Canada's population rose slightly from the start of the year to April 1, with Alberta registering the fastest increase and Ontario reporting its slowest first-quarter growth in 15 years, according to Statistics Canada.

But while the national total hit 34,349,200, the growth in population was lower, at 70,800, than the increase of about 85,200 for the first quarter of 2010, the federal agency reported Wednesday.

The slowdown was mainly due to a decline in net migration — the difference between the number of arrivals and departures — in the first quarter of 2011, at 49,500 compared to 58,100 in the same period in 2010.

Jonathan Chagnon, a demographer with Statistics Canada and one of the authors of Wednesday's report, told CBC News that the country's population growth has been slowing the past few quarters, but warns that an accurate picture can only be reflected over the full year.

One factor that may be reflecting the first-quarter 2011 slowdown compared to the previous year's period is that from January to the end of March, 2010, Canada took in its highest number of immigrants in years. The 49,500 in this latest reporting period may just be a matter of the country moving to a more regular level, he added in an interview from Ottawa. 

Alberta's population reached 3,758,200, an increase of about 15,500 compared to the year-earlier quarter, and the highest-quarter increase since 2006. But the province also had its lowest net migration, at 3,600, for a first quarter since 2004.

The only province in Atlantic Canada with a population increase was Prince Edward Island, by nearly 400 to 143,800. P.E.I. also welcomed the most immigrants (500), relative to its population, compared to the rest of Canada. Newfoundland and Labrador's population fell by 700 to 508,400 as of April 1, partly the result of 500 people moving to other provinces.

On April 1, Nova Scotia's population was estimated at 942,300, a drop of nearly 1,100 over Jan. 1, with about 1,000 people reportedly moving to other provinces.

New Brunswick’s population, estimated at 753,000, changed little in this year’s first quarter compared to the year-ago period.

Ontario's immigration levels dip

In Central Canada, Ontario had 28,400 new residents as of April 1, the lowest number since 1996, mainly because the province received only 20,100 immigrants, its lowest first-quarter level since 1998.

Part of the reason for Ontario's lower immigration levels may be that other provinces "are trying to attract more immigrants," Chagnon said.

Quebec’s population rose by 14,600 to 7,957,600, with only 900 people leaving to settle in other provinces, the lowest number since 2005.

Other first-quarter findings in other regions compared to the same year-ago period:

  • Manitoba: Population increased by just over 2,700 to 1,246,400. Reported it’s highest inflow of immigrants since 1972, at 2,800 people.
  • Saskatchewan: Population rose by about 1,900, to about 1,054,000.
  • British Columbia: Population rose by 9,200, to about 4,563,300, the slowest increase for a first quarter since 2005.
  • The three territories: Their population remained relatively unchanged. Yukon’s was estimated at 34,400, Northwest Territories at 43,500, Nunavut at 33,400.