Immigrants made up the vast majority of the 1.6 million new Canadians between 2001 and 2006, giving the country the highest population growth rate among G8 countries, new census data released Tuesday suggests.

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A view of the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre from the Port of Vancouver. Just less than half the national population lives in the metropolitan areas in and around Vancouver, Montreal and Ontario's Golden Horseshoe. ((Chuck Stoody/Canadian Press))

Canada's population stands at 31,612,897, with a growth rate of 5.4 per cent during that five-year period.

That's up from thefour per cent growth rate in the previous census period between 1996 and 2001.

Roughly 1.2 million new immigrants made up the bulk of the population growth outlined in the latest census, while the country's native-born population increased by 400,000.

"Our natural growth rate is lower [than] in the U.S. for example. Sixtyper cent of their growth rate came from natural growth," said Anil Arora, the director general of Statistics Canada's census branch.

The fertility rate for Canadian women between 15 and 49remained an average of1.5 children, the same rate as inthe previous census period. The fertility rate in the U.S. is 2.0.

An average 240,000 newcomers per year more than compensated for Canada'sflat fertility rate.

Immigration could become the only source for population growth by 2030,when the peak of the baby boomers born in the 1950s and early '60s reach the end of their lifespans.

Half of the new immigrants who came to Canada during the latest census period settled in Ontario.

Other highlights include:

  • Canada had a higher rate of population growth (5.4 per cent) than any other G8 country between 2001 and 2006. The population growth of the United States was second at five per cent.
  • Between 2001 and 2006, the vast majority of Canada's population growth took place in metropolitan areas.
  • Alberta and Ontario were responsible for two-thirds of Canada's population increase. Nearly all of the remaining third occurred in British Columbia and Quebec.
  • The rural population increased by one per cent since 2001. In 2006, slightly fewer than one in five Canadians (six million people) lived in rural areas.
  • Rural areas close to urban centres grew much faster (4.7 per cent) than remote rural areas (down 0.1 per cent).
  • Nearly half (47 per cent) of the territories' population was living in one of the three capital cities in 2006.

Urbanization continues

The data suggest the trend toward urbanization in Canada is continuing, with 90 per cent of the country's population growth concentrated in 33 metropolitan centres, said Arora.

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Census data suggests the trend toward urbanization in Canada is continuing, says Anil Arora, director general of Statistics Canada's census branch. ((CBC))

Slightly less than half of the national population lives in the metropolitan areas in and around Montreal, Vancouver and Ontario's Golden Horseshoe.

Urban sprawl continues, with areas around the major municipalities reporting an 11 per cent growth rate, double the national average, said the census.

"You can see the spreading out from the urban centres is a phenomenon that continues to take hold in this country," said Arora.

The 10 fastest growing cities in Canada were:

  • Barrie, Ont.
  • Calgary
  • Oshawa, Ont.
  • Edmonton
  • Kelowna, B.C.
  • Toronto
  • Kitchener, Ont.
  • Guelph, Ont.
  • Abbotsford, B.C.
  • Moncton

The fastest-growing small towns and rural communties were Sylvan Lake, near Red Deer, Alta., and Strathmore, outside Calgary.

In contrast, the towns with the fastest-shrinking populations were Crowsnest Pass in southwestern Alberta, Marystown in Newfoundland and Kapuskasing in northern Ontario.

Alberta shows fastest growth

Of the provinces, Alberta leads the way in growth, driven by its strong oil and gas sector.

"Alberta has had a spectacular 10 per cent growth over the past five years and Ontario has had 6.6 per cent growth," said Arora.

Together, Ontario and Alberta represented 66 per cent of the country's new growth.

Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador were the only two provinceswith apopulation decrease, while P.E.I.'s population remained unchanged.

In the North, all three territories experienced growth higher than the national average from 2001-06.

Nunavut's population grew 10.2 per cent and the Yukon increased 5.9 per cent. The population of the Northwest Territories increased 11.0 per cent, but Statistics Canada cautioned that the actual growth rate may not be that high. It said the increase is likely the result of an undercount of N.W.T. inhabitants in 2001.

Census determines policy

Arora said census counts are used to make key government policy decisions, including how to divide up roughly $62 billion in federal transfer payments to the provinces and territories.

"Census counts are primary factors in determining equalization transfer payments, health and social transfer payments, from the federal government to provinces and territories," he said.

More data from the 2006 census will be released throughout the year, including detailed information about interprovincial migration and immigration.

With files from the Canadian Press