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What to Expect from the New Census

by Doug Norris, Ph.D. | Feb 01, 2012

By Dr. Doug Norris, Senior Vice President and Chief Demographer, Environics Analytics

It happens only once every five years:  On February 8th, Statistics Canada will release the first results from the 2011 Census showing the population and household counts for all geographic areas across the country.  So what can we expect from the latest count?

The short answer is that the 2011 Census  is expected to show a continuation of some population growth trends but also some turnaround stories. 

To be specific, the results are expected to show that Canada has a  population of about 33.5 million, up nearly 6% from the last census in 2006. This would represent the highest growth rate among G-8 countries and the highest growth rate for Canada since the 1986-1991 period. Today, much of the story about population growth can be traced to immigration since nearly two thirds of Canada’s growth is accounted for by international migration.

The Census also is expected to show a continuation of some long term trends. For many decades, Canada’s population has gradually shifted to westward regions, particularly Alberta and British Columbia. For example, 50 years ago the 1961 Census showed these two provinces accounting for just over 16% of Canada’s population. The new census is expected to find that their share of the population has increased to about 24%. At the same time, Atlantic Canada’s share is expected to account for just about 7% of Canada’s population—down from over 10% in 1961. Quebec will also likely show a continuation of the decline in its share of population to around 23.5%—down from over 29% in 1961.

Not surprisingly, Alberta will continue to be Canada’s fasted growing province followed by British Columbia. However the turnaround story of the Census will be Saskatchewan. The last Census in 2006 found that Saskatchewan had lost just over 1% of its population since 2001. This time, Saskatchewan is expected to show above-average growth and rank as Canada’s third fastest growing province. Other provinces likely to have undergone faster growth compared to 2001-06 are Prince Edward Island and Manitoba since both have attracted an increased number of immigrants in recent years. On the other hand, growth in Ontario is expected to be lower for 2006-2011, and likely below the national average, since Ontario’s share of immigration in recent years has declined. In fact, Ontario may show a slight decline in its total share of the Canadian population from 38.5% in the 2006 Census.

Across metropolitan areas, population growth will continue to be highest in the largest areas that attract immigrants. The western CMAs of Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon and Regina are expected to be the five fastest growing CMAs, with their population growing about 10% or higher. In fact, Saskatoon may rival Calgary as the fasted growing CMA. As a result of immigration, the Greater Toronto Area will also likely report  close to 10% growth. As in the past, the suburban areas of Peel, York and Halton are likely to lead the GTA in growth.  At the other extreme, the effects of the recession   are likely to be reflected in very low, if not negative,  growth in industrial centres like Windsor, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, and St. Catherines-Niagara  in Ontario and the Saguenay area in Quebec. Another major turnaround story is likely to be Barrie, Ontario, which was by far the fastest growing CMA for the decade 1996-2006. The area’s 50% population increase had been due in part to economic and technological opportunities. But in the latest census, Barrie is expected to show average growth of about 5-10 % for the 2006-2011 period.

At a more detailed geographic level, the census will also show the population churn in urban neighbourhoods. In some locations, new high rise condominiums have sprung up and attracted young singles and couples. In some of the older suburban areas developed in the 1970s and 1980s, we expect to see smaller households as older children finally flee the nest. On the other hand, homes formerly occupied by empty nest couples or widows may now be welcoming young families. Such changes in households and attendant lifestages will have clear implications for marketers.

Indeed, businesses can use the census statistics to better understand their markets and improve their profitability. By calculating their sales according to the new CMA and provincial counts, they can determine their market shares for each area and recalibrate sales targets. With access to new population and household data, retailers can better decide which locations are best for new or expanded store operations. For businesses, government agencies and not-for-profits, the latest demographic data contained in the Census will give them better insight into their customers and trade areas and ultimately lead to improved marketing, merchandising and decision-making.

Please join Doug Norris for a webinar highlighting the new Census release on population and household statistics, on Tuesday, February 14th, at 2:00 PM. Register Here

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doug_norrisBA3D88758F9FOne of Canada’s leading experts on the Census, Doug Norris, Ph.D., is a Senior Vice President and Chief Demographer at Environics Analytics. He joined EA in 2006 after nearly 30 years with Statistics Canada, where he earned the nickname of “Mr. Census” in his role as Director General of Social and Demographic Statistics. Currently, he assists companies, government agencies and not-for-profit organizations in using census and other statistical information for planning and marketing projects.