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Jobs and oil are the primary factors driving migration trends in Canada

interprovincial migration Canada

As Canadians, we like to move around and, according to a report released by Statistics Canada almost 15% of Canadians — or close to 3.8 million people — moved to a province or territory they weren’t born in within a five year period (ending in 2011). Why are Canadians moving so much and what’s prompting these migration trends?

This new report, From East to West, dives into interprovincial migration trends: Defined as the permanent move by a citizen of Canada from one province or territory to another. The report examines 140 years of provincial migration from 1871 to 2011. More importantly, it attempts to determine the reason for these moves and the impact these population shifts had on the demographic makeup and growth of the country’s provinces and territories.

How economic factors prompt Canadians to move

While the movement of 3.8 million Canadians over a five year period (from 2006 to 2011) is significant, it’s not the highest level of interprovincial migration on record. Turns out 1981 was the year with the highest recorded province to province migratory moves in Canada, with 15.5% of the population ending up in a different province or territory during that year!

The biggest prompt for a move: To find better employment opportunities.

In fact, economic factors are the single biggest reason for Canadians to move from one province to the next. For instance, in the early 1880s, the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway put Manitoba at the centre of the country’s economy. During that time, almost 58% of Manitoba’s working population was born outside of the province (in another part of Canada). In fact, according to statistics, there were more Ontario-born people living in Manitoba at this time then there were people born in and living in Manitoba!

Another example is Saskatchewan and Alberta just after the economic boom that was brought on by World War I.  These two provinces only joined Confederation in 1905, about a decade before the First World War broke out. Six years later, more than 50% of their respective populations were made up of interprovincial migrants.

Canadians are heading West

Turns out interprovincial migration trends continue even up to this day, with most migrants moving to larger cities and areas of the country with robust work opportunities. However, one interesting trend that did come out from analyzing 140 years of migratory data was that most migration was from east to west. In fact, in recent years, two provinces consistently showed the highest levels of inbound interprovincial migration: British Columbia and Alberta.

According to Statistics Canada, by 2011, approximately 31% of B.C.’s population was made up of people who moved to the province from other provinces or territories; at the same time, 33% of Alberta’s population was born outside of the province before moving there to find employment.

What’s truly significant, however, is that the percent of  B.C. and Alberta’s residents who were born outside of these provinces is the highest for any Canadian province — and it’s more than double the national average. And, according to Statistics Canada experts, the reason for this explosion of interprovincial migration to B.C. and Alberta can be summed up in one word: oil.

Alberta is one of the centres of the oil industry, and those developments have been driving Canadians to Alberta for more than half a century, write the report authors.

For B.C., a robust economy in real estate and the burgeoning tech-sectors attracted transitory workers from across Canada.

Where Canadians are leaving

The report also tracked where people are moving from. Turns out, in 2011, Saskatchewan led the way with 38.9% of its population leaving the province to find work in the neighbouring provinces of Alberta and B.C.

To put this in perspective, more than one in every three people born in Saskatchewan moved away in 2011 to find work in other parts of Canada.

Manitoba and the Atlantic provinces were in second and third place for the number of residents leaving the provinces to find work elsewhere in Canada.

Quebec is consistently last in attracting Canadian workers

On the other end of the scale, there is Quebec. According to the 2011 figures, only 4% of its residents were interprovincial migrants. This is by far the lowest migration figures of all the provinces – but that’s nothing new. As the Statistics Canada report reveals, Quebec has consistently ranked last in this respect since 1871.

Where Canadians move has a direct impact on real estate

Interprovincial migration trends are important as they shape the demographic picture of the country. This, in turn, affects all areas of industry and commerce, including the supply and demand for residential and commercial real estate.

For example, in 2011, landlords in Saskatchewan felt the negative impact when almost one in four residents left the province to find employment in other provinces and territories. In contrast, landlords and real estate agents noticed a sizeable boom in rental inquiries and potential home buyers, particularly in areas where jobs were plentiful. This was the case in B.C. in 2014, when home sales activity increased by 15% in one year, as well as in Fort McMurray, AB, between the years of 2009 to 2014 when oil prices were strong and robust before OPEC chose to flood the oil market (and suppress oil prices) in November 2014, and the devastating fires in May 2016 decimated the city’s real estate market.

Fort McMurray, AB, housing timeline copy

As the report authors state, the examination of these migration trends is integral to understanding different economic cycles in Canada, over time since interprovincial migration trends have a profound effect on various sectors in the Canadian economy.

More foreign-born residents, as well

Turns out its not just Canadian-born residents who are willing to relocate. According to Statistics Canada, the number and percent of foreign-born residents settling down in Canada has grown significantly over the last 100 years.

In 1901, the number of foreign-born residents in Canada was under 3% of the nation’s population; by 1971, the number had increased to just over 10% and by 2011, the number of foreign-born residents in Canada had increased to more than 20%.

This is good as the economy requires a growth in the nation’s population in order to provide workforce ready employees.

Number and percentage of foreign born population in Canada   Statistics Canada copy
Source: Statistics Canada
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Udo Meerkerk

Udo is the co-founder and operations manager at Meerkerk LLC, a content marketing and copywriting company located in Serbia.