profitable markets and sitting on them until it’s a good time to sell, not paying taxes or otherwise contributing to the local municipality where the home is located and “taking away” housing stock from those people who live and work in the area.

As in Canada, migratory increase is the key driver of population growth in other G7 countries, such as the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy. (Germany, Italy and Japan have recorded more deaths than births in recent years, meaning that the population growth in these countries depended entirely on migratory increase.) Canada's average annual population growth rate was the eighth highest among G20 countries, and as Canada continues its rise as a global destination, it begs to follow that some of the housing prices in its cities will compare more closely with home prices in other world-class cities. Of the members of the G7 nations, the average square foot of a condo in Toronto was the lowest of them all in 2016 – but if growth in Canadian cities continue, we can expect that to change, and for other Canadian cities to creep onto the list.

This should go without saying, but housing affordability and availability are most impacted by in areas where people want to live. In 2016, Ontario and Quebec accounted for 61.5 per cent of Canada’s population. Ontario remained the most populous province in Canada by far, with 13.4 million people calling it home in 2016, representing 38.3 per cent of Canada’s population. Although this share was down slightly from the 100-year high of 38.5 per cent in 2006, it’s still significant; Toronto is the largest city in the most populated province in the country, so of course people will flock to it. Yes, lawmakers are slow to respond to the lackluster housing supply in the city, but it’s also hard to keep up with the sheer number of people flooding into the area. In Quebec, the population surpassed the 8-million mark for the first time in census history in 2016. The rate of growth was 3.3 per cent from 2011 to 2016, below the national average of five per cent. Because Quebec's population growth rate has remained below the national growth rate for the past 40 years, its share of the total Canadian population has fallen from 28.9 per cent in 1966 to 23.2 per cent in 2016. Combined, the two provinces house 61.5 per cent of the nation's population.
 
“The municipalities located on the edge of the (census metropolitan areas) are growing faster than the municipalities located (in the centre) of the census metropolitan area,” said Laurent Martel, director of the demography division at Statistics Canada.

The ripple effect is in full swing across the country, which means that smaller cities outside the major metropolitan areas – in addition to the suburban sprawl around the areas themselves – are increasingly in demand, and home prices are getting increasingly more expensive. When housing and infrastructure tops out, people sprawl into the surrounding areas. Population growth accelerated in seven census metropolitan areas (CMAs). The increase in the rate of population growth from 2011 to 2016 compared with the previous intercensal period was about two or more percentage points in seven CMAs: three in Ontario (Windsor, St. Catharines–Niagara and Guelph), two in Alberta (Calgary and Edmonton), one in Saskatchewan (Regina), and one in British Columbia (Victoria).

The growth in the latter four CMAs shouldn’t be surprising; close to one-third of the population (31.6 per cent) lives in the western provinces of Saskatchewan, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Alberta, and the latter two provinces were the only two provinces to post higher growth rates from 2011 to 2016, compared with the previous intercensal period.

The rise and fall of housing markets anywhere are difficult to predict, but particularly so in the Prairies, where so much of the economy rises and falls with the energy sector. Although housing demand increases when people flock into the provinces for work during the boom times, people also stand to benefit from increased affordability following slumps.
 
From 2011 to 2016, the four western provinces were the only provinces to record population growth rates higher than the national average. Alberta had the fastest growth rate among the provinces, up 11.6 per cent – more than double the national average; Manitoba's population increased 5.8 per cent, posting a higher growth rate than the national average for the first time in 80 years; in Saskatchewan, the population rose 6.3 per cent; and the number of people living in British Columbia also increased more rapidly than the national average, up 5.6 per cent. Calgary and Edmonton were the fastest growing cities between 2011 and 2016, with Calgary becoming the fourth-largest city overall after Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.
 
New Brunswick's population declined by 0.5 per cent, the only province to post negative growth since 2006. Across the rest of Atlantic Canada, growth slowed largely because fewer immigrants came into the region and more people left the area to settle elsewhere.
 
The population count in 2016 was 10 times greater than in 1871, when the first census after Confederation recorded 3.5 million people in Canada.
 

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