By 2031, half of the region’s residents will be immigrants

Friday, April 27th, 2007

People born elsewhere account for 75 per cent of Canada’s growth, StatsCan says

Doug Ward

“Canada is seen as a neutral country that is friendly to immigrants. Canada is a country of immigrants and it projects an image that makes immigrants feel very comfortable,” Eleanor Yuen, Head of Asian Library at the University of B.C. Vancouver Sun files

If you think Greater Vancouver is ethnically diverse now, wait until 2031, when about one out of two people in the region will have been born outside of Canada.

This is the region’s demographic future if current trends — strong immigration flows from Asia and a low Canadian birth rate — continue over the next two decades, according to a new Statistics Canada report.

“In 2031, about 50 per cent of the population in the census area of Vancouver will be immigrants,” said Eric Caron Malenfant, one of the authors of the Statistics Canada report, called Demographic Changes in Canada from 1971 to 2001 Across an Urban-to-Rural Gradient.

Immigrants will also make up 50 per cent of people in Toronto by 2031, said the report. And 25 per cent of Montreal’s population will have been born abroad.

In 2001, immigrants accounted for 38 per cent of Greater Vancouver’s population and 18 per cent of Canada’s, said Malenfant in an interview.

Immigration, which has remained high since the end of the ’80s, has been the main driver of population growth in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.

He said that about three-quarters of Canada’s population growth is due to immigration, with natural population increase accounting for the remaining quarter.

The fertility rate in Canada declined significantly between 1971 and 2001, dropping from slightly over 2.1 children per woman in 1971 to approximately 1.5 in the early part of 2000.

In fact, 1971 was the last year Canada’s fertility rate exceeded the replacement level, which is the fertility rate required for the population to replace itself in the long term, without migration. The replacement level is considered to be 2.1 births per woman.

And fertility rates are lowest in Canada’s three largest urban areas.

“If these trends in immigration and fertility continue,” said Malenfant, “then the increase in the diversity of Vancouver and Toronto will continue until 2031.”

Three out of four immigrants to Canada during the ’90s settled in the three cities, he added.

Malenfant said the latest projection is based on 2001 Census figures.

China is the top source country for immigration to B.C., followed by India and the Philippines.

The prediction of more diversity in the Lower Mainland isn’t surprising to Andrew Ramlo, director of the Urban Futures Institute. He noted that the former visible-minority population in Richmond has become a “visible-majority,” according to the 2001 Census figures.

Given the strong immigration flows and the low birth rate, it’s a “no-brainer” to project that immigrants will eventually make up 50 per cent of Greater Vancouver’s population, he added.

Canada’s natural population increase will decline even further over the next three to four decades as baby boomers die, he added.

Immigration accounted for 205,000 new arrivals in Canada last year.

Eleanor Yuen, head of the Asian Library at the University of B.C., said the 2031 projection makes sense given current demographic trends.

But she said there are many variables that could change the rate of immigration, including geopolitical changes in Asia. She noted that immigration from Hong Kong to Canada peaked in 1995 and tapered off in the late ’90s as the Asian city’s investment climate and job market improved.

Yuen, who came to Canada 20 years ago from Hong Kong, said Canada’s attraction for Asian immigrants is about more than economics.

“Canada is seen as a neutral country that is friendly to immigrants. Canada is a country of immigrants and it projects an image that makes immigrants feel very comfortable.”

© The Vancouver Sun 2007

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