Immigration crucial to Canada’s growth: 2011 Census

After controversial sparks flew in 2010 when the federal government announced that the mandatory long form would be replaced by a voluntary survey, many critics speculated about the level of accuracy and usefulness of the 2011 census. Some even went as far as to refuse to participate in the national survey.

But apparently, the Census, like death, taxes and government, is another inevitable fact of life.

The first round of results on population and dwelling counts has been released, and while the figures show interesting trends, they’re not unexpected.

According to the 2011 census conducted in May of last year, there are approximately 33.5 million inhabitants in Canada. This figure includes non-permanent residents who are persons from another country with either work or study permits, or are refugee claimants.

With a population of 33.5 million, Canada is the least populous of the G8 countries. Italy, the second least populous country of the G8, still comes in at nearly twice the population of Canada at more than 60 million.

One of many scenes of diversity in Vancouver - Photo by Jan Hilario

One of many scenes of diversity in Vancouver - Photo by Jan Hilario

Population growth and density

Between 2006 and 2011, Canada’s population grew by 5.9 per cent, an increase in growth compared to the last time when it grew by 5.4 per cent.

British Columbia, along with every other province, saw an increase in population between 2006 and 2011. And in B.C., the population grew from 4.1 to 4.4 million. As a whole though, the province is still sparsely populated. With a land area of approximately 922,000 square kilometres, the population density in B.C. is 4.8 individuals per square kilometre.

By contrast, the Philippines has 300,000 square kilometres but a population of 92 million, making that country’s population density 310 people per square kilometre.

In Vancouver, however, the population density amounts to 803 people per square kilometre. At 2.3 million inhabitants enumerated in this census, Vancouver has experienced a 9.3 per cent increase in population growth since 2006.

Migratory increase

According to Statistics Canada, the country’s slightly higher population growth is attributed primarily to migratory increase, or “the difference between the number of immigrants entering the country and the number of emigrants leaving the country.” In fact, migratory increase makes up two-thirds of the population growth in Canada.

Since 2001, population growth due to natural increase, or the difference between births and deaths, has been on the decline, and now only accounts for one-third of growth. Statistics Canada cites two reasons for this decline: a relatively stable number of births and a steady increase in the number of deaths.

Paul Kingsbury, assistant professor of geography, SFU

Paul Kingsbury, assistant professor of geography, SFU

Paul Kingsbury, an assistant professor in the Department of Geography at Simon Fraser University and a member of The Canadian Association of Geographers, is not surprised that the census results quantify a sustained decline in fertility rates. He says that low fertility is attributed to a shift in values, as a greater number of people choose to have children later in life, seeking higher education and establishing careers first.

The low fertility rates, coupled with an aging population, have placed migration in an increasingly important role for population growth in the country, with immigrants specifically moving to metropolitan areas such as Vancouver.

Statistics Canada predicts that, within 20 years, immigration will account for more than 80 per cent of the country’s population growth. This population growth projection is based on an immigration rate of 7.5 immigrants per 1,000 population.

Asked about its current immigration rate, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) responded that the country allows between 240,000 to 265,000 immigrants into the country every year. The 7.5 out of 1,000 figure projected by Statistics Canada equates to 250,000 immigrants per year, which is comparable to the current average.

CIC determines the rate of immigration to Canada by consulting with “public stakeholders across Canada, provincial and territorial governments, and security partners…to develop the immigration levels plan, which sets the overall planning range and mix of immigration.”

Also taken into account is the department’s operational capacity, goals in backlog reduction and shorter wait times, the capacity of service providers for settlement and integration, and Canada’s economic and labour market outlook.

Kingsbury recognizes the potential influence of the census statistical trends towards our future “social geographies.” He notes that we will have to be aware of “how such trends [will] reconfigure, and in some cases radically challenge, current Canadians’ senses of belonging, history…[and] attitudes towards citizenship and multiculturalism.