Nova Scotia

HRM population hits record high, propelled by new immigrants

The Halifax Partnership says the latest Statistics Canada figures show the population of the Halifax Regional Municipality is now the largest it has ever been, and employment now exceeds pre-COVID levels.

Employment in the region rebounded to pre-COVID levels

Wendy Luther, president and CEO of Halifax Partnership, said while there has been spectacular employment increases in some sectors, others have seen a large decline. (Stephanie vanKampen/CBC)

The latest figures from Statistics Canada indicate the population of the Halifax Regional Municipality hit a record high of 448,544 in July — up 9,015 from the previous year.

Immigration from outside Canada accounts for the largest portion of the increase, with 5,751 people from outside the country choosing to call Halifax home, according to a report from the agency released last week. 

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage said the municipality had been growing heading into the lockdown, but he was surprised at the record growth even during the pandemic. 

"The beauty of what we're seeing in Halifax is the people aren't coming from Cape Breton or Yarmouth, they're coming from around the world," he said.

That's true even with international students largely staying home now, he said. Nova Scotia also continues to attract more people from the rest of Canada than it loses, he said, reversing a long trend of outmigration.

He expects the city to keep growing post-pandemic. He points to Statistics Canada's Labour Force survey comparing Halifax's workforce in December 2019 and December 2020. 

"Halifax had 3,800 more people working this December than the previous December, so even though we obviously saw impacts from COVID, the overall workforce has gone up," he said.

Savage said COVID has hit hospitality jobs hard, but at the same time other jobs have faired better. 

"Growth is good, but it has to be sustainable growth environmentally," he said, "so we need to make sure that as we grow, more people are part of that success."

With a rising population, housing supply continues to be an issue in the HRM. (Tony Webster)

Wendy Luther, president and CEO of the Halifax Partnership — a public-private non-profit economic development organization — told CBC's Information Morning she is "thrilled" with the growth numbers.

"Population growth in Halifax is critical to our economic recovery coming out of COVID," she said. 

She noted that while COVID-19 led to significant job losses in May, employment rebounded by 27,800 from May to December. 

Luther cautioned that while there was an overall increase in employment it did not paint a full picture. Employment growth in some sectors outstripped job losses in others during the pandemic.

Growth sectors

Sectors that saw significant employment growth included education services, which grew by 5,200 jobs in 2020, and professional scientific and technical services, which were up by 4,900 jobs, according to Luther.

Major COVID-19-related declines in employment were seen in the wholesale and retail trade, which was down 3,500 jobs, and accommodation and food services, which saw a loss of 2,300 jobs. 

Luther said sectors that saw a decline disproportionately affected women and youth, who were the people most likely to be working in those sectors. 

School closings, she said, affected the ability of women to participate in the workplace. 

"There were many women that just could not take up their employment because of lack of child care," she said. 

She said the community needs to look for solutions to support people affected through a "challenging time."

Luther said Halifax's management of COVID and the quality of life in the municipality are attracting people from outside Canada and from provinces like Ontario and Quebec — but it is placing a strain on the housing supply. 

She said she expects the shortage of housing to continue.

"Our colleagues in the industry or developers in the city are seeing the same in their modelling," she said. "They just need more stock to meet the demand and a variety of housing options."


With files from CBC Information Morning