Energy Ink

Canada’s population follows the resources, Census shows

February 08, 2012

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It used to be that the West wants in. New Census figures from Statistics Canada underscore the fact that the balance of economic and political power has indeed lurched from Central Canada toward Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.

Canada’s population grew 5.9 per cent between 2006 and 2011, the highest among G8 countries. Alberta had the fastest population growth rate among the provinces at 10.8 per cent, or nearly double the national average. Saskatchewan’s population jumped 6.7 per cent on higher immigration and inter-provincial migration. British Columbia grew 7 per cent. See Statscan chart:

Figure 3 Population growth rate (in  percentage) of provinces and territories, 2001 to 2006 and 2006 to 2011

It’s no coincidence that all three provinces are rich in resources. Yet the western shift is so pronounced that Alberta, B.C. and Saskatchewan together now have a greater share (30.7 per cent) of the Canadian population than Quebec and Atlantic Canada combined (30.6 per cent). See Statscan chart: Figure 4 Population share of Canada's  regions, 1951 to 2011

The new balance has thrown the Canadian social contract off kilter, John Ibbitson at the Globe and Mail surmises. Ontario no longer has a bounty to share with the rest of the country. “…[A]s globalization eats away at the province’s manufacturing base while rewarding the resource-based West, immigrants are starting to avoid the Great Lakes province,” Ibbitson observes. “People and wealth are heading west.”

Calgary in particular stands out as a growth story. The city’s population jumped roughly 12 per cent between 2006 and 2011, thanks in no small part to its new stature as hub for white collar professionals.

The economic landscape has also changed. One need only look at the asymmetry of announcements made last week by Caterpillar Inc., which said it would close a locomotive plant in London, Ont., and Imperial Oil Ltd., which confirmed a $2-billion expansion plan at its Cold Lake project, for evidence of the hard realities that delineate the national portrait.

How does the country look in 2011 compared to 2006? As the population reached 33.5 million, Kelly McParland at the National Post says Canada has devolved into a two-trick pony, with an economy wholly dependent on government and natural resources. There is some truth to that. Alberta’s oil sands have drawn job-seekers. Ditto for Saskatchewan’s surging oil pools. Even Newfoundland and Labrador, where offshore development is progressing at a steady clip, registered a 1.8 per cent population bump, the first time since the mid-1980s more people have stayed on the rock than left for greener pastures. Precisely what that means for Alberta’s labor-starved economy will become clear in the coming months.

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