P.E.I. breaks several records en route to 'phenomenally rapid population growth'
There were more than 15,000 new Islanders this July, but thousands also left
Record levels of interprovincial migration and non-permanent residents contributed to P.E.I. having its largest population growth ever in the year leading up to July 2023.
The growth came despite a record loss of population from births and deaths.
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On Wednesday, Statistics Canada released its July 1, 2023, population figures for Canada as a whole and the provinces and territories that make it up, the first release to incorporate the results of 2021 census. It showed a 3.9 per cent growth rate for P.E.I. since July 2022, bringing the population to 173,787.
"I would characterize that as phenomenally rapid population growth," said Don Kerr, a demography professor at Kings University College at Western University in London, Ont.
This release includes a large correction from last month, where numbers based on the 2016 census suggested P.E.I. had a population of 180,000.
Nevertheless, the new release confirms P.E.I. as having the fastest-growing population in Canada over the last five years, by several percentage points.
Last year's growth rate set a new record for the Island, beating the 3.1 per cent growth rate from 2021-22.
In four of the last five years, P.E.I.'s growth rate has been above two per cent. By comparison, in the years stretching from 1951 to 2018, the Island's population grew at more than two per cent annually only once.
More non-permanent residents
While immigration and interprovincial migration have been common themes in the province's recent population growth, the rise in non-permanent residents of Canada who live on the Island is a relatively new phenomenon.
In the 20th century, the impact of non-permanent residents on the population was close to zero. It was still minimal in the early years of this century, adding 100 to 200 people a year.
The net increase from non-permanent residents began to have some impact on the total population in 2014-15, approaching and then passing 600 a year. Last year, non-permanent residents coming to P.E.I. numbered 2,098, which is 80 per cent more than the previous annual high in 2018-19.
In all, there were close to 10,000 non-permanent residents of Canada living on P.E.I. this July. About half of those were work permit holders, 37 per cent were foreign students, and most of the remainder held both study and work permits.
More Canadians moving to P.E.I.
P.E.I.'s gains from interprovincial migration have been at historic highs since 2019-20, when they climbed over 1,000 a year. They have remained at that level since.
While the gain in 2022-23 did not top the record set the year before, the Island did see a record number of Canadians arriving from other provinces, with 5,354.
All these numbers show gains, but an increasing number of Islanders have also been moving away.
As well, P.E.I. had a record loss of population from births versus deaths in last year, with 175 more Islanders dying than were born.
The measure is known as natural increase, with the term reflecting a historical pattern — and expectation — that populations will experience more births than deaths. But in five of the last six years, more Islanders died than were born, for a net natural decrease, or a negative natural increase.
In the late 20th century, demographers could reliably expect hundreds to be added to the P.E.I. population through natural increase. Twice in the 1970s, natural increase was more than 1,000.
But by the turn of the century, that fell to between 100 and 200. It dropped to near zero for the first time in 2014-15, and has effectively been a net loss to the population since 2017.
All through this century, despite a 27 per cent increase in the population, the number of babies being born every year is largely unchanged. The Island's fertility rate hit a record low in 2022-23.
'An unusual situation'
The province attracted 3,116 immigrants in 2022-23, topping 3,000 for the second year in a row. Before 2021-22, the Island had never seen more than 2,300 immigrants in a single year.
The net result puts P.E.I. in an odd place, said Don Kerr.
"It is an unusual situation: a population that's growing exclusively now almost as a by-product of migration and immigration with really, really low birth rates," the demography professor said.
"I mean, Stats Canada doesn't even have a projection for very low fertility and very, very high immigration. I think it's about time they do so, because it has consequences for age structure and things like that."
Understanding age structure is central to planning. It lets officials predict how many young people will need schools and how many older people will require health care, for example.
On Thursday, Statistics Canada told Radio-Canada that it has a good knowledge of the ages of those arriving on the Island through migration, and does not foresee issues with population projections.
While the population increased by about 6,600, hidden behind that number are the people who arrived and the people who left.
Counting immigrants, arriving interprovincial migrants and non-permanent residents, and births, there were more than 15,000 new Islanders in 2022-23.
Looking at that another way, one in 11 people living on P.E.I. on July 1 of this year were living somewhere else (or not yet born) the year before.
- An earlier version of this story gave the wrong location for Western University. It is in the Ontario city of London, not Kingston.Sep 28, 2023 4:16 PM AT
With files from Laurent Rigaux