It's official: the population of Moncton is now larger than the population of Saint John, according to the 2016 census data released on Wednesday by Statistics Canada.

The census reveals that Moncton grew 4.1 per cent between 2011 and 2016. The city now boasts a population of 71,889. 

Saint John's population fell 3.6 per cent to 67,575.

Saint John and Moncton were neck and neck in 2011, when the last census was done and their respective populations were 70,063 and 69,074.

Fredericton saw its numbers rise during the last five years, climbing 3.6 per cent to 58,220 in 2016 — or just shy of 2,000 more than in 2011.

The federal statistics agency also measures census metropolitan areas such as Greater Moncton and Saint John and its suburbs.

In 2016, there were 144,810 people living in greater Moncton, an increase of four per cent from 2011. 

For the Saint John area, the most recent numbers show 126,202 people in 2016, a drop of 2.2 per cent from 2011. 

Results 'inspire' Moncton

Moncton Mayor Dawn Arnold said the city is pleased with results.

"However, we should recognize that in the past, Moncton has benefited from more intra-provincial migration," she said in an email statement. "As a result, we are working towards attracting more national and international newcomers, as well as repatriating those who have left. 

"Looking at the bigger picture, our entire province is smaller than some other Canadian cities and so it is critical for New Brunswick's largest cities to work together and do our part to strengthen our demographic profile."

She said she'll do what she can to help Moncton hold on to its young people and attract newcomers.

"These results inspire us in our goal to move Moncton forward."

North-south migration

The "francophone migration" from northern New Brunswick to Moncton is one of the reasons for the city's growth, a former University of Moncton professor says.

"The Greater Moncton Area has a region where a lot of people feel they can live in French," said Chedly Belkhodja, now a professor at Concordia University's school of community and public affairs, where he is also principal.

Belkhodja spent almost 20 years at the University of Moncton and, according to his bio, specializes in "immigration policies and mobility of migrants in the case of less common destinations."

The New Brunswick migration from the north has seen students moving to Moncton, he said, adding that people have also moved south because of the economic situation and aging population in the north.

Meanwhile, Moncton has transformed from an industrial hub to an innovation-based and service-driven economy with a bilingual population. The city also has a large retail sector.

"I think that also explains the dynamics of Moncton," Belkhodja said.

As for Saint John, the professor said the city had its heyday 30 to 40 years ago, when it relied more heavily on its resource economy and its port. The city's population has been declining for years, he said.

Results are 'unacceptable'

Saint John Mayor Don Darling described the census figures — although somewhat expected — as unacceptable and disappointing. 

"Status quo isn't going to work when it comes to population growth and jobs and getting our economy going," Darling said in an interview with Harry Forestell of CBC News.

Already, some efforts to turn things around in Saint John are in the works,he said, with a committee preparing to present a plan for growth to city council next month.

"I'm interested in a plan and a strategy that we can couple with tactics and targets and hold people accountable to get results," Darling said. "Results are what we need most."

The mayor said Saint John needs to determine, using a "laser focus," how to align its population, tax base and jobs with local agencies and the provincial and federal governments. 

"We're on this. … It's what we talk about every day."

With files from Harry Forestell