Moving from Canada’s Biggest Cities

Commentary, Wendell Cox

People have been moving away from Canada’s largest metropolitan areas (Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver) for the last decade, according to Statistics Canada 2004/5 to 2013/4 data. Internal migration includes moving by residents within provinces (intra-provincial migration) and between provinces (inter-provincial migration). This is in contrast to international migration, which is adding population to virtually all census metropolitan areas.

Toronto, the largest metropolitan area, also experienced by far the largest internal migration loss, with 225,000 more people leaving than arrived from other parts of Canada. This represents a 4.4 percent loss relative to Toronto’s a population in 2004. The overwhelming majority of Toronto’s net out migrants moved within Ontario (183,000), reflecting the continued dispersion of the metropolitan population. Suburbanization has transitioned into exurbanization as people move to the smaller metropolitan areas in the Greater Golden Horseshoe.

The largest intra-provincial gains (people moving within Ontario) were in Oshawa (38,000) Hamilton (23,000) and Barrie (16,000). Intra-provincial gains were also registered in each of the other smaller metropolitan areas, Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo, Guelph, Brantford, St. Catharines-Niagara and Peterborough. Overall, the Greater Golden Horseshoe metropolitan areas outside Toronto gained 116,000 intra-provincial migrants . Toronto’s rapidly rising house prices, now at a historic high compared to incomes, have doubtless made these areas more attractive.

People are also moving away from Ontario. All of Ontario’s metropolitan areas except Kingston and Ottawa-Gatineau (Ontario portion) lost internal migrants to other provinces. Overall, a net 84,000 residents moved to other parts of Canada, one half of whom left Toronto.

The situation was similar in Montréal, which experienced a net internal migration loss of 141,000. This is equal to 3.9 percent of the Montréal metropolitan area’s population in 2004. Montréal’s loss was evenly divided between inter-provincial migration (70,000) and intra-provincial migration (71,000).

Outside Montréal, there were intra-provincial migration gains in Quebec City, Sherbrooke and Trois-Rivières and the Quebec portion of Ottawa-Gatineau. These gains generally dwarfed inter-provincial losses. Even so, another 20,000 intra-provincial migrants from Montréal settled outside metropolitan areas in Quebec.

Vancouver, the third largest metropolitan area, also lost internal migrants between 2004/2005 and 2013/2014. The net loss of 21,000 internal migrants represented 1.0 percent of the population at the beginning of the period. Vancouver lost 39,000 inter-provincial migrants, while gaining 17,000 inter-provincial migrants.

In contrast, the other three metropolitan areas with more than 1,000,000 population (Ottawa-Gatineau, Calgary and Edmonton) all experienced net internal migration gains. Ottawa-Gatineau added 35,000 internal migrants, or 3.0 percent of its 2004 population. Three quarters of the gain was in the Ontario portion and one quarter in the Quebec portion. Overall, there was a 13,000 net inter-provincial migration gain, while the area gained 21,000 net intra-provincial migrants.

By far the largest internal migration gains were in the two large Alberta metropolitan areas.

Edmonton added 105,000 internal migrants, equal to 10.4 percent of its 2004 population. This included approximately 75,000 inter-provincial migrants and 30,000 intra-provincial migrants. Edmonton led the six largest metropolitan areas in both the total number of net internal migrants and the percentage relative to population.

Net internal migration to Calgary was nearly as high, at 92,000, or 8.8 percent of its 2004 population. Calgary gained the largest number of inter-provincial migrants, at 84,000. However Calgary’s intra-provincial migration was comparatively small, at only 8,000.

Of course, the economic impacts of lower oil prices are already reducing inter-provincial migration to Alberta. Over the last nine months, Statistics Canada reports that Alberta’s inter-provincial migration has fallen one-third from the previous year. However, in view of the depth of the oil price losses, the decline in migrants from outside Alberta seems comparatively small. The full-year 2015 data will not be available for nearly six months.

A strong pattern of dispersion is evident, especially among the six largest metropolitan areas. The largest, Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver lost 388,000 internal migrants, while smaller Ottawa-Gatineau, Calgary and Edmonton gained 232,000. There was a net gain of 175,000 internal migrants in the smaller metropolitan areas. The balance of Canada lost 19,000 net internal migrants to the 33 metropolitan areas of all sizes.

Canada’s patterns of dispersion over the past decade mirror the metropolitan dispersion that is continuing in most high-income world nations.

This op ed was originally published by Huffington Post on Monday, October 5, 2015: