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Statistics Canada says population growth rate in 2023 was highest since 1957

Growth thanks to a surge in the number of temporary residents
population growth canada
Growth rates above 3% have "never been seen in a developed country" since the 1950s.

Canada's population grew faster last year than it has at any time since the 1950s, amid a surge in the number of temporary residents, Statistics Canada reported Wednesday (March 27).

The statistics agency says the population grew by 3.2% in 2023, reaching 40,769,890 as of Jan. 1, 2024, the highest rate since 1957, when it grew 3.3%.

"About 98% of population growth was explained by international migration and, in fact, it's mostly the temporary immigration component that's driving population growth in Canada," said Patrick Charbonneau, chief of Statistics Canada's Centre for Demography.

Across Canada, the population rose by 1,271,872 between Jan. 1, 2023, and Jan. 1, 2024, with 471,771 immigrants settling in the country last year and the number of temporary residents rising by 804,901.

Most of those temporary residents are coming to Canada to work, Charbonneau said in an interview Wednesday, but a significant percentage are international students. Around one in 10 are asylum seekers. 

Net growth rates from migration above three per cent have "never been seen in a developed country" since the 1950s, said Frédéric Payeur, a demographer at Quebec's provincial statistics agency, the Institut de la statistique du Québec.

Canada's migration-driven increase is comparable to Israel's in the 1960s and Ireland's in 2006 and 2007 — when the country experienced an immigration boom during a period of rapid economic growth, he said. But even then, neither of those countries had population increases above three per cent.

In Quebec, where the population grew by 2.5%, "in absolute numbers, this is the most growth ever seen," he said. "As a proportion of the population, in 1957, there was a bit more overall growth, but that was mainly due to the baby boom, combined with a wave of migration linked to events in Hungary." More than 37,000 Hungarian refugees fled to Canada after Soviet troops crushed an uprising against Communist rule in November 1956. 

Almost 100% of Quebec's population increase of 218,000 people came from immigration, Payeur said. Quebec's growth, though record-setting for the province, was lower than that of any other province, except Newfoundland and Labrador.

The new data comes less than a week after federal Immigration Minister Marc Miller said he plans to set targets next fall to reduce the percentage of Canada's population made up by temporary residents.

Alberta saw the most population growth in 2023 — 4.3% — according to Statistics Canada data adapted by the Quebec statistics agency, followed by Prince Edward Island with 3.6%.

Ontario's population grew by 3.4%, even while it lost 36,197 residents to other provinces, Statistics Canada said. Alberta gained 55,107 people from other provinces, the largest gain since comparable data became available in 1972. Most of those new arrivals came from Ontario and British Columbia, Charbonneau said. 

In Quebec, which reported only 400 more births than deaths in 2023, the number of temporary residents rose by 174,200 people and the number of permanent immigrants rose by 52,800. Across Canada, births outnumbered deaths by 31,103, Statistics Canada data show.

The provincial statistics agency said Quebec now has around 560,000 temporary residents in its population of almost nine million people, including 234,000 temporary foreign workers, 177,000 asylum seekers and 124,000 international students. This is the second year in a row that the increase in the number of temporary residents has broken records. In 2022, it rose by 150,700.

"It's clear that in a context where the provincial government says we won't bring in more than 50,000, 60,000 permanent immigrants a year, employers are turning to temporary workers," said Adèle Garnier, a professor at Université Laval who studies migration. She added that Quebec faces a labour shortage and has a population that's aging faster than that of many other provinces.

Across Canada, a growing number of temporary workers are graduates of Canadian universities who are able to get open work permits and a pathway to permanent residence, she said.

In Quebec, which controls many aspects of its immigration system, a similar program is available to graduates of the province's universities — though last year the government imposed French-language requirements on the program.

A recent study by the Institut du Québec, a Montreal-based think tank, found that about a quarter of temporary workers in the province were in that program, while 36 per cent were in the country under the temporary foreign workers program, which allows employers to hire foreigners to meet specific needs.

Most temporary workers were in the manufacturing, professional services, or retail and warehousing sectors, the study found. 

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